Growth And Diversity Dramatic Among Asian Americans

June 08, 1998

Immigration has fueled the dramatic growth of the Asian American population--not only in their total numbers but also in the increasing diversity of their national backgrounds.

The number of Asian Americans nearly doubled between 1980 and 1990. The estimated 9.6 million Asian Americans, about 4 percent of the U.S. population, are expected to double again by 2010. This rapid expansion has been characterized by a similarly rapid growth in their ethnic diversity. In 1970, 96 percent of Asian Americans were Japanese, Chinese, or Filipino. But today, these three groups make up just over 50 percent of Asian Americans. Asian ethnic groups now include Koreans, Vietnamese, Asian Indians, Cambodians, Pakistanis, and Thais.

These are some of the findings from "Asian Americans: Diverse and Growing," a new Population Bulletin written by Sharon M. Lee, a visiting professor at Portland State University.

Geographic Concentration and Expansion

Fifty-four percent of Asian Americans live in the western United States, reflecting the destination of the earliest Asian immigrants and the proximity of the western states to Asia. But Asians are less concentrated geographically now than ever before. In 1860, 100 percent of Asians lived in the U.S. West; by 1940, just less than 90 percent lived in the West. In 1990, 76 percent of Japanese Americans and 70 percent of Filipino Americans resided in western states.

Stable Family Households

Asian American children are more likely to be living with two parents than children in any other racial or ethnic group. In 1990, the percentage of children living with two parents was 83 percent for Asian Americans, followed by 80 percent for non-Hispanic whites. More recent data from the March 1997 Current Population Survey show that Asian American households are more likely than white households to consist of families (75 percent versus 68 percent).

High Educational Achievement

In 1997, 42 percent of Asian Americans ages 25 or older had a college or professional degree, compared with 26 percent of non-Hispanic whites, 13 percent of blacks, and 10 percent of Hispanics ages 25 and older. Immigration laws favor the entry of educated individuals because these laws give preference to immigrants with high-level job skills. This preference offers a partial explanation of Asian Americans' high education levels. About 43 percent of foreign-born Asians had at least an undergraduate college degree in 1997, while only about 24 percent of all Americans had such a degree. Nearly 40 percent of U.S.-born Asians (the children of these highly educated immigrants) had a bachelor's degree or higher in 1997.

Recent immigrants are transforming the educational profile of the Asian American population. Almost two-thirds of Cambodian, Hmong, and Laotian adults did not have a high school education in 1990. Chinese and Vietnamese also have a substantial percentage without a high school diploma. By contrast, only 13 percent of Japanese Americans did not complete high school.

More Poverty Among Recent Immigrants

Asian Americans' incomes tend to be higher than those of whites, blacks, and Hispanics, but there are considerable income differences among Asian American ethnic groups, reflecting differences in education and occupation. In 1996, median family income for Asians (including Pacific Islanders) was $43,000, $3,000 more than that of non-Hispanic whites, nearly $18,000 above the median for Hispanics, and nearly $20,000 above the median family income of blacks. But racial and ethnic differences in per capita incomes were much smaller. Asian Americans' median per capita income ($18,000) was just below the median for whites ($19,000) and above the medians for blacks ($12,000) and Hispanics ($10,000).

The most recent poverty rates for Asian Indian, Filipino, and Japanese Americans (for 1989) were the same or lower than the rate for non-Hispanic whites, while the rates for Vietnamese and Korean Americans were much higher. Nearly 24 percent of Vietnamese families were below poverty in 1989, as were 15 percent of Korean American families. Among all groups, recent immigrants are more likely than longer-term residents to have below-poverty incomes. About 20 percent of Chinese who immigrated between 1980 and 1990 were in poverty in 1989, compared with 6 percent of Chinese who arrived before 1980.

Journalists may receive a free copy of "Asian Americans: Diverse and Growing" by calling PRB's publications department, 202/939-5417; e-mail: The Population Reference Bureau is the leader in providing timely and objective information on U.S. and international population trends and their implications.

Population Reference Bureau

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