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9.4: Social Institutions

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    In a lot of ways, Asian Americans have done remarkably well in achieving "the American dream" of getting a good education, working at a good job, and earning a good living. So much so that the image many have of Asian Americans is that we are the "model minority" -- a bright, shining example of hard work and patience whose example other people of colors should follow (Wu, 2018). However, the practical reality is slightly more complicated than that.

    Statistics Don't Lie . . . Do They?

    Once in a great while, statistics don't lie. It is true that in many ways, Asian Americans have done very well socially and economically. The data in Table 9.4.1 was calculated using the 2000 Census Public Use Microdata Samples, then comparing the major racial/ethnic groups among different measures of what sociologists call "socioeconomic achievement."

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\): Socioeconomic characteristics by racial groups. (Courtesy of Asian Nation)

    Socioeconomic characteristics by ethnic groups.

    These numbers tell you that among the five major racial/ethnic groups in the U.S., Asian Americans have the highest college degree attainment rate, rates of having an advanced degree (professional or Ph.D.), median family income, being in the labor force, rate of working in a "high skill" occupation (executive, professional, technical, or upper management), and median Socioeconomic Index (SEI) score that measures occupational prestige. Yes, in these categories, Asians even outperform whites. Asian Americans seem to have done so well that magazines such as Newsweek and respected television shows such as 60 Minutes proclaim us to be the "model minority."

    Many people go even further and argue that since Asian Americans are doing so well, we no longer experience any discrimination and that Asian Americans no longer need public services such as bilingual education, government documents in multiple languages, and welfare. Further, using the first stereotype of Asian Americans, many just assume that all Asian Americans are successful and that none of us are struggling.

    On the surface, it may sound rather benign and even flattering to be described in those terms. However, we need to take a much closer look at these numbers. As we will see, many other statistics show that Asian Americans are still the targets of racial inequality and institutional discrimination and that the model minority image is a myth.

    When Good Numbers Go Bad

    Again, we need to remember that not all Asian Americans are the same. For every Chinese American or South Asian who has a college degree, the same number of Southeast Asians are still struggling to adapt to their lives in the U.S. For example, as shown in the tables in the Socioeconomic Statistics & Demographics article, Vietnamese Americans only have a college degree attainment rate of 20%, less than half the rate for other Asian American ethnic groups. The rates for Laotians, Cambodians, and Hmong are even lower at less than 10% (Ty, 2017).

    The results show that as a whole Asian American families have higher median incomes than white families. However, this is because in most cases, the typical Asian American family tends to have more members who are working than the typical white family. It's not unusual for an Asian American family to have four, five, or more members working. A more telling statistic is median personal income (also known as per capita income). The results above show that Asian Americans still trail whites on this very important measure.

    "Success" May Only Be Skin-Deep

    Another telling statistic is how much more money a person earns with each additional year of schooling completed, or what sociologists call "returns on education." One of the first in-depth studies that looked at per capita income between Asian Americans and other racial/ethnic groups came from Robert Jiobu and is cited in Asian Americans: An Interpretive History by Sucheng Chan. Using this measure, research consistently shows that for each additional year of education attained, whites earn another $522.

    That is, beyond a high school degree, a white with 4 more years of education (equivalent to a college degree) can expect to earn $2088 per year in salary. In contrast, returns on each additional year of education for a Japanese American is only $438. For a Chinese American, it's $320. For Blacks, it's even worse at only $284. What this means is that basically, a typical Asian American has to get more years of education just to make the same amount of money that a typical white makes with less education.

    Recent research from scholars such as Timothy Fong (2020), Roderick Harrison, and Paul Ong, to name just a few, continues to confirm these findings that controlling for other variables, Asian Americans still earn less money than whites with virtually equal qualifications. Once again, for each statistic that suggests everything is picture-perfect for Asian Americans, there is another that proves otherwise.

    As another example, in California, almost 40% of all Vietnamese refugees are on public assistance and in Minnesota and Wisconsin, an equal number of Cambodians, Hmong, and Laotians also receive public assistance. Another example is that of many Korean immigrants who come to the U.S. with very high levels of education. But for various reasons (i.e., not being fluent in English), many are not able to get decent jobs that pay well. Therefore, they are forced to to work as janitors, waiters, busboys, or go into business for themselves to survive. The only reason why many Korean small business owners are able to make a small profit is that they have no paid employees and work 20 hours a day.

    Always Check Below the Surface

    Another point is that even despite the real successes we've achieved, Asian Americans are still significantly underrepresented in positions of political leadership at the local, regional, state, and federal levels (despite the successes of a few individuals such as Norman Mineta and Elaine Chao) -- just like Blacks, Latinos, and American Indians. In the corporate world, Asian Americans are underrepresented as CEOs, board members, and high-level supervisors -- just like Blacks, Latinos, and American Indians.

    Chinese Miner Statue
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Chinese Miner Statue. (CC BY-SA 2.0; Nick Ares via Flickr)

    This is not to say that there aren't Asians Americans out there who are quite successful and have essentially achieved the American dream. As their socioeconomic attainment levels clearly illustrate for example, Asian Indians consistently outperform not only other Asian ethnic groups but whites in several achievement measures, sometimes by a large margin. And of course, you'll find plenty of examples of Asian Americans who are quite affluent and successful, and as Asian Americans, we should rightly feel proud of these examples of success.

    The point is that just because many Asian Americans have "made it," it does not mean that all Asian Americans have made it. In many ways, Asian Americans are still the targets of much prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination. For instance, the persistent belief that "all Asians are smart" puts a tremendous amount of pressure on many Asian Americans. Many, particularly Southeast Asians, are not able to conform to this unrealistic expectation and in fact, have the highest high school dropout rates in the country (Chou, 2008).

    Asian Americans are also increasingly becoming the targets of hate crimes. In fact, research shows that Asian Americans are the fastest growing victims of hate crimes in the U.S. Asian Indians and other successful Asian Americans may have extraordinary levels of socioeconomic achievement but it's very unlikely that many of them will say that they no longer experience discrimination because of their Asian ethnicity.

    Ultimately, the process of achieving socioeconomic success among Asian Americans is very complex. There are many examples of affluence and prosperity within the Asian American population but in many ways, we still face the same types of racism, social inequality, and institutional discrimination that other groups of color face. Therefore, the image that the entire Asian American community is the "model minority" is a myth.

    The Economy

    Work, employment, and occupational mobility have been prominent features of the history of Asian American communities ever since they first arrived in the U.S. In fact, the fundamental reason why the majority of Asians first immigrated to America was to find work and earning a living to support themselves and their families. To this day, work remains an important part of life for Asian Americans and the reason why so many Asians continue to immigrate to the U.S.

    Self-Employment Then and Now

    In the early era of Asian American history, the Gold Rush was one of the strongest pull factors that led many Chinese to come to the U.S. to find their fortune and return home rich and wealthy. In addition, many Chinese (and later other Asian groups as well) also came to Hawai'i as contract laborers to work in sugarcane plantations. On the mainland, Chinese also worked as small merchants, domestics, farmers, grocers, and starting in 1865, as railroad workers on the famous Transcontinental Railroad project.

    However, the anti-immigrant and anti-Chinese nativist movement of the late 1800s, best represented by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, forced the Chinese to retreat into their own isolated communities as a matter of survival. Inside these early Chinatowns, the tradition of small business ownership developed as many Chinese provided services to other Chinese and increasingly, to non-Chinese, such as restaurants, laundry, and merchandise retailers.

    The phenomenon of self-employment has been a prominent mode of work for many Asian Americans, starting with the first Asian immigrants into the U.S. and continuing through today. The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act led to the immigration of millions of Asians into the U.S. and also resulted in the growth of Asian ethnic enclaves in numerous metropolitan areas around the U.S. These two developments have led to a resurgence of self-employment among many Asian Americans.

    Scholars have described four general reasons why Asian Americans are likely to become self-employed, all of which can overlap with each other. These theories are described in more detail in the article on Asian Small Businesses. Briefly summarized, they include:

    • Labor market discrimination: becoming self-employed in order to avoid having to settle for lower-status or lower-paying jobs in the conventional labor market.
    • Ethnic resources: either having "cultural" characteristics that facilitate entrepreneurship or relying on family and relatives for cheap labor and/or co-ethnics for patronage.
    • Structural opportunities: openings within certain economic sectors, markets, or industries that offer easy entry but also include high risks of failure.
    • Class resources: attaining education, training and experience, and/or financial capital in order to enter self-employment.

    These tensions have led to numerous incidents of hostility, most famously represented by the extensive burning of Korean-owned businesses in the Los Angeles riots of 1992. In response, many Asian small business owners have made concerted efforts to address these complaints and reach out more to their communities in order to improve relations.

    Adapting to Deindustrialization

    While a large proportion of Asian Americans are self-employed, most are conventional employees in the U.S. labor market. The passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act finally made it illegal to discriminate against someone based on race or ethnicity, which removed legal barriers to employment opportunities for Asian Americans. Reflecting the ethnic, cultural, and linguistic diversity of the Asian American population, contemporary Asian Americans also have different employment and occupational mobility patterns as well.

    Social scientists have described how the American economy has undergone deindustrialization in the last few decades, from an economy based on manufacturing to one centered around technological innovation, information management, and services. Within this context, many scholars also note that the U.S. labor is becoming increasingly polarized. That is, there has been an expansion in the number of jobs at the top, within "information-intensive" sectors, and that require high levels of education and job skills and that pay very well -- jobs that many Asian Americans have successfully landed.

    At the same time, there has also been a proliferation of jobs at the bottom that are relatively low-paying, unstable, and require little education or skills. However, the middle layer of skilled manufacturing and blue collar jobs has generally been shrinking, thereby leading to this stratified labor market. At the low end of the labor market, many Asian Americans share much in common with early Chinese laborers in that they possess little formal skills and English fluency. As a result, they have little choice but to work in relatively low-paying unstable service sector jobs, many located inside traditional urban Asian ethnic enclaves.

    To illustrate these patterns, using data from the 2000 Census 5% PUMS, Table 9.4.3 presents distributions of occupational categories for different racial/ethnic and Asian groups (employed, ages 25-64).

    Table \(\PageIndex{3}\): Distribution of occupational categories, by racial/ethnic and Asian groups. (Courtesy of Asian Nation)

    Occupational characteristics by ethnic groups.

    The results indicate that for most racial/ethnic and Asian groups, the largest proportion within each group are concentrated in either the "Sales, Operations, and Support" or "Skilled Blue Collar" occupational categories. On the other hand, the lowest proportions within most groups are found in the "Legal and Financial Services" occupations.

    Other notable findings are that, of all the racial/ethnic groups in the table, Asian Indians have the highest proportion in the "Computer, Scientific, & Engineering" occupations. Also, Chinese and Japanese share the highest proportion among all groups in the "Legal and Financial Services" occupations. Filipinos have the highest proportion of those in the "Medical/Healthcare Professionals" categories while Japanese have the highest proportion in the "Education, Media, & Community Services" occupations.

    In general, the results again confirm that, at least in terms of occupational attainment, Asian Indians as a group seem to have attained the most prestigious jobs. In addition, Chinese are well-represented in the computer, scientific, and engineering fields, Filipinos have a significant level of representation among medical professionals, and Japanese enjoy a relatively high level of representation as executives and upper management. Conversely, employed Cambodians/Hmong/Laotians and Vietnamese tend to be more working class, as shown by their higher representations in the skilled blue collar occupations.

    Persistent Glass Ceiling Barriers

    As the statistics show, many Asian Americans have attained skilled, prestigious, and relatively high-paying professional jobs. At the same time, many still face numerous challenges in their work environments. For example, although Asian Americans have the highest rates of having a college (43% of all adults between 25 and 64) or a law, medicine, or doctorate degree (6.5% of all adults between 25 and 64), they only have the second highest median personal (per capita) income behind that for white workers.

    That is, within many occupations, Asian Americans are still paid less than whites, despite having the same educational credentials and years of job experiences. In addition, numerous studies continue to point out that Asian Americans are still underrepresented as senior executives in large publicly-owned corporations.

    Many scholars point out that the relative lack of Asian Americans within the most prestigious occupations is due to the continuing presence of glass ceiling barriers within the workplace, meaning that one's success hits an invisible barrier. There are several glass ceiling mechanisms that affect Asian Americans. The first is that many companies consciously or unconsciously bypass Asian Americans when it comes to recruiting for and outreaching to future executives. This may be based on the implicit assumption that Asian Americans do not fit their picture of a future executive or corporate leader.

    Discussions with members of the Asian-American business community at the Eden Center in Falls Church — at Falls Church, VA.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): Discussions with members of the Asian-American business community at the Eden Center in Falls Church-at Falls Church, VA. (CC PDM 1.0; U.S. Senator Tim Kaine via Flickr)

    A second glass ceiling mechanism occurs when Asian Americans have a hard time penetrating the old boys network (social connections experienced by elite men) in many occupational environments. Research consistently shows that it is in these informal social networks that valuable mentoring takes place, along with an exchange of important career information. In this case, Asian Americans are hurt by the persistently stereotype that all Asians are foreigners or outsiders.

    Third is the phenomenon of "institutional tracking" in which Asian Americans are confined to only professional and technical jobs. While these jobs may pay well up to a certain point, many are dead end jobs that do not have promotion ladders or career tracks that lead up to supervisory or executive positions. Many Asian Americans are restricted to working in these "white collar sweatshops" because their supervisors may feel that they are not interested in managerial, supervisory, or executive positions.

    Similarly, many Asian American professionals are alleged to lack the language, communication, or leadership skills required for promotion. In other words, the belief is that while Asian Americans are skilled at technical aspects of certain occupations, they may not have the "soft skills" related to personality, attitude, and behavior that would give them a competitive edge when it comes to moving up into senior leadership positions. Within this context, Asian American workers may be subject to biased and subjective standards of evaluating their work performance.

    Achievement in the New Millennium

    Despite the challenges that Asian American workers continue to face, they continue to use hard work and employment to attain socioeconomic mobility through numerous boom and bust cycles of the American economy. In the process, many Asian Americans have achieved impressive occupational successes and are poised to become prominent members of their respective industries.

    Initially achieving success only to be driven into relative isolation, Asian Americans have persevered, adapted, and taken innovative strategies on their way toward achieving socioeconomic mobility. Reflecting the ethnic and cultural diversity of the Asian American population, employment patterns among workers range from unskilled service sector employees to highly-educated and highly-skilled professionals. Regardless of type of work, Asian Americans continue to further contribute to the strength and vitality of America's economy and culture.

    The Family

    One of the most public manifestations of race is the choice of one's partner or spouse. This very individual and personal aspect can sometimes produce a lot of public discussion. Studies consistently show that Asian Americans have some of the highest "intermarriage" (also known as "outmarriage") rates among racial/ethnic minorities -- marrying someone else outside of their own ethnic group. But as always, there's more to the story than just the headline.

    The Public and Private Sides of Ethnicity

    Whether it's dating or marrying someone of a different race, interracial relationships are not a new phenomenon among Asian Americans. When the first Filipino and Chinese workers came to the U.S. in the 1700s and 1800s, they were almost exclusively men. A few of them eventually married women in the U.S. who were not Asian. However, many people soon saw Asian intermarriage with whites as a threat to American society. Therefore, anti-miscegenation laws (discussed earlier in Chapter 1.4) were passed that prohibited Asians from marrying whites.

    Table \(\PageIndex{5}\): Marriage Patterns for Six Largest Asian American Ethnic Groups (2010) (Updated Nov. 2011). (Data courtesy of Asian Nation)
    Marriage Patterns for Six Largest
    Asian American Ethnic Groups (2010)

    (Updated Nov. 2011)
      All Spouses USR + USR or FR USR + USR Only
    Asian Indian 92.5 76.9 62.4
    Other Asian 1.5 4.2 4.5
    white 4.3 13.3 25.6
    Black 0.3 0.9 0.7
    Hispanic/Latino 0.8 2.5 3.5
    Multiracial & All Others 0.6 2.1 3.4
    Population Size (x1000) 701.6 62.1 32.1
    Asian Indian 92.9 70.6 52.0
    Other Asian 0.9 1.9 2.9
    white 4.7 22.6 37.8
    Black 0.5 1.8 2.8
    Hispanic/Latino 0.4 1.4 2.1
    Multiracial & All Others 0.7 1.7 2.4
    Population Size (x1000) 691.6 68.3 39.2
    Chinese 88.8 63.9 53.6
    Other Asian 4.8 12.9 14.8
    white 5.2 19.2 26.5
    Black 0.1 0.1 0.2
    Hispanic/Latino 0.7 2.1 2.6
    Multiracial & All Others 0.5 1.7 2.3
    Population Size (x1000) 707.0 140.8 96.8
    Chinese 79.9 52.4 46.1
    Other Asian 3.5 9.9 10.4
    white 14.5 31.9 37.7
    Black 0.3 0.7 0.7
    Hispanic/Latino 0.9 2.8 2.8
    Multiracial & All Others 0.8 2.3 2.4
    Population Size (x1000) 777.9 138.5 112.6
    Filipino 85.1 54.2 42.1
    Other Asian 2.6 7.1 7.9
    white 7.9 24.0 31.8
    Black 0.2 1.0 1.4
    Hispanic/Latino 2.8 9.0 11.0
    Multiracial & All Others 1.4 4.7 5.8
    Population Size (x1000) 440.8 99.2 71.3
    Filipino 61.6 36.7 29.1
    Other Asian 2.6 6.2 6.4
    white 27.0 37.2 42.7
    Black 2.6 4.0 4.4
    Hispanic/Latino 3.7 8.1 8.5
    Multiracial & All Others 2.6 7.8 8.9
    Population Size (x1000) 608.7 121.0 102.2
      All Spouses USR + USR or FR USR + USR Only
    Japanese 62.8 54.5 53.8
    Other Asian 11.5 14.2 12.2
    white 18.8 22.8 25.1
    Blacks 0.2 0.3 0.3
    Hispanic/Latino 3.3 3.8 3.6
    Multiracial & All Others 3.5 4.5 4.9
    Population Size (x1000) 151.1 104.7 91.2
    Japanese 44.4 48.9 49.3
    Other Asian 8.0 12.2 11.0
    white 38.1 29.4 29.9
    Black 2.1 0.7 0.8
    Hispanic/Latino 3.2 3.7 3.9
    Multiracial & All Others 4.1 5.1 5.2
    Population Size (x1000) 212.6 104.3 99.7
    Korean 90.4 61.1 44.8
    Other Asian 2.9 10.4 13.0
    white 5.3 23.1 34.6
    Black 0.2 0.8 1.2
    Hispanic/Latino 0.9 3.7 5.3
    Multiracial & All Others 0.4 0.7 1.1
    Population Size (x1000) 265.4 47.8 30.2
    Korean 68.1 35.4 24.1
    Other Asian 3.6 9.2 9.8
    white 24.4 48.4 57.7
    Black 1.4 1.6 1.9
    Hispanic/Latino 1.3 2.7 3.3
    Multiracial & All Others 1.2 2.7 3.3
    Population Size (x1000) 351.5 72.6 58.4
    Vietnamese 92.6 71.0 59.0
    Other Asian 3.4 11.9 13.7
    white 2.8 13.1 21.9
    Black 0.0 0.2 0.4
    Hispanic/Latino 0.5 2.6 3.3
    Multiracial & All Others 0.6 1.3 1.6
    Population Size (x1000) 299.7 44.9 26.8
    Vietnamese 84.6 56.3 40.6
    Other Asian 4.2 11.1 12.2
    white 9.4 28.7 41.3
    Black 0.2 0.5 0.5
    Hispanic/Latino 0.9 2.9 4.5
    Multiracial & All Others 0.7 0.5 0.8
    Population Size (x1000) 323.6 54.4 35.0
    USR = U.S.-Raised (1.5 generation or higher)
    FR = Foreign-Raised (1st generation)
    "USR + USR or FR" = Spouse 1 is U.S.-Raised while Spouse 2 can be U.S.-Raised or Foreign-Raised
    "USR + USR Only" = Both spouses are U.S.-Raised
    Methodology used to tabulate these statistics

    History shows that these anti-miscegenation laws were very common in the U.S. They were first passed in the 1600s to prevent freed Black slaves from marrying whites and the biracial children of white slave owners and African slaves from inheriting property. It was not until 1967, during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Loving v. Virginia case that such laws were unconstitutional. At that time, 38 states in the U.S. had formal laws on their books that prohibited non-whites from marrying whites. As such, one could argue that it's only been in recent years that interracial marriages have become common in American society (Wong, 2015).

    Of course, anti-miscegenation laws were part of a larger anti-Asian movement that eventually led to the Page Law of 1875 that effectively almost eliminated Chinese women from immigrating ot the U.S., the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, and other restrictive regulations. These laws actually made the situation worse because Asian men were no longer able to bring their wives over to the U.S. So in a way, those who wanted to become married had no other choice but to socialize with non-Asians (Pascoe, 2010).

    After World War II however, the gender dynamics of this interracial process flip-flopped. U.S. servicemen who fought and were stationed overseas in Asian countries began coming home with Asian "war brides." Data show that from 1945 into the 1970s, thousands of young women from China, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and later Viet Nam came to the U.S. as war brides each year. Further, after the passage of the 1965 Immigration Act, many of these Asian war brides eventually helped to expand the Asian American community by sponsoring their family and other relatives to immigrate to the U.S. (Koshy, 2005).

    These days, Asian Americans in interracial relationships are very common. One of the best research articles on this topic is a study conducted by Shinagawa and Pang entitled "Asian American Panethnicity and Intermarriage," reprinted in the highly recommended Asian Americans: Experiences and Perspectives. Similar in structure to their study, J.J. Huang and C.N. Le have analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau to construct the following table on marriage patterns among Asian Americans.

    How to Read and Understand the Table

    Using data from the 2010 Census (updated Nov. 2011), the table shows the percentage of the six largest Asian ethnic groups who are married either endogamously (within their ethnic group), to another Asian (outside their ethnic group), or to someone who is white, Black, Hispanic/Latino, or someone who is Mixed-Race/Multiracial, by husbands and wives. The other major component of the table is that it presents different numbers depending on which statistical model is used.

    That is, the specific numbers for each ethnic group vary depending on how you measure "intermarriage." The different models are:

    • All Spouses: This model include all marriages that involve at least one Asian American. The benefit of this approach is that you get a complete picture of all marriages involving Asian Americans. The drawback is that since most married Asian Americans are immigrants, many of them got married in their home countries before immigrating to the U.S. -- i.e., they came to the U.S. already married.
    • USR + USR or FR: USR stands for "U.S.-Raised," or those who are either born in the U.S. (the 2nd generation or higher) or came to the U.S. at age 13 or younger (the '1.5 generation'), while FR stands for "Foreign-Raised," the 1st generation (those who came to the U.S. at age 14 or older). In this model, the 'subject' spouse (either the man or the woman) is USR, but his/her spouse can be either USR or FR. This model narrows down the sample somewhat by trying to exclude those who were already married when they arrived in the U.S.
    • USR + USR Only: This model includes only marriages in which both spouses are U.S.-raised. This has the advantage of including only those who were raised and socialized within American society and its racial dynamics. It is this U.S.-raised population that best represents young Asian Americans, since they are the ones who have the most exposure to prevailing American cultural images and media. The drawback of this model is that by focusing exclusively on the U.S.-raised (who only represent about one quarter of all marriages involving Asian Americans), it may overemphasize and "over-highlight" instances of outmarriage among Asian Americans.

    These three models are presented to you the reader to give you the opportunity to decide for yourself which model best represents the "true" picture of marriage among Asian Americans. You should understand that each model has its strengths and weaknesses and as you can see, each produces some very different numbers. If you would like to read about the exact procedure J.J. Huang and C.N. Le used to calculate these numbers, visit the Statistical Methodology page.

    These are certainly a lot of numbers to consider and as mentioned above, each model presents a different proportion. Nonetheless, what these stats tell us is that generally speaking, across all three models (calculated by using the admittedly unscientific method of averaging the proportions across all three models to emphasize the last two models), these are the Asian ethnic groups are most or least likely to have each kind of spouse:

    Men/Husbands -- Most / Least Likely to Have a(n) __ Wife:

    • Endogamous -- Most: Asian Indian / Least: Japanese
    • Other Asian (Pan-Asian) -- Most: Japanese / Least: Asian Indian
    • White -- Most: Japanese / Least: Vietnamese
    • Black -- Most: Filipinos / Least: Chinese
    • Hispanic/Latino -- Most: Filipinos / Least: Chinese
    • Multiracial or Other -- Most: Japanese / Least: Koreans

    Women/Wives -- Most / Least Likely to Have a(n) __ Husband:

    • Endogamous -- Most: Asian Indian / Least: Filipinos/Koreans (tied)
    • Other Asian (Pan-Asian) -- Most: Japanese / Least: Asian Indians
    • White -- Most: Korean / Least: Asian Indian
    • Black -- Most: Filipinos / Least: Vietnamese
    • Hispanic/Latino -- Most: Filipinos / Least: Asian Indian
    • Multiracial or Other -- Most: Filipinos / Least: Vietnamese

    Recent Trends and Developments

    The numbers presented above only represent a 'cross sectional' look at racial/ethnic marriage patterns involving Asian Americans. In other words, they only represent a 'snapshot' look using the latest data from 2010. Nonetheless, it is important to recognize that such marriage patterns have evolved and changed over time. In order to get a closer look at recent trends, we can compare these numbers to data from the 2006 Census.

    In comparing the 2010 data to the 2006 numbers, there are a few notable trends we can observe:

    • Consistently, rates of marriages involving Asian Americans and whites have declined. Specifically, among those marriages in which both spouses are U.S.-raised, for five of the six Asian American ethnic groups, the rates of interracial marriage to a white spouse for both men and women have declined from 2006 to 2010. Among men/husbands, the largest decline involved Asian Indians and Koreans. For women/wives, the largest decline was for Filipinos and Koreans.
    • The only exceptions to this trend of declining rates of white-Asian marriages were for Asian Indian women/wives (whose rate slightly increased from 2006 to 2010) and for both Vietnamese men/husbands and women/wives. For Vietnamese men, their rates of marriage to a white wife increased from 15.0% to 21.9% while for Vietnamese women, their rate for having a white husband jumped from 28.3% to 41.3%.
    • Strangely, the sample population sizes for U.S.-raised married Vietnamese American men and women have declined from 2006 to 2010. For example, in 2006, there were about 40,500 and 45,200 U.S.-raised Vietnamese men and women respectively who were married. In 2010, those numbers declined to 26,795 and 34,998. Some possible explanations are that many who were married in 2006 got divorced, U.S.-raised Vietnamese men and women are delaying getting married, and/or many U.S.-raised Vietnamese have changed their ethnic identity to some other ethnic group, such as Chinese or Hmong.
    • In contrast to the declining rates of Asian-white marriages, the rates for Pan-Asian/Other Asian marriages have increased notably from 2006 to 2010 (having a spouse of a different Asian ethnicity). This increase was almost universal across all six ethnic groups and for both genders (the only exception was for Filipino women). Among U.S.-raised men/husbands, Vietnamese Americans experienced the biggest increases in having a pan-Asian spouse -- from 5.8% in 2006 to 13.7% in 2010 for men and from 7.8% to12.2% for women/wives.

    Now that we have a general picture of what the marriage rates are for all members of each of these six Asian American ethnic groups, on the next page we will take a more specific look at only those Asian Americans who grew up in the U.S. and are therefore most likely to have been socialized within the context of U.S. racial landscape and intergroup relations -- the U.S.-born and those who immigrated to the U.S. as children.

    The Government

    Getting Into the Arena Early

    Even back in the late 1800s, Asians mobilized their resources to lobby for equal rights and access to economic, land, and occupational opportunities that they were being denied. Up through the 1920s, over 1,000 lawsuits were filed in state and federal courts by Asian Americans seeking to receive their proper legal rights. During this time, Asian Americans also organized boycotts, circulated petitions, conducted letter-writing campaigns, published newspapers and magazines promoting their cause, and formed coalitions with several non-Asian organizations.

    These activities demonstrate that Asian Americans are not always quiet, modest, and reluctant to "cause trouble." The Asian American community has a clear sense of justice, as illustrated by their collective mobilization to fight for justice regarding Vincent Chin's murder. To that end, many Asian Americans have tried to participate in the political arena, in one form or another.

    Statue of Buddha
    Figure \(\PageIndex{6}\): Buddha Statue. (CC BY-SA 2.0; William Cho via Flickr)

    One of the easiest way to participate is to donate money to candidates or political parties. Such was the case back in 1996 when the Democratic Party was raising funds for President Clinton's reelection. As the nation soon learned, the Democrats were accused of illegally accepting money from foreigners. The media and soon Congressional Republicans identified these foreigners as Asian and accused them of trying to influence U.S. policy to the benefit of their Asian countries and businesses. They were accused of trying to "buy" influence with the President.

    Thereafter, the Democrats were forced to return a substantial portion of those campaign contributions. Any donor who had an Asian name or who was suspected of having connections to Asian businesses overseas most likely had their contributions returned. Soon after that, Congressional committees began a series of high-profile and public investigations, centering on the now-famous "fundraising" event at a southern California Buddhist temple attended by Al Gore. Ultimately, several Asian Americans entered plea bargains or were convicted of channeling foreign contributions to the Democratic Party.

    Stereotypes and Hypocrisy Go Hand in Hand

    First we should realize that it is legal for permanent residents who are not yet U.S. citizens to donate money. Second, it is legal for U.S. subsidiaries of foreign corporations to donate money if they only donate funds that were earned in the U.S. Further, anyone can donate if the money goes to a political party rather than an individual politician. Finally, it's interesting why nobody ever accuses Canadian and European corporations of trying to buy influence with the U.S. government, even though their contributions are several times that from Asian companies.

    Arrival of U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao
    Figure \(\PageIndex{7}\): "Arrival of U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao." (CC PDM 1.0; U.S. Embassy, The Hague)

    But the most disturbing part of this episode was once again, the entire Asian American community was singled out and publicly vilified for the wrongdoings of just a handful of people. Many politicians and other social commentators were screaming that Asian foreigners were trying to "buy the white House." Asian Americans were again accused of being deceitful, un-American, and secretly loyal to only Asian countries and businesses.

    It is one thing to punish individuals who have actually broken laws. But it is another to then generalize suspicions and stereotypes to an entire group of people. All Asian Americans are affected by this prejudice and racial profiling -- Republican or Democratic, liberal or conservative. Unfortunately, that was exactly what happened to Asian American in this episode. Sad to say, it will probably not be the last.

    The Leaders and Trailblazers

    Nonetheless, several Asian Americans past and present have defied these cultural and institutional barriers (including perceptions that Asians aren't capable of being leaders) and have successfully represented not just the Asian American community but their entire multi-racial constituency. The first national Asian American political leaders came from Hawai'i and were able to parlay their broad base of supporters to win seats in the U.S. House of Representative and Senate in the 1950s.

    The first mainland Asian American to become a member of the U.S. House of Representatives was Dalip Singh Saund, a South Asian farmer (with a Ph.D. degree) from central California. The fist mainland Senator was the ultra-conservative S.I. Hayakawa from California, former President of San Francisco State University. More recently, the most prominent Asian American politicians include:

    • Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawai'i
    • Former U.S. Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Bill Lann Lee
    • Governor of the state of Washington Gary Locke, the first Asian American governor outside of Hawai'i
    • Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao
    • Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta

    Secretary Mineta is the only Democrat serving in President Bush's cabinet and was the first Asian American cabinet Secretary, appointed by former President Clinton to lead the Department of Commerce in 2000. In fact, President Bush has named the more Asian Americans to top federal positions than any other President.

    However, Elaine Chao symbolizes a constant dilemma for the Asian American community. On the one hand, most of us are very proud that she is the first Asian American woman to be a cabinet Secretary. She hopefully represents the growing political power of the Asian American community and a sign that perhaps both political parties will not take us for granted any longer. On the other hand, she's a Republican whereas about two-thirds of all Asian Americans who are registered to vote are Democrats.

    Therefore, many of us have to weigh the costs and benefits of supporting her as an Asian American versus our dislike for Republican policies and ideology. In the end, as Martin Luther King so eloquently stated, individuals must be judged on the content of their character and what they do -- not on the color of their skin or their ethnicity.

    Having said that however, we must recognize and appreciate the diversity within the Asian American community. This includes differences in terms of ethnicity, age, educational attainment, income, languages and English proficiency, and in this case, political views. In this sense, Secretary Chao, along with Secretary Mineta and all other Asian American politicians serving our country at all levels, deserve our thanks and support.

    The Future is Now

    These days, as the size of the Asian American population continues to grow, so do the number of Asian Americans entering the political arena and public service. The latest people such as California Democrat Mike Honda and Louisiana Republican Bobby Jindal, who recently lost a close race to be Governor of Louisiana. We are also witnessing many Asian Americans entering politics at the local level, especially in areas where Asian Americans constitute an increasingly large portion of the population. These include many suburban areas in southern and northern California.

    On the national level, several Asian American organizations have recently formed a coalition to develop a comprehensive policy platform. Their goal is to encourage political leaders in general and presidential candidates in particular to treat Asian Americans with the same level of attention and respect that they do other racial/ethnic constituents, such as Blacks, Latinos, and Jews. As part of this effort, political action committees such as the 80-20 Initiative are trying to mobilize a powerful Asian American bloc vote by casting 80% of Asian American ballots for the candidate that they will endorse later in the year.

    Interestingly, as Asian Americans become more common among civic and political leaders (similar to what's happening with many predominantly Latino/Hispanic areas around the country), they still face subtle charges that they are somehow "taking over," implying that they have some sinister or evil master plan for world domination. Ironically, many long-time white residents in these localities where Asian Americans are increasingly prominent now feel that they're being excluded from full civic participation and are made to feel like outsiders.

    Many observers point out that these complaints are only inevitable and temporary frictions that occur when the balance of power begins to shift from one group to another. It will nonetheless be interesting to see how the landscape of political power at different levels in the U.S. evolves as our society continues to become increasing multicultural and racially/ethnically diverse .

    Contributors and Attributions

    • Tsuhako, Joy. (Cerritos College)
    • Gutierrez, Erika. (Santiago Canyon College).
    • Asian Nation (Le) (CC BY-NC-ND) adapted with permission

    Works Cited & Recommended for Further Reading

    • Aoki, A., Lien, P. (Eds.). (2020). Asian Pacific American Politics: Celebrating the Scholarly Legacy of Don T. Nakanishi. New York, NY: Routledge.
    • Chin, M.M. (2020). Stuck: Why Asian Americans Don’t Reach the Top of the Corporate Ladder. New York, NY: NYU Press.
    • Chou, R.S. & Feagin, J.R. (2008.) The Myth of the Model Minority: Asian Americans Facing Racism. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.
    • Constable, N. (2003). Romance on a Global Stage: Pen Pals, Virtual Ethnography, and "Mail Order" Marriages. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
    • Fong, T.P. (2020). The Contemporary Asian American Experience: Beyond the Model Minority (3rd Ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
    • Hartlep, N.D. & Porfilio, B.J. (Eds.). (2015). Killing the Model Minority Stereotype: Asian American Counterstories and Complicity. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.
    • Hsu, M.Y. (2017). The Good Immigrants: How the Yellow Peril Became the Model Minority. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
    • Koshy, S. (2005). Sexual Naturalization: Asian Americans and Miscegenation. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press
    • Liu, B. (Ed.). (2017). Solving the Mystery of the Model Minority: The Journey of Asian Americans in America. New York, NY: Cognella Academic Publishing.
    • Liu, M. & Lai, T. (2008). The Snake Dance of Asian American Activism: Community, Vision, and Power. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.
    • Koshy, S. (2005). Sexual Naturalization: Asian Americans and Miscegenation. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press
    • Maeda, D.J. (2011). Rethinking the Asian American Movement. New York, NY: Routledge.
    • Nemoto, K. (2009). Racing Romance: Love, Power, and Desire Among Asian American/White Couples. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
    • Okamoto, D.G. (2014). Redefining Race: Asian American Panethnicity and Shifting Ethnic Boundaries. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.
    • Osuji, C.K. (2019). Boundaries of Love: Interracial Marriage and the Meaning of Race. New York, NY: NYU Press.
    • Pascoe, P. (2010). What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
    • Prasso, S. (2010). The Asian Mystique: Dragon Ladies, Geisha Girls, and Our Fantasies of the Exotic Orient. New York, NY: Public Affairs Publishing.
    • Shimizu, C. (2007). The Hypersexuality of Race: Performing Asian/American Women on Screen and Scene. Duke University Press.
    • Thai, H.C. (2008). For Better or For Worse: Vietnamese International Marriages in the New Global Economy. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
    • Ty, E. (2017). Asianfail: Narratives of Disenchantment and the Model Minority. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.
    • Wong, E.L. (2015). Racial Reconstruction: Black Inclusion, Chinese Exclusion, and the Fictions of Citizenship. New York, NY: NYU Press.
    • Wong, J., Ramakrishnan, S.K., Lee, T., & Junn, J. (2011). Asian American Political Participation: Emerging Constituents and Their Political Identities. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.
    • Wu, C. (2018). Sticky Rice: A Politics of Intraracial Desire. Philadelphia: Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.
    • Wu, E. (2013). The Color of Success: Asian Americans and the Origins of the Model Minority. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.