“When feelings are strong, reason declines and facts get distorted in a miasma of context.” – Michael Masterson


Asians in America, Part I:

Why Are They So Successful? 


Let’s take a break from identity politics. Let’s talk about Asian-Americans!


Just kidding. But the facts are noteworthy.


According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, Asian-Americans are the highest-income and best-educated racial group in the US. They are also “more satisfied than the general public with their lives, finances, and the direction of the country.”


A century ago, most Asians in America were overwhelmingly low-skilled, low-wage laborers that lived in crowded “ethnic enclaves.” Today’s Asian-Americans have improved the quality of their lives in just about every way that quality of life can be measured.


But what may be the most impressive fact is this: These accomplishments were achieved by a group that is primarily immigrant. (Among all Asians in the US, nearly 6 in 10 were foreign-born in 2015, according to the Census Bureau.)


If you were interested in the subject of “How to Succeed as a Minority in America,” the history of Asian-Americans would be something you’d want to study.


So let’s take a look.


A Short but Impressive History of Asians in America


Asians began immigrating to the US about 150 years ago. As you might imagine, they were subject to a good deal of social discrimination. They were also the victims of systemic race-based laws and policies – e.g., the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Immigration Act of 1917, and the National Origins Act of 1924. And let us not forget about the internment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans, without due process, during WWII.


In 1965, the federal government passed the Immigration and Nationality Act, which led to large-scale immigration from countries in the Far East, Southeast Asia, and the Indian subcontinent. Each group had its own unique culture. Yet they all shared certain traits that allowed them to make immediate and significant progress – progress that began with the first generation and accelerated with the second and now the third.


Today, just 55 years later, Asian-Americans are at the top in every category of “achievement” I could find. Let’s look at five of them: education, income, wealth, unemployment, and health.




According to a recent Pew Research Center study:


* 87% of Asians aged 25 and older are high school graduates.

* 53% have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

* 23.6% have a graduate or professional degree.




In 2018, the median annual household income for Asian-Americans was higher than that of every other racial group. It breaks down as follows:


* Asian-Americans – $87,194

* White Americans – $70,642

* Hispanic-Americans – $51,450

* African-Americans – $41,692




Asian-Americans are the wealthiest racial group in the US. In 2013, they ranked second (behind White Americans) in terms of median net worth. In 2020, just seven years later, they are at the top of the list.




Asian-Americans have the lowest unemployment rate across all racial groups. I couldn’t find post-Corona Crisis numbers, but last year it was an astonishing 3%.




Again, Asian-Americans are at the top. According to the most recent data from the CDC:


* Only 8.3% of Asian-Americans were reported to be in fair or poor health.

* Only 12.5% of Asian-American men and 4% of Asian-American women smoke.

* Only 11.7% of Asian-American men and 13.6% of Asian-American women are obese.


Surprising Data 


Before I did the research, I would have guessed that Asian-Americans are less obese than other racial groups in the US. And I might have guessed that they are less likely to be unemployed. But I would not have guessed that they have more education and rank higher in terms of income and net worth than any other racial group (including White Americans).


And remember, we’re talking about people that make up only about 5% of the US population and are mostly first- and second-generation immigrants!


At a time when attention is so focused on inequality in the US, you’d think that the story of Asian-Americans would be a much-discussed subject. You’d think that scholars and politicians and anyone else concerned with income inequality, wealth inequality, education inequality, and health inequality would be looking to them for ideas about solving the gaps that exist between the races.


You’d think. But it ain’t happening. In fact, in academia and the mainstream media, the topic is absolutely taboo.


But I find it interesting. And if you do too, you’ll want to read Wednesday’s blog. In Part II of this essay, we will take a look at the values, beliefs, and habits that have allowed Asian-Americans to have such remarkable success, despite the many obstacles they’ve had to overcome.


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prebuttal (noun) 

A prebuttal (pree-BUD’l) is an argument constructed in anticipation of a criticism. (Coinage of the word has been attributed to Al Gore.) As used by US News & World Report’s Roger Simon: “There’s rebuttal, there’s prebuttal, and then afterward there’s spin.”

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Six origin groups – Chinese, Indian, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese – accounted for 85% of all Asian-Americans as of 2015. These groups, together, largely shape the overall demographic characteristics of Asian-Americans.

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