By "richer" I mean higher median income.

Large-scale immigration of Asians to the United States began in the 19th century. In the beginning, most of them were poorer than an average American. Nevertheless, in the subsequent century, the income of Asian Americans was gradually increasing. Nowadays, they have higher median income than an average American.

Personal and Household income in the United States in 2005: Personal and Household income in the United States in 2005

How did they achieve this even though they originally came from countries much poorer than the United States?

  • 4
    There are many factors (e.g. emphasis on higher education), but note that immigrating from a poor country doesn't necessarily mean the immigrants themselves were poor. Many wealthy Chinese families escaped to the United States ahead of the Communist takeover, for example. And while certainly not always the case, often it is skilled labour/other entrepreneurial individuals who migrate. – Semaphore Dec 24 '14 at 9:19
  • 2
    There's also considerable and persistent differences within the category "Asian American." Different ethnic groups (e.g. Japanese, Vietnamese) have different median incomes, different immigration histories, and different reasons for being in the United States. So it's not always clear why "Asian Americans" is the relevant unit of analysis. – two sheds Dec 24 '14 at 13:29
  • 4
    I'm uncomfortable calling this history. Social science or economics perhaps, but history? – Rajib Dec 24 '14 at 16:05
  • 1
    If you look at the data, the difference is only appreciable at the "household" level. More women working? Asian young men and women leaving home later? That would imply that in average, those households will have a greater income only because they are more individuals working. – SJuan76 Dec 24 '14 at 16:34
  • 1
    Also, you should really point your sources. Because at it stands, you could have taken the graph from a white supremacy group page (which usually are not know for presenting data in a neutral, unbiased way). – SJuan76 Dec 24 '14 at 16:36

There is no good answer to this question as posed, because many Asian-American ethnicities are poorer than the U.S. general public. In fact, Asian Americans' high incomes are largely due to Indian Americans, which is not necessarily the group most Americans think of when they hear the term "Asian American."

Let's look at a 2012 Pew study of "The Rise of Asian Americans:"

The Pew Research Center survey was designed to contain a nationally representative sample of each of the six largest Asian-American groups by country of origin—Chinese Americans, Filipino Americans, Indian Americans, Vietnamese Americans, Korean Americans and Japanese Americans. Together these groups comprise at least 83% of the total Asian population in the U.S.

The basic demographics of these groups are different on many measures. For example, Indian Americans lead all other groups by a significant margin in their levels of income and education. Seven-in-ten Indian-American adults ages 25 and older have a college degree, compared with about half of Americans of Korean, Chinese, Filipino and Japanese ancestry, and about a quarter of Vietnamese Americans.

On the other side of the socio-economic ledger, Americans with Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese and “other U.S. Asian” origins have higher shares in poverty than does the U.S. general public, while those with Indian, Japanese and Filipino origins have lower shares.

So three "Asian American" groups are more likely to be impoverished than the average American and three "Asian American" groups are not. Vietnamese Americans and "other Asian American" groups earn around $5,000/year less than the average American ($40,000/year); the average Filipino American earns about as much as the average American; the average Korean American earns $5,000 more, the average Chinese American earns $10,000 more, while Japanese Americans on average earn $15,000 more and Indian Americans about $25,000 more. Furthermore, these groups all differ from one another on plenty of other important cultural dimensions. So there is no reasonable answer to this question as posed. One would need to ask about the histories of these groups separately.

Source: Full Pew Report, 2013

| improve this answer | |
  • To the best of my knowledge, Korean- Vietnamese- and Chinese- Americans are not poorer "on average" than other Americans. (Maybe the Vietnamese.) They do have higher poverty rates because their wealth distributions are more skewed. More "low end" members of these groups are balanced by more high end members. The Filipinos are the opposite: less extremes of wealth and poverty, but they're no better off "on average" than other Asians, – Tom Au Dec 25 '14 at 3:12
  • @TomAu: Thanks, good point. I edited based on your comments and added a link to the full report – two sheds Dec 25 '14 at 3:44

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.