Special Feature

October, 2002

The data collected in the 2000 Census have been examined and they contain some interesting facts on Asians in America. Of the total population of about 281 million, Asians numbered about 12 million, or about 4.3 percent. Within the Asian population, Indians are the third largest group numbering about 1.9 million, after the Chinese who number about 2.7 million and the Filipinos who number about 2.4 million. For the first time the Census asked people about their ethnic mix. Of the 1.9 million Asian Indians, 1.7 million or 89 percent reported exclusively Asian Indian heritage whereas the remaining 0.2 million or 11 percent reported a mixed ethnic heritage, meaning Asian Indian plus at least one other non-Asian-Indian ancestry.

Of all the major Asian groups in the United States, the Japanese are most likely to report a mixed ethnic heritage whereas the Vietnamese are least likely to report such mix. For example, over 30% of Japanese reported mixed ancestry while only about 8% of the Vietnamese reported the same. In the case of the Asian Indians, as reported above, it is 11% so the group falls in between these two extremes. The Asian Indian population in the US tends to be younger on average by about 3 years than the national population. The median age for the total US population is reported to be about 35.3 while the median age for Asian Indians is reported to be 32.5.

Without question, Asian Indians in the US are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups. In the last year's edition of this magazine, I had mentioned that the group is one of the wealthiest in America with a median income that is 70 to 80% higher than the native population. The self employment rate among Indians continues to be around 16%, still well behind the Korean Americans (24%) but comparable to the Chinese/Taiwanese (17%) and higher than the native born (12%). This time I'll report some interesting characteristics of our group. I'm basing my observations from the data collected by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC), based at the University of Chicago. Since 1972, NORC has collected data on about 2200 adult Americans annually. I pooled the data from 1972 to 2000 and found 108 persons of Asian Indian origin. Remind you that according to NORC these people broadly represent the total Asian Indian population in America.

In order to give my observations a comparative flavor, I'll cite data from three reference groups. Africans, Mexicans, and Italians in America are these three reference groups. In this data set, there were 2,535 Africans (not native born blacks), 922 Mexicans, and 1,856 Italians. The differences in the total numbers in each group could inject some bias in my observations but they do hint at some interesting processes. Of course, my decision could be interpreted as quite arbitrary but I think they are comparable for three major reasons: one, Africans, just like Indians are of recent origin; two, Mexicans are generally similar in skin color to the Indians. And third, I added Italians, largely because this group, of all major European immigrants, was last to assimilate in mainstream white America. The following are some interesting facts gathered from the NORC data containing over 20,000 observations, and I would like to share some with you:

  1. 100% of Asian Indians considered cheating in taxes as wrong whereas in no other group it is 100%. As a comparative reference, over 7% of Africans, 5% of Mexicans, and 5% of Italians said that cheating in taxes is not wrong. Based on this indicator at least, Asian Indians tend to be more honest than many other groups.
  2. 14% of Asian Indians own guns as opposed to 29% of Africans, 26% of Mexicans, and 30% of Italians. I would say that the non-violent myth about Asian Indians still holds.
  3. About 59% of Asian Indians read newspaper a few times a week. This percentage is over 70% for Africans, 61% for Mexicans, and over 77% for Italians. Given the fact that Asian Indians have the highest percentage of members with professional degrees this is quite surprising. We should make efforts to increase our newspaper reading significantly. Newspaper reading contributes to a greater social awareness.
  4. Asian Indians like a lot of friends. 40% of Asian Indians report the number of good friends to be between 2 and 4. Another 40% report this number to be between 5 and 7 whereas the remaining 20% report the number of good friends to be over 10. Only about 5% of Africans report the number of friends to be over 10. For Mexicans this number is 3%, and for Italians it is 8%. This translates into high social capital for Asian Indians in America. Social capital in sociology indicates contacts that are frequently acted upon and could be an important resource base to fall upon in crisis.
  5. About 68% of Asian Indians worry about the income gap in the US between the rich and the poor, which shows their greater concern for society. Comparatively, only 58% of Italians and 63% of Mexicans reported such concerns. The percentage for Africans was identical to the Indians.
  6. Over 79% of Asian Indians in this study stated that homosexuality is wrong to some degree whereas the comparative numbers are 86% for Africans, 86% for Mexicans, and 77% for Italians. Over 70% of Asian Indians stated that premarital sex is wrong to some degree whereas such figures were 55% among Africans, 61% among Mexicans, and 52% among Italians. These figures indicate relative conservatism in sexual matters. In the US, in general premarital sex is socially acceptable.
  7. About 59% of Asian Indians identified themselves as middle class whereas only 28% of Africans, 31% of Mexicans, and 50% of Italians did so. This is not surprising considering the fact that the median income of Indians is one of the highest in the US.
  8. Over 56% of Asian Indians stated that having 2 kids is the most ideal. Perhaps the family planning campaign back in India in the 1970s and 1980s plays a role in this regard. This percentage is much lower in the reference groups: 36% among Africans, 38% among Mexicans, and 51% among Italians.
  9. 66% of Indians thought governmental welfare spending for the poor is too little whereas over 84% of Africans thought so. The figures for the Mexicans and Italians are comparable to the Indians.
  10. As a group, Asian Indians are less conscious about environment. About half of the Asian Indians said the government is doing too little for the environment whereas 65% of Africans, 56% of Mexicans, and 64% of Italians thought so. A much higher awareness toward the environment is perhaps in order for the group.
  11. Slightly over 13% of Asian Indians reported that they have been through divorce. This figure is the lowest among the reference groups. The divorce rate among Africans was reported to be 21%. It was reported to be 16% among both Mexicans and Italians. The low divorce rate among Indians indicate much more stable family environment, comparatively speaking.
  12. Finally, in political matters only 48% of Asian Indians reported participation as voters in the 1996 Presidential election. The rate was 59% for Africans and 65% for Italians. Only Mexicans reported a lower rate of electoral participation at 37%. If this rate continues, it could be a matter of concern. Political participation is important as it impacts the political party's perception of the different ethnic groups and their preferences. For the time being, we as a group should not be too concerned with this low rate since a significant number of Asian Indians are yet to be citizens.

In the end, all I can say is this: In general Asian Indians are socially more conservative, economically more entrepreneurial, and politically more shy of their potential. Should we be concerned? Please apply this general statement to your individual situation and conceive of a response accordingly.

- nriol.com report

The views of this column are the author's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of NRI Online.

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