Revisiting the Asian American Second-Generation Advantage

March 26, 2019

RSF author Jennifer Lee and grantees Van Tran and Tiffany Huang (Columbia University) have co-authored a new paper in the Ethnic and Racial Studies journal that investigates the reach of the “Asian second-generation advantage,” or the mechanisms that help the children of Asian immigrants attain better educational outcomes than the general population of the U.S. Today, second-generation Asians are more likely than other Americans to hold a bachelor’s degree. Furthermore, while Asian Americans comprise a little over 6% of the U.S. population, they account for over 20% of the country’s elite Ivy League students. However, the authors note, little research has been done on whether this advantage extends to the labor market.

In their study, the authors draw from a large dataset of about 60,000 households from the Current Population Survey to analyze graduation rates and labor market outcomes of the five largest Asian-origin groups in the U.S., including Chinese, Indians, Filipinos, Vietnamese, and Koreans, which together make up over 80% of the Asian American population. “Our analyses reveal that all five second-generation Asian groups attain exceptional educational outcomes, but vary in intergenerational mobility,” the authors write. “Second-generation Vietnamese exhibit the greatest intergenerational gains, followed by second-generation Chinese and Koreans; second-generation Indians and Filipinos experience none.” 

Furthermore, while members of each of these ethnic groups were more likely to hold a bachelor’s degree than white Americans, their labor market outcomes were mixed. With the exception of Chinese Americans, second-generation Asians in the survey were less likely to hold top-level jobs than whites with similar educational credentials. “To be clear, Asians are not under-represented in the managerial and professional occupations—three quarters of second-generation Chinese and Indians report being in a managerial and professional occupation,” Tran told the publication “However, second-generation Asians are significantly under-represented in senior-level leadership positions, considering how well-credentialed they are, even after accounting for many demographic factors.”

As Lee points out, many of the positive stereotypes that help Asian students succeed in higher education—such as the perception that Asian Americans are studious and hard-working—may turn into negative stereotypes in workplace settings, where those same traits could be perceived as a lack of assertiveness or social skills. “In short,” the authors conclude, “the Asian second-generation advantage is confined to the domain of education—a point that has not garnered nearly as much scholarly nor media attention as their exceptional educational outcomes.”

Read the full paper in Ethnic and Racial Studies.


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