Accurately Counting Asian Americans Is a Civil Rights Issue

Authors: Jennifer Lee, Karthick Ramakrishnan, and Janelle Wong

Asian Americans are the fastest-growing group in the United States, increasing from 0.7 percent in 1970 to nearly 6 percent in 2016. the U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2065, Asian Americans will constitute 14 percent of the U.S. population. Immigration is fueling this growth: China and India have passed Mexico as the top countries sending immigrants to the United States since 2013. today, two of three Asian Americans are foreign born—a figure that increases to nearly four of five among Asian American adults. the rise in numbers is accompanied by a rise in diversity: Asian Americans are the most diverse U.S. racial group, comprising twenty-four detailed origins with vastly different migration histories and socioeconomic profiles. In this article, we explain how the unique characteristics of Asian Americans affect their patterns of ethnic and racial self-identification, which, in turn, present challenges for accurately counting this population. We conclude by dis- cussing policy ramifications of our findings, and explain why data disaggregation is a civil rights issue.


RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal of original empirical research articles by both established and emerging scholars.


The Russell Sage Foundation offers grants and positions in our Visiting Scholars program for research.


Join our mailing list for email updates.