Who Counts as Asian

Publication Date:
Oct 2019

Co-authors Jennifer Lee and Karthick Ramakrishnan introduce a novel test of racial assignment that has significant implications for how racial categories are popularly understood, even among the populations for whom they purportedly apply. They test whether the U.S. Census Bureau’s definition of Asian corresponds with Americans’ understanding of the category, and find a disjuncture between those groups the U.S. government assign as Asian, and those that Americans include in the category. For White, Black, Latino, and most Asian Americans, the default for Asian is East Asian. While South Asians – such as Indians and Pakistanis – classify themselves as Asian, other Americans are significantly less likely to do so, reflecting patterns of “South Asian exclusion” and “racial assignment incongruity”. College-educated, younger Americans, however, are more inclusive in who counts as Asian, indicating that despite the cultural lag, the social norms of racial assignment are mutable. The authors discuss how disjunctures in racial assignment bias narratives of Asian Americans.


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.