Model minority

From Academic Kids

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Cover of Newsweek featuring an article on the success of Asian American students

The term model minority refers to a minority ethnic, racial, or religious group whose members are noted by the general public of the country in which they reside for typically achieving a degree of success in business, income-earning potential, education, and other factors, much higher than the average of that country. Taking into account that some minority groups are able to become even more successful than the majority racial group, even with historical racial discrimination, some sociologists believe supposed institutional racism is not the root cause of socioeconomic disparity between racial groups. Whilst the term 'model minority' is rarely used outside the USA, and then usually applicable to Asian Americans, the paradigm is also applicable across the rest of the developed world.


United States

Asian Americans

In the United States, Asian Americans, who constitute approximately 4% of the population, are spoken of as a 'model minority' group because the group has been more successful than the majority racial group. In this context, the term Asian Americans is used primarily to describe those of Indian descent and East Asian descent, particularly the Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, and Vietnamese. Other groups that are geographically considered Asian, such as South Asians excluding Indians, or West Asians, are usually not referred to as part of the Model Minority. In April 2005, the US Congress has passed a resolution honoring the contributions of Indian-Americans and Indian Institutes of Technology graduates to "economic innovation and society generally."[1] (

Asian American achievements

According to the United States 2000 Census, the median household income of Asian Americans is USD $55,521, higher than the majority Caucasian population, Blacks, or Hispanics, although income per household member is slightly lower than that of Caucasians. [2] ( However, 2003 data show that Asian Americans over 18 earn slightly higher per capita incomes, with a median of about $25,000. [3] (

It should be noted, however, that the median income of Jewish Americans, who are generally included in the term Caucasian, is still higher at $50,000. [4] ( It should also be noted that the U.S. Census term "Asian" includes East Asians as well as other Asians, and that East Asians, who are usually the recipient of the term "model minority", usually earn higher incomes than others who have been classified in the same "Asian" group in the Census.

As of 1997, half of Asian Americans aged 25 to 29 held bachelor's or higher degrees, as compared to 29% of Caucasians, 14% of African Americans, and 11% of Hispanics. [5] ( According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's 2003 report Crime in the United States, Asian Americans have the lowest total arrest rates [6] (, and high family stability. [7] ( Asian Americans have also achieved higher SAT scores and IQ scores than other ethnic groups, even when more socioeconomically deprived [8] ( or in cases of transracial adoptions (Clark 1992, Frydman 1989), which can control for environmental and cultural differences in upbringing. (See also race and intelligence)

The phenomenon is not limited to the Western world; in Malaysia, ethnic Chinese constitute 27% of the population yet control 40-50% of the wealth. [9] ( In Indonesia, ethnic Chinese constitute about 3-4% of the population yet control about three quarters of the wealth. [10] (

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Along with Jewish Americans, Asian Americans have a large presence at America's best schools.

Asian American status in affirmative action

Because of their unusual degree of success as a group, Asian Americans do not generally benefit from affirmative action policies the way other minority groups do. In fact, some schools routinely choose lower-scoring applicants from other racial groups, even Whites, over Asian Americans, in an attempt to promote racial diversity and to maintain some proportion to the society's racial demographics.[11] ( One of the highest gaps is at UC Berkeley where the gap between Asian Americans and African Americans (as groups) is about 300 SAT points.

Media coverage

Media coverage of the increasing success of Asian Americans as a group began in the 1960s, reporting high average test scores and marks in school, winning national spelling bees, and high levels of university attendance. One such example is the University of California system. For instance, at the University of California, Berkeley, Asians account for 41% of the undergraduate student body as of 2003, 10 times the proportion of Asian Americans in the national population (4%). At top high schools, Asian Americans constitute even larger proportions of the student body; over half at Stuyvesant High School, which practices race-blind admissions.

History of discrimination

The success of Asian Americans as a group has occurred despite severe discrimination in the previous century, such as, prior to the 1950s, being stereotyped as cheap, uneducated labourers. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, many Americans of European descent feared that the western part of the US would be overrun by the "Yellow Peril," prompting initiatives to reduce immigration from Asia, and WWII saw additional difficulties for Asian American citizens. In addition, numerous Asian Americans were recent immigrants or their offspring, since immigration laws had limited Asian immigration prior to the mid 1960's. In the mid 1900s, the Yellow Peril stereotype began to give way to recognition of the racial group's socioeconomic accomplishments.

In addition, the Indian community has drawn appreciation because of their achievements despite discrimination and a Dilbert cartoon now acknowledges this with a new cartoon character named Asok, who is a graduate from the Indian Institute of Technology.

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Criticism in the United States

Self-selecting immigration

One possible influence on the good performance of Asian Americans as a group is that they represent a small self-selected elite of Asians because the difficulty of emigrating filtered out many of those not possessing more resources, motivation, or ability.

For example, there are only 2 million Chinese Americans in the U.S., and worldwide the total amount of overseas Chinese is about 43 million, whereas the total worldwide Chinese population is almost 1.3 billion. Emigration to the U.S. has always been strictly limited by factors such as the high cost of trans-Pacific transportation, language and cultural barriers, strong racial prejudice against Asians which did not wane until the early 1970s, historical state laws that once prohibited Chinese from working most jobs or owning land and, of course, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which limited Chinese immigration to about 100 individuals per year from 1882 through 1943. Self-selection could be continuing even today, as the current quota of about 25,000 per year is still small compared to the millions of Chinese who would like to emigrate to the U.S.

Genetic factors in racial disparities

Main article: Race and intelligence

Both the self-selecting immigration explanation and the explanation that the racial group simply worked hard for its success are challenged by the observation that the average IQ scores of the East Asian population living in the US and in Asia are similar, and both are higher than the average IQ scores of the White population living in Europe and the US. Additionally IQ scores for the African American population are lower than for the White population. This may suggest that genetics play a role in the success of racial groups, though this is debated. Notable academics who advocate the "partly-genetic" position include Arthur Jensen, Richard Lynn, the political scientist Tatu Vanhanen, and Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein, authors of The Bell Curve.

Cultural factors in racial disparities

Cultural factors are thought to be part of the reason why Asian-Americans are successful in the United States. East Asian societies themselves, in general, will often place enormous resources and emphasis on education. For example, the Chinese culture places great value on work ethic and the pursuit of knowledge. This cultural value is associated with Confucianism. In traditional Chinese social stratification, scholars were ranked at the top — well above businessmen and landowners. This Confucianistic view of knowledge is evident in the modern lifestyle of many Asian American families, where parents will push their children to study very hard and achieve high marks.

Ironically, many Asian Americans believe greatly that work ethic and education trumps natural-born intelligence on the road to success. Many Asian Americans will say that a not-so intelligent person who works diligently in his or her studies will surpass one who is naturally gifted with high intelligence but is lazy or unwilling to work hard.

Effects of the stereotype

Asian Americans being the most successful racial group in the US can create a stereotype as a side effect. Asian Americans may also be commonly stereotyped as being studious, affluent, and non-violent. In some cases this may have the effect of those with learning disabilities being given less attention than they need. Asian Americans as a group have a very low crime rate, but a side effect of their success may be a downplaying of the presence of Asian criminal behavior and gangs in several cities, including New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Vancouver as well as in the state of Hawaii. Occasionally however, news of Asian American criminals receives widespread media coverage, such as the infamous Han Twins Murder Conspiracy in 1996.

Jewish Americans

Jewish Americans can, according to some paradigms, be considered a model minority.

Cultural references

  • The film Better Luck Tomorrow plays on the model minority stereotype by depicting a group of Asian-American teenagers who use their academic achievements to cover up criminal activities they are involved with.
  • In Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, Harold is faced with the stereotype of the intelligent/academically successful and "nerdy" Asian male.

Other Countries

In the United Kingdom, the Jewish, East Asian, and Indian populations are often considered to be model minorities. Particularly, the economic and academic achievements of Indians is often compared to perceived under-achievement by Pakistanis and Bangladeshis in the UK.

Negatively viewed success

In certain countries, minority groups successful in economic and other measures have attracted the reverse sort of attention. Indeed, in Indonesia and Malaysia, for instance, ethnic Chinese, a group which historically has achieved prominence in business and economics, have received a substantial degree of discrimination and been the targets of violence.

See also

External links


  • Clark, E. A., & Hanisee, J. (1982). Intellectual and adaptive performance of Asian children in adoptive American settings. Developmental Psychology, 18, 595-599.
  • Frydman, M., & Lynn, R. (1989). The intelligence of Korean children adopted in Belgium. Personality and Individual Differences, 12, 1323-1325.

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