For most non-Asian Americans, "Asian" means Chinese, Japanese, or "Oriental." This concept of "Asian" accurately reflected the Asian population living in the
United States through 1970, when 96% of Asian Americans were either Japanese, Chinese, or Filipino. As the 21st century approaches, these three groups make up 55% of Asian Americans. Chinese represent the largest Asian subgroup (24%), Filipino is second largest (21%), and Japanese Americans represent 10%. The other 45% of the Asian American population is represented by Asian Indians (13%), Koreans (10%), Vietnamese (11%), Cambodians, Hmong, and Laotian (5%), and other Asian group (6%).
The number of Cambodians, Hmongs, Laotians, and other Asians living in the United States grew rapidly after 1980 because new refugee policies brought a large influx from Southeast Asia. It is also interesting to note that there has been little immigration from Japan in recent decades. Since 1990, the Asian Indians, Koreans, and Vietnamese have all surpassed the number of Japanese Americans.
Although Asian Americans made up less than 4% of the total U.S. population in 1997, this population is growing very rapidly. Asian American numbers nearly doubled between 1980 and 1990 and are likely to double again by the year 2010. Immigration has fueled the dramatic growth of the Asian American population (Barringer, Gardner, & Levin, 1993). Almost 70% of the U.S. Asians counted in the 1990 census were either immigrants who came to the United States after 1970 or the children of these immigrants (Lee, 1998).
Immigration along with fertility and mortality continues to shape the demographic profile and growth rate of Asian American population. Immigration and differences in childbearing patterns have given Asian Americans a young age structure, which is different from other minority groups and from the overall U.S. population. Only about 7% of Asians were aged 65 or older in 1997 compared with 13% of the total U.S. population. U.S.-born Asians also have an extremely young age structure. These young Americans will be forming their own families in the next decade and thus creating the first sizable population of third-generation (grandchildren) Asian Americans.
Aside from immigration, fertility is the major source of growth among the Asian American population. Asian Americans tend to wait longer to have children and eventually have fewer children than other minority groups. Asian mothers are also less likely than other racial and ethnic groups to have a baby out of wedlock. They are more likely to have a high school or college education than mothers in other racial or ethnic groups. These childbearing patterns reflect different age structures, marriage patterns, and cultural influences. The TFR of Asian Americans was 1.9 in 1995, which was lower than the rates of other minority groups. During this period, American Indians, African Americans, and Hispanics had 2.2, 2.5, and 3.0 as their respective TFRs (NCHS, 1997).
Another indicator of population composition is sex ratio (number of males per 100 females), which reflects whether the immigrant flows consisted predominantly of men, women, or families. When the Chinese worked on the railroads during 1850s, there were almost 1400 Chinese men for every 100 Chinese women. The situation has reversed now, as in 1997, the sex-ratio for the Asian American population was 96 to 100 (Lee 1998). Of the various groups of Asian Americans, Asian Indians are an exception whose sex-ratio was 116 to 100 for those who arrived between 1980 and 1990.
Immigration from Asia was transformed after 1965 by two factors: the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of 1965 and the end of the Vietnam War. The Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments (1965) effectively opened the way for new waves of immigrants from China and the Philippines as well as new flows from many other countries, primarily South Korea and India. The post-1965 flow began with highly educated professionals who came to the United States in search of jobs, and it is now dominated by the families of those immigrants. India has been among the leading countries of origin of U.S. immigrants in the 1990s, and the Asian Indian population is now the third largest Asian American ethnic subgroup (Helweg & Helweg, 1990). About 20% of the 1997 population arrived after 1990 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1997).
The influence of the Asian American population on U.S. societey is substantial. The Asian American population in general, and some of the Asian American subgroups in particular, has above-average income and educational levels. Both as a group and as individuals they tend to negate the idea that they are a disadvantaged minority. At the same time their diversity in terms of SES contradicts the common stereotype that Asian Americans are a "model minority" (Smith & Edmonston, 1997).
Asian Americans differ from Blacks and Hispanics because a much larger percentage of Asians are in the middle- and upper-income levels. Asian Americans are more likely than Blacks, and as likely as Hispanics, to marry outside their racial and ethnic groups. Some scholars even suggest that Asian's minority status will erode and eventually disappear. By the middle of 21st century, the term "Asian American" may impart no more social distance from the majority population than Italian American or Greek American does today (Lott, 1998).
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