Model minority

Model minority

Model minority refers to a minority ethnic, racial, or religious group whose members achieve a higher degree of success than the population average. It is most commonly used to label one ethnic minority higher achieving than another ethnic minority. This success is typically measured in income, education, and related factors such as low crime rate and high family stability.

In the United States, the term is associated with Asian Americans, primarily Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Japanese, and Korean Americans. In the Netherlands, the term is primarily associated with Indo people also known as Indies Dutchmen or Dutch Indonesians, the largest minority group in the country.[1] [2] [3]

Generalized statistics are often cited to back up their model minority status such as high educational achievement and a high representation in white collar professions (jobs such as medicine, investment banking, management consulting, finance, engineering, and law).

A common misconception is that the affected communities usually hold pride in their labeling as the model minority. The model minority stereotype is considered detrimental to the Asian Pacific American (APA) community, becuse it is used to justify the exclusion of needy APA communities in the distribution of assistance programs, public and private, and understate or slight the achievements of APA individuals.

Some groups commonly noted to be exceptions to the Model Minority Myth are South East Asian communities (e.g. Cambodians and Lao Americans) and the Pacific Islander community (e.g. persons with origins in Guam and Micronesia). However, these regional generalizations are not always true. For example, Sri Lankan Americans are among the poorest ethnic groups, though South Asian Americans are regionally generalized as being a very wealthy and succcessful Asian American subgroup. In another example, both Vietnamese (South Asian) and Korean (East Asian) Americans have similarly low levels of average income.

The model minority myth relies on the aggregation of success indicators, hiding the plight of recent first-generation immigrants under the high success rate of more established Asian communities. While communities of Asian Americans that have been in the US for 3-4 generations are generally wealthier, immigrant communities of Asian Americans will experience great poverty.[4]:2[5]



In 1966, the term "model minority" was coined in The New York Times magazine by sociologist William Petersen to describe Asian Americans as ethnic minorities who, despite marginalization, have achieved success in the United States. In his essay called "Success Story: Japanese American Style", he wrote that the Japanese cultures have strong work ethics and family values. Furthermore, he wrote that those values prevent them from becoming a "problem minority". A similar article about Chinese Americans was published in U.S. News and World Report in December 1960.[6][7]

In 1980's, almost all major U.S. magazines and newspapers printed success stories of Asian Americans.[8]:222

In the 1970s and 1980s, many scholars challenged the model minority stereotype. B. Suzuki published "Education and the Socialization of Asian Americans: A Revisionist Analysis of the ‘Model Minority Thesis." In the paper, he disagrees with how the media is portraying Asian Americans. He explains the sociohistorical and the comptemporary social system, and how the Model Minority stereotype is myth.[4]:3

The Model Minority Stereotype

There has been a significant change in the perceptions of Asian Americans. In as little as 100 years of American history, stereotypes of East Asian Americans have changed to portraying a hard working and educated minority.[9]

Asian Americans are spoken of as a 'model minority' group, often compared in a racially divisive way, as the minority group that is able to be successful, while other minority groups are relatively not. The term Asian Americans (as a model minority) is used primarily to describe the largest groups of Asian Americans in the U.S. (Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Indian). Both South and East Asians have made substantial progress in American society. For example, Vietnamese and Korean Americans have both made comparable levels of income.

An example of the Model Minority stereotype are phenomena, such as the high rates of educational attainment and economic success in the Indian American community. Pointing to generalized data, another argument for the Model Minority stereotype is generalized data such as from the U.S. Census Bureau, where the median household income of Asian Americans is $68,780, higher than the total population's $50,221.[10]

However, there are extreme ranges of income by ethnic group, with some Asian American ethnic groups at the poorest levels of income in the US. For example, Vietnamese Americans (regionally categorized as South East Asian) have same levels of income as Korean Americans (regionally categorized as East Asian). The problems with the Model Minority Myth are often due to regional generalizations of the vast numbers of ethnic groups, which each have vastly different histories and immigration patterns, which in turn impact the experience and ability of various ethnic groups to succeed in the US.

The Model Minority Myth also points to the percentage of Asian Americans at elite universities (elite university being roughly defined as a school in the Top 40 according to US News and World Report.)[11] Model Minority Myth proponents claim that while Asian Americans are only 5% of the U.S. population, they are over represented at all these schools. However, it is also true that Asian Americans comprise the majority of the population in many West and East Coast cities and regions. In California, for example, the over-representation argument is not true because there are majority populations of Asian Americans in California communities. Thus, it makes sense that high numbers of these populations would attend college in the state.

Unsurprisingly, Asian American students are concentrated in a very small percentage of institutions, in only 8 states (and half concentrated in California, New York and Texas).[12] Moreover, more Asian American students attend two-year community colleges (363,798 in 2000) than four-year public universities (354,564 in 2000) and this trend (of attending community college) is accelerating.[12] Logically, West coast academic institutions are amongst those that have the highest concentrations of Asian Americans.

Due to the impacts of the Model Minority Myth, unlike other minority serving institutions, Asian American Pacific Islander serving institutions (AAPISI) did not receive federal recognition until 2007, with the passage of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, which federally recognized the existence of AAPISIs, making them eligible for federal funding and designation as minority serving institutions.[13]

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's 2003 report Crime in the United States, Asian Americans have the lowest total arrest rates[14] despite a younger average age, and high family stability.[15]

Bachelor's Degree or Higher Educational Attainment[10][16][17]
Ethnicity Percent of Population
Indian 67.9%
Chinese 50.2%
Filipino 47.9%
Japanese 43.7%
Vietnamese 23.5%
Non-Hispanic White 27.0%
Black 14.3%
Cambodian 9.2%
Hmong 7.5%
Laotian 7.7%
General US Population 24.4%

Indian Americans

The model minority label has also recently included South Asian communities, in particular, Indian Americans, drawn from their disproportionate socioeconomic success.[18] For example, according to the census report on Asian Americans issued in 2004 by the U.S. census bureau, 64% of Indian Americans had a Bachelor's degree or higher, the highest for all national origin groups. In the same census, 60% of Indian-Americans had management or professional jobs, compared with a national average of 33%. Indian Americans, along with Japanese and Filipino Americans, have some of the lowest poverty rates for all communities, as well as one of the lowest rates of single parent households (7% versus the national average of 15%). Indian Americans also earn the highest average income out of all national origin groups. This has resulted in several stereotypes such as that of the "Indian Doctor".[19]


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 laborers.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, some Americans feared that the western part of the US would be overrun by the "Yellow Peril," prompting initiatives to reduce immigration from Asia, and during World War II, anti-Japanese paranoia led to thousands of Japanese Americans being held in "internment camps" in the USA.

In addition, numerous Asian Americans were recent immigrants or their offspring, since immigration laws had limited Asian immigration prior to the mid 1960s.

In the mid 1900s, the Yellow Peril stereotype began to give way to recognition of the racial group's socioeconomic accomplishments.

The "Yellow Peril" stereotype towards East Asians soon broadened to include new South Asian immigrant groups under the terms Turban Tide and Hindoo Invasion, the first being a reference to the Sikh community and the latter being an archaic spelling of "Hindu", the religion of many South Asians.

Though not widely covered in mainstream media, various instances of racism have occurred throughout the country, a notable example being the well-known "macaca moment" involving George Allen and the killing of Vincent Chin.

Media Protrayal

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.

In 1988, Asian-American writer Philip K. Chiu identified the prevalence of the model minority stereotype in American media reports on Chinese Americans, and noted the contrast between that stereotype and what he observed as the reality of the Chinese American population, which was much more varied than the model minority stereotype in the media typically presented.[20]

I am fed up with being stereotyped as either a subhuman or superhuman creature. Certainly I am proud of the academic and economic successes of Chinese Americans . . . But it's important for people to realize that there is another side. . . . It is about time for the media to report on Chinese Americans the way they are. Some are superachievers, most are average citizens, and a few are criminals. They are only human--no more and no less.

Since the 1960s, and today, much media representation conveys Asian Americans only in terms of the Model Minority Myth, which is a vast stereotype that dehumanizes the struggles and experiences of the extremely diverse Asian American population. Stereotypes and media images in turn then inform individuals of their possibilities and roles. As Oprah Winfrey said, "you can only become what you can see." When there are repeated and very specific types of images, stereotypes become internalized and reinforced by individuals.

High school and university performance

The University of California system is an academic institution with a high population of Asian Americans. For instance, at the University of California, Berkeley, Asian Americans accounted for 42% of the undergraduate student body as of 2003. There are also a few top high schools in states with many Asian Americans where Asian Americans constitute large proportions of the student body; over half at Lowell High School, Stuyvesant High School, Brooklyn Technical High School, Hunter College High School and the Bronx High School of Science.[21] However, it is important to note that California and New York have the majority of the US population in the US, with Asian Americans consisting the majority of some communities.

Percent with High School Only and Less than High School Education Attainment by Ethnicity*[10][16][17]
Ethnicity Less than High School Graduate High School Graduate
Non-Hispanic White 14.5% 30.1%
Black 27.7% 29.8%
Asian 15.8% 19.6%
Chinese 19.2% 13.2%
Vietnamese 30.0% 19.1%
Cambodian 60.3% 18.8%
Hmong 59.6% 16.1%
Laotian 49.6% 24.4%
*of the population age 25 and older

Possible Causes of Model Minority status

Self-selective immigration hypothesis

One possible cause of the higher performance of Asian Americans as a group is that they represent a small self-selected group of Asians. The relative difficulty of emigrating into the United States selected out those with less resources, motivation or ability.

Cultural differences

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 more resources and emphasis on education. For example, the Chinese culture places great value on work ethic and the pursuit of knowledge. In traditional Chinese social stratification, scholars were ranked at the top — well above businessmen and landowners. This view of knowledge is evident in the modern lifestyle of many Asian American families, where the whole family puts emphasis on education and parents will make it their priority to push their children to study and achieve high marks. Similar cultural tendencies and values are found in South and Southeast Asian families (such as Indian Americans and Filipino Americans), whose children similarly face extra pressure by parents to succeed in school and to achieve high-ranked jobs.

Asian American status in affirmative action

In the 1980s, several Ivy League schools alleged that they have limited admissions to Asian American students. Because of their high degree of success as a group and over-representation in many areas such as college admissions, most Asian Americans are not granted preferential treatment by affirmative action policies as are other minority groups.

Some schools choose lower-scoring applicants from other racial groups over Asian Americans in an attempt to promote racial diversity and to maintain some proportion to the society's racial demographics.[22][23]:165

This policy was highly criticized as simply going forth with the Model Minority Myth, instead of recognizing the individual struggles of people, despite their ethnic or racial background.

The policy was also highly criticized as framing admissions as either one minority or another minority member being admitted; instead of considering the spot of white Americans or non minorities.

Effects of the stereotype

According to Gordon H. Chang: The reference to Asian Americans as model minorities has to do with the work ethic, respect for elders, and high valuation of family and elders present in their culture.

Despite the fact that this concept seems to valorize Asian Americans, the notion is very narrow and dehumanizing. It delegitimizes the experiences of the many Asian Americans in poverty and low educational attainment.

The Model Minority Myth also comes with an underlying notion of their apoliticality. Such a label one-dimensionalizes Asian Americans as having those traits and no other human qualities, such as vocal leadership, negative emotions, or intolerance towards oppression. Asian Americans are labeled as model minorities because they have not been as much of a "threat" to the U.S. political establishment as blacks, due to a smaller population and less political advocacy. This label seeks to suppress potential political activism through euphemistic stereotyping. (Reference: Asian Americans and Politics: Perspective, Experiences, Prospects by Gordon H. Chang.)

Effects of Model Minority stereotyping

Asian Americans may also be commonly stereotyped by the general public as being studious, intelligent, successful, elitist, brand name conscious, yet paradoxically passive.

As a result, higher and unreasonable expectations are often associated with Asian Americans. Some educators held Asian students to a higher standard.[8] This has the effect of those with learning disabilities being given less attention than they need. The connotations of being a model minority mean Asian students are often labeled with the unpopular "nerd" or "geek" image. They are often harassed or bullied due to this stereotype.[8]:223 Asians have been the target of bullying and racism from other races due to the racially divisive model minority stereotype.[23]:165

The higher expectations placed on East Asians as a result of the model minority stereotype carries over from academics to the workplace.[8]

The Model Minority stereotype is emotionally damaging to many Asian Americans, since there are unjustified expectations to live up to stereotypes of high achievement. Studies have shown that Asian Americans suffer from higher rates of stress, depression, mental illnesses, and suicide attempts in comparison to other races.[24] The pressures to achieve and live up to the model minority image have taken a tremendous mental and psychological toll on Asian Americans.[25]

Cultural references

  • The film Better Luck Tomorrow plays on the model minority stereotype by depicting a group of East 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. Kumar, of South Asian descent and whose father and brother are both medical doctors, denies himself the prospect of going to medical school in defiance of the "Indian doctor" stereotype despite his considerable intellect and knowledge.

Black African immigrants

According to the London Daily Times "Black Africans have emerged as the most highly educated members of British society, surpassing even the Chinese as the most academically successful ethnic minority."[26] In a side-by-side comparison of 2000 census data by sociologists including John R. Logan at the Mumford Center, State University of New York at Albany, black immigrants from Africa averaged the highest educational attainment of any population group in the U.S., including whites and Asians.

According to an analysis of Census Bureau data by The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, some 48.9 percent of all African immigrants hold a college diploma.[27] This is slightly more than the percentage of Asian immigrants to the U.S., nearly double the rate for native-born white Americans, and nearly four times the rate for native-born African Americans. In an article by Clarence Page for the Chicago Tribune 43.8 percent of African immigrants had achieved a college degree, compared with 42.5 of Asian Americans, 28.9 percent for immigrants from Europe, Russia and Canada and 23.1 percent of the U.S. population. The article beginning with the lines "Do African immigrants make the smartest Americans?" was meant to call attention to the dubiousness of affirmative action.[28]

Similar to the Asian American population, attainment rates vary widely between countries. Nigerians have both the largest number of immigrants as well as the highest educational attainment and income statistics.[29]

Other countries

In Germany the Vietnamese have been called a model minority[citation needed], because while many first generation Vietnamese immigrants live below the nation's poverty line, their children are successful in gaining access to Germany's university preparatory schools, the so called Gymnasien. Their success has been called "Das vietnamesische Wunder".[30] ("The Vietnamese Miracle"). A study revealed that while in the districts of Lichtenberg and Marzahn, Vietnamese account for only 2% of the general population, but make up 17% of the prep school population.[31]

See also


  1. ^ Zorlu, A., Hartig J. “Migration and immigrants: The case of the Netherlands” (Publisher: Tinbergen Institute, Amsterdam, 2001) P.4 [1]
  2. ^ Beets, G et al. “De demografische geschiedenis van de Indische Nederlanders.” Report no. 64, 89. (Publisher: NiDi, The Hague, 2002) P.111-113
  3. ^ Van Amersfoort, Hans "Immigration as a Colonial Inheritance: Post-Colonial Immigrants in the Netherlands, 1945-2002." in "Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 1469-9451"(Publisher: Institute for Migration and Ethnic Studies (IMES), Volume 32, Issue 3, 2006) P.323–346 [2]
  4. ^ a b Li, Guofang; Lihshing Wang (July 10, 2008). Model Minority Myth Revisited: an Interdisciplinary Approach to Demystifying Asian American Educational Experiences. Information Age Publishing. ISBN 978-1-59311-951-5. 
  5. ^ Asian-Nation : Asian American History, Demographics, & Issues :: Socioeconomic Statistics & Demographics
  6. ^ Article "Re-examining the Model Minority Myth: A Look at Southeast Asian Youth"
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b c d Chen, Edith Wen-Chu; Grace J. Yoo (December 23, 2009). Encyclopedia of Asian American Issues Today, Volume 1. ABC-CLIO. pp. 222–223. ISBN 0-31334-749-2. 
  9. ^ [3]
  10. ^ a b c;ACS_2009_1YR_G00_S0201PR:012;ACS_2009_1YR_G00_S0201T:012;ACS_2009_1YR_G00_S0201TPR:012&-_lang=en&-redoLog=false&-format=
  11. ^ Asian American Baccalaureate - All Areas
  12. ^ a b Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders: Facts, not Fiction: Setting the Record Straight. National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education, College Board. 2008. 
  13. ^ Chen, Edith Wen-Chu (2010). Encyclopedia of Asian American Issues Today. 1. ABC-CLIO. pp. 177. ISBN 9780313347511. 
  14. ^ CIUS 2003 Section IV - Persons Arrested (Document Pages 267-336)
  15. ^ Affirmative Action Bake Sale
  16. ^ a b "We the People: Asians in the United States" Census 2000 Special Reports, U.S. Census Bureau
  17. ^ a b "Educational Attainment: 2000" Census 2000 Brief, U.S. Census Bureau
  18. ^ Indian Americans: The New Model Minority, Forbes
  19. ^
  20. ^ Philip K. Chiu, "ROSTRUM: The myth of the model minority." U.S. News and World Report. May 16, 1988. p. 7.
  21. ^ Statistics - Bronx High School of Science - X445 - NYC DOE Retrieved April 3, 2010.
  22. ^ Mathews, Jay (March 22, 2005). "Learning to Stand Out Among the Standouts". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 10, 2010. 
  23. ^ a b Ancheta, Angelo N. (2006). Race, Rights, and the Asian American Experience. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 0-8135-3902-1. 
  24. ^ "Mental Health and Depression in Asian Americans"
  25. ^ "Push to achieve tied to suicide in Asian American women"
  26. ^ London Daily Times (January 23, 1994, as reported in Stringer and McKie 1997:190; Re-reported by Smedley in Lieberman 2001:p87)
  27. ^ The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education
  28. ^ African Immigrants are the Most Educated
  29. ^
  30. ^ Zeit: "Das vietnamesische Wunder (German)
  31. ^ Von Berg, Stefan; Darnstädt, Thomas; Elger, Katrin; Hammerstein, Konstantin von; Hornig, Frank; Wensierski, Peter: "Politik der Vermeidung". Spiegel.
  • Espiritu, Yen Le (1996). Asian American Women and Men: Labor, Laws, and Love.
  • 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.


  • Ancheta, Angelo N. (2006). Race, Rights, and the Asian American Experience. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 0-8135-3902-1.
  • Chen, Edith Wen-Chu; Grace J. Yoo (December 23, 2009). Encyclopedia of Asian American Issues Today, Volume 1. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 0-31334-749-2.
  • Li, Guofang; Lihshing Wang (July 10, 2008). Model Minority Myth Revisited: an Interdisciplinary Approach to Demystifying Asian American Educational Experiences. Information Age Publishing. ISBN 978-1-59311-951-5.
  • Marger, Martin N. (2009). Race and Ethnic Relations: American and Global Perspectives, 8th Edition. Cengage Brain. ISBN 049550436X.
  • Rothenberg, Paula S. (2006). Race, Class, and Gender in the United States: An Integrated Study, 7th edition. Macmillan. ISBN 0-7167-6148-3.
  • Zhou Min and Carl L. Bankston III. (1998) "Growing Up American: How Vietnamese Children Adapt to Life in the United States". Russell Sage Foundation

External links

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