Inside the diverse and growing Asian population in US

Inside the diverse and growing Asian population in the US

The number of counties where people of Asian descent represent more than 5 per cent of the population has risen to 176 in 2020 from 39 in 1990

Representative image. Credit: AFP File Photo

The number of people who identify as Asian in the United States nearly tripled in the past three decades, and Asians are now the fastest-growing of the nation’s four largest racial and ethnic groups, according to recently released census numbers.

But in addition to the uptick, the Asian population has become geographically diverse with wide variations in income, citizenship status and political preference, according to a New York Times analysis of census data.

The Asian population is complex, made up of nearly 20 million people who trace their roots to more than 20 countries in East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent, regions that the Census Bureau includes as places of origin for Asians.

In 1990, the country’s Asian population numbered 6.6 million and was largely concentrated in a few pockets in cities on the coasts. Thirty years later, those enclaves have grown significantly, and the Asian population is more spread out, with families building lives in the suburbs of the South and in rural areas of the Midwest.

The number of counties where people of Asian descent represent more than 5 per cent of the population has risen to 176 in 2020 from 39 in 1990.

“When people think Asians in America, they think California, Hawaii. But this population is not a West Coast phenomenon. It’s now an American phenomenon,” said Neil G. Ruiz, the associate director of race and ethnicity research at Pew Research Center.

North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, North Carolina and Indiana are among states that experienced major growth in the past decade. And people of Asian descent have been settling in ever larger numbers in states like West Virginia, where the overall population has declined.

Diversity Among Groups and Within Groups

The diversity of the nation’s Asian population often gets overlooked. Most published statistics consider all Asians as a single entity, but the reality is more nuanced.

In addition to Asians of a single race, an additional 3.5 million people identify as mixed-race Asian, making up more than a quarter of all mixed-race people in the United States.

Nearly 60 per cent of all people of Asian descent, including those who are mixed race, were born outside the United States, and a majority are naturalised citizens. A vast majority of Asians in the United States are citizens, either naturalized or US-born.

Among the two dozen groups analysed by The Times, there are also vast differences in age, income and other demographic categories. Even within groups, there are wide gulfs between the characteristics of new immigrants and those who were born in the United States or who were naturalized many years ago.

For example, the household incomes of people of Asian descent exceed the overall US population’s household incomes. Educational attainment is similarly higher. But among groups, there is quite a large variation.

Economically, Indians are consistently wealthier, while residents of Bhutanese descent have the lowest income and are unlikely to own a home. Many are Nepali-speaking Bhutanese refugees, who were stranded for years in camps with limited access to education.

In Columbus, Ohio, home to the largest Bhutanese community outside of Asia, many sort and pack items for Amazon, FedEx, Kroger and Bath & Body Works, among other companies.

The Asian population in one area of that city jumped to more than 1,000 in 2020 from nearly none in 2020, thanks to the arrival of people from Bhutan, many of whom are transplants from cities where they were originally resettled by the government.

“To find a job in Columbus, it is known you don’t have to speak English because there are so many warehouse jobs,” said Jhuma Acharya, a case manager at a refugee resettlement agency, “because there are so many warehouses.”

In a census tract in Montgomery, Alabama, where the arrival of a Hyundai Motors assembly plant in 2005 jump-started the growth of a Korean community, 1 out of 3 people is Asian, and they include auto company executives and independent grocers.

Disparities in incomes are driven by the types of jobs held by different groups and the number of earners per household, which vary by citizenship status.

A disproportionate share of workers in health care are people of Filipino descent. But there are even more workers of Filipino descent with jobs in the service sector, particularly those without US citizenship.

Among Korean households, those headed by a person born in the United States have a median income of $95,000, but ones headed by Koreans who are not citizens have a median income of just $54,000. The gap is even wider for those of Chinese or Taiwanese descent.

People of Indian descent hold a significant share of jobs in several high-paying fields, including computer science, financial management and medicine. Nine percent of doctors in the United States are of Indian descent, and more than half of them are immigrants.

Dr. Nihit Gupta, a child psychiatrist, and his wife, Dr. Shikha Jaiswal, a nephrologist, who are Indian, have practiced in West Virginia since 2016. “This place really embraces us. The whole state is underserved, and they value our work,” said Gupta, 38, one of two psychiatrists within a 70-mile radius.

The couple had their first child, a son named Tasmay, 20 months ago.

Asian Americans born in the United States tend to be younger — half of them are children. They are the children of older, naturalised citizens who immigrated to the country a generation before.

As a growing group in American demographics, Asian Americans are also playing an increasing role in electoral politics.

Analysis by The Times found that neighborhoods with high concentrations of Asian residents overwhelmingly favored Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election, though variations exist among different groups. More than half of places where Vietnamese Americans were a majority, for example, favored President Donald Trump in 2020.

With the Asian population continuing to expand at a fast clip, demographers expect it to surpass 46 million by 2060.


To assess the demographics of Asians in the United States, The Times analysed recently released 2020 census results and compared the figures with those of previous decades. For more detailed characteristics of Asian groups, the analysis used microdata from the 2019 American Community Survey, obtained from the Minnesota Population Center.

The primary statistics from the 2020 census were based on people who identified as non-Hispanic and Asian of a single race. The data is based on how people described themselves in the survey, but may not necessarily reflect where they were born or immigrated from. The Census Bureau defines Asian as anyone with origins from East Asia, Southeast Asia or the Indian subcontinent.

To get the broadest picture of Asian characteristics, the American Community Survey analysis included Asians who identified themselves as either Asian from a single group or Asian in combination with another race. The analysis divided the US Asian population into 24 subgroups and further divided these groups by citizenship status — native-born citizens, naturalised citizens born outside the United States and immigrants who are not US citizens.

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox