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.
Where people of Asian descent live in the U.S.
Counties that are more than 5% Asian. Each dot represents 100 people.
Note: The category “other Asian groups” includes people of Bangladeshi, Bhutanese, Burmese, Cambodian, Hmong, Indonesian, Laotian, Malaysian, Mongolian, Nepalese, Okinawan, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Taiwanese and Thai descent, as well as other single-race Asian groups. The share of Asian population for each county are from the 2020 decennial census. The groups by origin for each county are from the 2019 American Community Survey.
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 percent of the population has risen to 176 in 2020 from 39 in 1990.
Asian share of population in each county
“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.
Geographic distribution of major Asian groups
Area where each group makes up at least 0.5% of the total population
4.1 million population
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 percent of all people of Asian descent, including those who are mixed race, were born outside the United States, and a majority are naturalized citizens. A vast majority of Asians in the United States are citizens, either naturalized or U.S.-born.
Asian groups by U.S. citizenship status
Asian and Pacific Islander
Among the two dozen groups analyzed 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 U.S. 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.
Characteristics of Asian groups in the U.S.
Higher than national →
← Lower than national
Asian and Pacific Islander
Note: Income figures and homeownership rates are for households. College graduation rates are for individuals age 25 and older.
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 2010, 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, Ala., where the arrival of a Hyundai Motors assembly plant in 2005 jump-started the growth of a Korean community, one out of three 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 U.S. 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.
Median household income of Asian groups, by U.S. citizenship status
Not a citizen
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 been practicing in West Virginia since 2016. “This place really embraces us. The whole state is underserved, and they value our work,” said Dr. 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, naturalized citizens who immigrated to the country a generation before.
Average age of Asian groups, by U.S. citizenship status
Not a citizen
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 Joseph R. Biden Jr. 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 J. Trump in 2020.
How census tracts with different shares of Asian populations voted in 2020
Note: Chart includes only single-race non-Hispanic Asian populations.
How census tracts with a majority in an Asian subgroup voted in 2020
Note: Chart includes only single-race non-Hispanic Asian populations and tracts with an Asian population of more than 100.
With their numbers continuing to expand at a fast clip, demographers expect the Asian population to surpass 46 million by 2060.
Source: The New York Times