Today, Pew Research Center is releasing a report about Asian American identity in the United States. The report explores the experiences and opinions not only of Asian American adults overall, but also of the country’s six largest Asian origin groups: Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese Americans. It is based on the largest nationally representative survey of its kind to date focused on Asian Americans.
In this Q&A, we speak with Neil G. Ruiz, head of new research initiatives and associate director of race and ethnicity research, and Ashley Amaya, senior survey methodologist, about how and why the Center conducted this comprehensive survey. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
What makes this survey of Asian Americans unique? How does it differ from previous research?
Ruiz: In this survey, we wanted to explore the diversity of Asian American experiences. When people talk about Asian Americans, they usually look at the group as a monolith and compare them with other racial and ethnic groups. It was important to do a deep dive to look at the diverse stories among Asian Americans, based on things like their origin group, nativity, age, education level, income level and when they immigrated to the United States. We sought to be able to report data for as many subgroups of Asian American adults as possible.
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Amaya: This is also the first survey of Asian Americans that Pew Research Center has done using a multi-mode, address-based sample design. That means we randomly sampled a list of addresses, mailed survey invitations to those addresses and asked people to complete the survey in one of two ways: online or by mail. This ensured that nearly all Asian American adults had a chance of being invited to take the survey and that the data is accurate. By allowing people to take the survey online or by mail, we got different kinds of people responding, which improved the accuracy of the results.
How did you decide which topics to ask about?
Ruiz: We needed to ask mostly “evergreen” questions because our survey was conducted over seven months, from July 5, 2022, to Jan. 27, 2023. But we also asked several questions that we knew would be timely right now.
We asked questions about identity because we wanted to learn how Asians in the U.S. prefer to identify: as Asian, as Asian American, as their ethnicity (such as Chinese or Chinese American), as American, or as something else. We also wanted to understand the specific experiences of Asians who immigrated to the U.S., as well as those who are lower income. And given recent events, we wanted to ask about Asian Americans’ experiences with discrimination and violence.
We asked questions on many different topics – far more than we can discuss in a single report. So we’ll continue to share findings from this survey in reports over the next several months.
How did you collect accurate and representative data on subgroups of Asian Americans?
Amaya: First, we had to have high coverage frames, which means that nearly all Asian American adults would have a chance of being invited to complete the survey. This approach was necessary to make sure we heard from a diverse and representative set of people. Then we used stratified sampling as a way to efficiently and accurately represent the largest subgroups of Asian Americans. Finally, we offered the survey in six languages – English, Simplified and Traditional Chinese, Hindi, Korean, Tagalog and Vietnamese – and allowed individuals to complete it online or by phone.
Why can’t you report on certain subgroups of Asian Americans or on Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders?
Amaya: To produce accurate and reliable estimates for subgroups of Asian American adults, we need to have a representative sample and a sufficient number of respondents in a given subgroup. It is extremely difficult to do this for some Asian subgroups because they are very small. For example, we would have had to screen over 800 randomly selected households to identify and interview a single Pakistani American adult – the next most populous ethnic group in the U.S. beyond the six captured in the report.
We knew ahead of time that it would be a challenge to report on additional subgroups, so before fielding the survey, we convened 66 focus groups that qualitatively studied some of those less populous Asian origin groups. We also held 18 focus groups after the survey that followed up on various subgroups and subpopulations within the U.S. Asian population.
Ruiz: And we didn’t include Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in this survey because we wanted to make sure that their stories are heard on their own. They are a very small population, and we didn’t want them to be hidden within the data for all Asian Americans. So we want to study them separately in the future.
Also, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have a very different story to tell. The story of Asian Americans is mostly of immigrants coming to the U.S., whereas for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, it’s a story of America coming to them.
How did you ensure that everyone who was interested in participating would be able to complete the survey?
Ruiz: We wanted to make the survey as inclusive as possible. We know that Asian Americans – particularly compared with other racial and ethnic groups – are primarily immigrants, and many of them speak languages other than English. So we offered the survey in five Asian languages, plus English, as well as in paper and web formats. It was important to have these two formats because some people are more likely to answer paper questionnaires than online ones – particularly those who are older, have less formal education and are lower income. It was time-consuming and challenging, but worthwhile.
Amaya: We also targeted our materials to be welcoming to the population of interest. So we used images, terminology and reasons to participate that were all tailored to Asian communities. In the web version of the survey, we could further customize the questions using text fills for the five largest Asian origin groups. So, for example, if you identified yourself as Vietnamese and we asked you which term you use to refer to yourself, we could make the response options that you see be “Vietnamese” or “Vietnamese American.” (Unfortunately, that level of customization wasn’t possible for less populous Asian origin groups or the paper survey.)
What were some of the differences you observed between subgroups of Asian Americans?
Ruiz: There are a lot of differences. For example, although about half of Asian American adults describe themselves most often with their ethnic origin – Chinese, Chinese American, Filipino, Filipino American, and so on – it varies by immigration status and how long they have lived in the U.S. Those who immigrated to the U.S. are more likely to use their ethnic origin to describe themselves, whereas those born in the U.S. are less likely to do so. Also, more recent immigrants are more likely than immigrants who have been in the U.S. longer to use their ethnic origin identity.
There are also some interesting differences by country of origin:
- Indian adults are more likely than those in the other five largest Asian origin groups to use their ethnic identity (Indian) without the addition of American to describe themselves. They are also more likely to be recent immigrants because of a wave of Indian immigrants who have come for high-skilled work over the last few decades.
- Japanese adults are the least likely of the largest Asian origin groups to say they are friends with other Asians.
- Vietnamese registered voters are the most likely out of the five largest Asian origin groups to identify as Republican or lean that way. (The sample of Japanese registered voters was too small to report their party affiliation.)
This gives you an idea of the level of detail we were able to report and why we worked so hard to get accurate and representative subgroups of Asian Americans, rather than reporting only on Asian Americans as a whole.
What are some shared experiences of being Asian American in the U.S., regardless of origin group, that you uncovered in this survey?
Ruiz: Despite differences in how Asian Americans choose to identify themselves, there are shared experiences when it comes to their cultural backgrounds, their party affiliation, how long they’ve been in the U.S. and more.
A majority of U.S. Asian adults say most people would describe them as Asian when passing them on the street, indicating that they feel that others see them as a single group – as Asian. Around two-thirds say it’s extremely or very important to have a national leader who advances the concerns of the Asian community in the U.S. And a majority feel connected to other Asians and say that what happens to other Asians in the U.S. affects their own lives at least some.
Unfortunately, about three-in-ten Asian adults who were born in the U.S. also have the shared experience of hiding a part of their heritage from people who are not Asian, sometimes out of fear of being bullied or teased.
On a more personal note – from listening to our focus group participants, from managing this survey, and from my own experiences as a Filipino American who was born and raised in Southern California – I can say that these survey results speak not only to the diverse experiences among Asian Americans, but also to what is shared.
For details on how the survey was conducted, read the report methodology. If you would like to learn more about our research on Asian Americans, please reach out to email@example.com to be added to our email list and follow us @pewidentity on Twitter.