Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Children Are Not a Monolith

Disaggregating Data to Debunk the “Model Minority” Myth

Posted August 23, 2023
Seven Asian kids take a break from playing in the park to smile for the camera.

Asian Amer­i­can (AA) and Native Hawai­ian and Pacif­ic Islander (NHPI) chil­dren are too often viewed as a mono­lith­ic group. They are reg­u­lar­ly labeled as a sin­gle block, Asian and Pacif­ic Islander,” despite the sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences between Asians and Pacif­ic Islanders and the extreme het­ero­gene­ity of these pop­u­la­tions. While the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau pro­vides data on AA chil­dren, with ori­gins in more than 20 coun­tries or eth­nic groups in East and South­east Asia and the Indi­an sub­con­ti­nent, there are near­ly 50 coun­tries in Asia and even more eth­nic groups. Com­bin­ing dozens of nation­al­i­ties and eth­nic­i­ties into one data point masks the chal­lenges faced by a diverse set of iden­ti­ties and makes effec­tive­ly meet­ing the needs of these chil­dren near­ly impos­si­ble. To unmask the dis­par­i­ties in child­hood well-being among these groups, pol­i­cy­mak­ers and data providers must take action to dis­ag­gre­gate data on AA and NHPI children.

Under­stand­ing Who Is Asian Amer­i­can” and Native Hawai­ian and Pacif­ic Islander”

Though the term Asian Amer­i­can” is com­mon­ly used to encom­pass all Amer­i­cans of Asian descent, many Asian Amer­i­cans pre­fer more spe­cif­ic labels such as Kore­an Amer­i­can” or Viet­namese Amer­i­can.” The Cen­sus Bureau pro­vides data on select­ed Asian alone groups:

  • Asian Indi­an
  • Bangladeshi
  • Bhutanese
  • Burmese
  • Cam­bo­di­an
  • Chi­nese, except Taiwanese
  • Fil­ipino
  • Hmong
  • Indone­sian
  • Japan­ese
  • Kore­an
  • Laot­ian
  • Malaysian
  • Mon­go­lian
  • Nepalese
  • Oki­nawan
  • Pak­istani
  • Sri Lankan
  • Tai­wanese
  • Thai
  • Two or More Asian
  • Viet­namese
  • Oth­er Asian, specified
  • Oth­er Asian, not specified
  • The Cen­sus also pro­vides data on select groups with­in the Native Hawai­ian and Oth­er Pacif­ic Islander” cat­e­go­ry, includ­ing those iden­ti­fy­ing as:

    • Fijian;
    • Mar­shallese;
    • Chamor­ro;
    • Ton­gan;
    • Samoan; and
    • Native Hawai­ian.

    But this is not a com­pre­hen­sive list, as indi­vid­u­als in this diverse group may also iden­ti­fy as (among others):

    • Car­olin­ian;
    • Chuukese;
    • Kos­raean;
    • Niuean;
    • Palauan;
    • Pohn­peian;
    • Papua New Guinean;
    • Toke­lauan; and
    • Yapese.

    Cen­sus data cap­tures these groups as Oth­er Poly­ne­sian,” Oth­er Microne­sian,” Oth­er Melane­sian” and Oth­er Pacif­ic Islander.” Like Asian Amer­i­cans, Native Hawai­ian and Pacif­ic Islander pop­u­la­tions are wide­ly heterogeneous.

    Anoth­er way to under­stand the diver­si­ty of these pop­u­la­tions is through local orga­ni­za­tions that direct­ly inter­act with them. For instance, com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tions across the coun­try that work with AAs, NHPIs have report­ed serv­ing 56 dif­fer­ent eth­nic groups in 75 dif­fer­ent lan­guages accord­ing to the Asian Pacif­ic Insti­tute on Gen­der-Based Violence.

    Each of these nation­al­i­ties and eth­nic groups rep­re­sents dis­tinct cul­tures, his­to­ries, expe­ri­ences and lan­guages, adding to the depth and strength of Amer­i­can soci­ety. To be clear, when talk­ing about these groups, we are large­ly talk­ing about U.S. cit­i­zens. Near­ly 9 in 10 (86%) indi­vid­u­als who iden­ti­fy as NHPI are U.S. cit­i­zens, and over 7 in 10 (73%) of those who iden­ti­fy as Asian are U.S. cit­i­zens, either by birth or nat­u­ral­iza­tion, accord­ing to the 2020 Cen­sus. Among the chil­dren of these indi­vid­u­als, the share who are cit­i­zens is like­ly even high­er. In fact, ful­ly 90% of all chil­dren of immi­grants are U.S. cit­i­zens. (See our post Who Are Chil­dren in Immi­grant Fam­i­lies?) Of course, many chil­dren of those who iden­ti­fy as Asian, Native Hawai­ian or Pacif­ic Islander are not chil­dren of immi­grants but chil­dren of U.S.-born parents.

    Debunk­ing the Mod­el Minor­i­ty” Myth

    The label mod­el minor­i­ty” has been used for decades. It per­pet­u­ates a detri­men­tal stereo­type that AAs and NHPIs are more aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly and finan­cial­ly high achiev­ing than oth­er racial and eth­nic groups. It is inac­cu­rate, sim­plis­tic and insult­ing to char­ac­ter­ize all of these diverse pop­u­la­tions in a one-dimen­sion­al way.

    Read More About AA and NHPI Edu­ca­tion­al Attainment

    The Com­plex Chal­lenges Faced by Asian Amer­i­can and Native Hawai­ian and Pacif­ic Islander Kids

    The mod­el minor­i­ty myth treats AAs and NHPIs as a mono­lith, though the expe­ri­ences of these chil­dren and youth are diverse, nuanced and mul­ti­fac­eted. Many young peo­ple are grow­ing up in fam­i­lies that have expe­ri­enced trau­mas such as war, the after­math of war, col­o­niza­tion and hav­ing to flee their coun­tries due to per­se­cu­tion. These scar­ring expe­ri­ences have gen­er­a­tional impacts on fam­i­lies and can have long-term neg­a­tive effects on men­tal health. For exam­ple, even after col­o­niza­tion ends — like after the Philip­pines gained inde­pen­dence from the U.S. in the mid-20th cen­tu­ry — research has shown that the mem­o­ries of colo­nial exploita­tion have last­ing adverse psy­cho­log­i­cal impli­ca­tions for oppressed populations.

    Read More About the Men­tal Health Chal­lenges Faced by AA and NHPI Populations

    Each racial or eth­nic group’s his­to­ry is entire­ly dif­fer­ent, and each family’s expe­ri­ence with­in that his­to­ry is unique. Fam­i­lies also vary in their ethnic–racial social­iza­tion of chil­dren. As kids grow up, they must nav­i­gate the com­plex­i­ty of form­ing their eth­nic iden­ti­ty and their Amer­i­can iden­ti­ty. At the same time, they are form­ing oth­er iden­ti­ties as part of ado­les­cence, such as:

    • gen­der identity;
    • sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion; and
    • reli­gious identity.

    They must do this while also tra­vers­ing all the usu­al devel­op­men­tal, social and edu­ca­tion­al chal­lenges of child­hood, youth and young adulthood.

    As if all this weren’t already dif­fi­cult, the spike in racist sen­ti­ments and anti-Asian hate crimes in recent years is anoth­er sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor affect­ing these young people.

    Learn About the Dis­crim­i­na­tion That AA and NHPI Chil­dren Face

    How Many Asian Amer­i­can, Native Hawai­ian and Pacif­ic Islander Chil­dren Are There?

    Accord­ing to the lat­est 2022 Cen­sus esti­mates, there are about 4 mil­lion AA chil­dren in the Unit­ed States, mak­ing up 6% of the total child pop­u­la­tion. NHPI chil­dren total 157,529, or just under 0.5% of the child pop­u­la­tion. These fig­ures do not include chil­dren who are AA or NHPI in com­bi­na­tion with anoth­er race or ethnicity.

    Many researchers have not­ed that Asian Amer­i­cans are the fastest-grow­ing racial or eth­nic group in the coun­try, increas­ing by 81% from 2000 to 2019. Among the nation’s total pop­u­la­tion, about 6%, or near­ly 21 mil­lion peo­ple, iden­ti­fy as AA or NHPI accord­ing to the 2020 Cen­sus. This num­ber jumps to more than 25 mil­lion when count­ing those who iden­ti­fy as AA or NHPI in com­bi­na­tion with anoth­er race or ethnicity.

    To deter­mine the size of each AA and NHPI child pop­u­la­tion, the KIDS COUNT® Data Cen­ter com­mis­sioned an analy­sis of the lat­est Cen­sus Bureau pop­u­la­tion esti­mates for 20172021. As shown below, among AA groups with data, Indi­an Amer­i­can chil­dren make up the largest share of AA kids, rep­re­sent­ing more than 1 in 4 — about 1 mil­lion — chil­dren, fol­lowed by Chi­nese Amer­i­can (19%), Fil­ipino Amer­i­can (12%), Viet­namese Amer­i­can (9%) and Kore­an Amer­i­can (6%) kids. As illus­trat­ed, many addi­tion­al groups help com­prise the rich diver­si­ty of AA children.

    Table One: Child Pop­u­la­tion of Asian Amer­i­can Groups (20172021)

    Group/​Subgroup

    Num­ber

    Per­cent of API Population

    Indi­an 1,023,235 27.3%
    Chi­nese, except Taiwanese 723,726 19.3%
    Fil­ipino 449,589 12.0%
    Viet­namese 360,021 9.6%
    Kore­an 228,723 6.1%
    Pak­istani 143,779 3.8%
    Hmong 112,370 3.0%
    Oth­er Asian 82,456 2.0%
    Japan­ese 76,193 1.8%
    Burmese 66,804 1.6%
    Bangladeshi 58,355 1.4%
    Cam­bo­di­an 53,755 1.30%
    Nepalese 49,821 0.9%
    Laot­ian 32,749 0.8%
    Tai­wanese 31,133 0.7%
    Thai 26,291 0.3%
    Indone­sian 12,787 0.3%
    Sri Lankan 9,631 0.2%
    Bhutanese 7,061 0.2%
    Mon­go­lian 5,024 0.1%
    Malaysian 2,736 0.1%

    Oth­er Asian groups

    82,456 2.2%
    Two or more Asian groups 187,739 5.0%
    Total Asian Child Population 3,743,978 100%
    Note: Each group refers to that group alone rather than in com­bi­na­tion with anoth­er racial or eth­nic group, with one excep­tion for Two or More Asian Groups.” Source: PRB Analy­sis of 20172021 ACS PUMS 5‑year Data. Detailed racial dis­tri­b­u­tion of Asian Amer­i­can chil­dren by select­ed groups.

    Among NHPI groups, Native Hawai­ian chil­dren make up the largest share, rep­re­sent­ing more than one-fourth of all NHPI kids. Oth­er Native Hawai­ian and Oth­er Pacif­ic Islander are the next largest group, com­pris­ing a lit­tle over 1 in 4 kids. One in every 10 NHPI chil­dren are Gua­man­ian or Chamor­ro Amer­i­can, and near­ly 1 in 10 are Mar­shallese Amer­i­can. Ton­gan and Fijian Amer­i­can chil­dren make up small­er shares of NHPI kids, at 6% and 4%, respectively.

    Table Two: Child Pop­u­la­tion for Native Hawai­ian and Pacif­ic Islander Groups (20172021)

    Group

    Child Pop­u­la­tion

    Per­cent of NHPI Child Population

    Native Hawai­ian 42,383 27.6%
    Samoan 27,127 16.4%
    Gua­man­ian or Chamorro 15,696 10.2%
    Mar­shallese 13,503 8.8%
    Ton­gan 9,717 6.3%
    Fijian 6,156 4.0%
    Oth­er NHPI Groups 40,870 26.6%

    Total NHPI Child Population

    153,452

    100%

    Notes: Each group refers to that group alone rather than in com­bi­na­tion with anoth­er racial or eth­nic group. Oth­er NHPI Groups” includes the fol­low­ing pop­u­la­tions, each of which were below a size of 1,000Source: PRB Analy­sis of 20172021 ACS PUMS 5‑year Data. Detailed racial dis­tri­b­u­tion of Native Hawai­ian and oth­er Pacif­ic Islander chil­dren by select­ed groups.

    Aggre­gat­ed Data Mask Dis­par­i­ties Among the AA and NHPI Populations

    There is a seri­ous dearth of avail­able data about chil­dren dis­ag­gre­gat­ed by spe­cif­ic AA and NHPI pop­u­la­tions. Most indi­ca­tors of child health and well-being com­bine all AA and NHPI chil­dren togeth­er, and these indi­ca­tors gen­er­al­ly sug­gest that AA and NHPI kids fare bet­ter than their peers. How­ev­er, dis­ag­gre­gat­ed data for these chil­dren, when avail­able, reveal stark dif­fer­ences among groups. For instance, aggre­gat­ed pover­ty data for all AA and NHPI chil­dren show that 11% were liv­ing in pover­ty in 2021. That’s less than the nation­al aver­age of 17%, about half the fig­ure for Lati­no kids (23%) and almost a third of the lev­els for Amer­i­can Indi­an (28%) and Black (31%) children.

    This would sug­gest that AA and NHPI chil­dren are far­ing far bet­ter, eco­nom­i­cal­ly, than oth­er chil­dren of col­or. How­ev­er, dis­ag­gre­gat­ed pover­ty data demon­strate large socioe­co­nom­ic inequities among AA and NHPI groups.

    See Pover­ty Stats Among AA and NHPI Populations

    Method­ol­o­gy Con­sid­er­a­tions in Dis­ag­gre­gat­ing Data

    It is impor­tant to acknowl­edge that, in some cas­es, data are aggre­gat­ed because sam­ple sizes are small and would lead to unre­li­able esti­mates with large mar­gins of error. There­fore, data providers some­times aggre­gate data in the inter­est of pro­vid­ing reli­able fig­ures. The Pew Research Cen­ter has dis­cussed the par­tic­u­lar chal­lenges relat­ed to sur­vey­ing AAs due to their small­er num­bers and lin­guis­tic and cul­tur­al diver­si­ty as well as promis­ing strate­gies for the future. Accu­rate­ly sam­pling AA and NHPI pop­u­la­tions will require con­cert­ed efforts to advance research methods.

    The Cen­sus Bureau’s Amer­i­can Com­mu­ni­ty Sur­vey, while a work in progress, does pro­vide an ade­quate sam­ple for dis­ag­gre­gat­ing data by AA and NHPI pop­u­la­tion at the nation­al lev­el, and it is high­ly use­ful to pro­vide data this way when pos­si­ble. The Nation­al Cen­ter for Edu­ca­tion Sta­tis­tics also dis­ag­gre­gates data by AA and Lati­no or His­pan­ic pop­u­la­tions. In addi­tion, a few states have adopt­ed, or are in the process of adopt­ing, data dis­ag­gre­ga­tion mea­sures to help address dis­par­i­ties and ensure that all racial and eth­nic groups are ade­quate­ly supported.

    In sum, dis­ag­gre­gat­ed data by AA and NHPI pop­u­la­tion is crit­i­cal to acknowl­edg­ing and treat­ing these diverse pop­u­la­tions as dis­tinct groups as well as to help­ing iden­ti­fy and address dif­fer­ent pop­u­la­tion needs.

    Key Resources with Data on Asian Amer­i­can, Native Hawai­ian and Pacif­ic Islander Communities

    Relat­ed Resources From the Annie E. Casey Foundation

    A Note About Language

    We use the term​“Asian Amer­i­cans” in this post to refer to both Asian immi­grants and U.S. cit­i­zens of Asian descent, as the term reflects the vast major­i­ty of this pop­u­la­tion, espe­cial­ly among children.

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