This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Sunday, October 4, 2015

Demography of Asian-Americans

The Economist has a lengthy story this week on Asian-Americans with the provocative title "The model minority is losing patience." This major point of the story is that at least some Asian-Americans are not happy that their academic success up through high school has not been matched by high levels of acceptance to Ivy League universities. Much of the story, though, is a review of the genuinely remarkable success of Asian-Americans, told with considerable assistance by reference to the work of U.S. demographers. The article first reports on a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) by Amy Tsin of CUNY and Yu Xie, who was at the University of Michigan when the paper was published but has since moved to Princeton University. [Note also that The Economist incorrectly refers to Ms Xie, rather than Mr (or more appropriately Dr) Xie.]
[They] examined the progress of 6,000 white and Asian children, from toddlers through school, to find an answer. They rejected the idea that Asians were just innately much cleverer than whites: there was an early gap in cognitive abilities, but it declined to insignificance through school. The higher socioeconomic status of Asian parents provided part of the explanation, but only a small part. Their data suggested that Asian outperformance is thanks in large part to hard work. Ms Hsin and Ms Xie’s study showed a sizeable gap in effort between Asian and white children, which grew during their school careers.
The Economist then moves on to reference a book by social demographers Jennifer Lee of UC-Irvine and Min Zhou of UCLA.
In “The Asian American Achievement Paradox”, a study based on interviews with young Chinese and Vietnamese in Los Angeles, as well as Mexicans, whites and blacks, Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou argue that it is not just what happens at home that matters. They point to “ethnic capital”—the fact that these groups belong to communities that support education—as part of the explanation.
The article also references a book published by Princeton demographer Tom Espenshade and his former PhD student Alexandria Walton Radford:
Some Asians allege that the Ivy Leagues have put an implicit limit on the number of Asians they will admit. They point to Asians’ soaring academic achievements and to the work of Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford of Princeton, who looked at the data on admissions and concluded that Asian-Americans need 140 SAT points out of 1,600 more than whites to get a place at a private university, and that blacks need 310 fewer points. Yet in California, where public universities are allowed to use economic but not racial criteria in admissions, 41% of Berkeley’s enrolments in 2014 were Asian-Americans and at the California Institute of Technology 44% were.
In the end, the article suggests that Asian-Americans are at a point in history where they need to become more involved in the American political system. 
As Jerome Karabel’s study of Jews and the Ivy League (“The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale and Princeton”) shows, it was only when Jews had gained political power that the Ivies stopped discriminating against them. And Asian-Americans are under-represented in politics as well as in business. Only 2.4% of the 113th Congress were Asian-Americans; by one count, fewer than 2% of state legislators are.
Becoming political may well be the final stage of assimilation and it is likely to benefit not only the Asian-American community, but the broader American society as well. 

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