A Census-Based Analysis of the Model Minority Myth: Comparisons of East and Southeast Asians’ Educational Attainment and Income Levels, 1940-2000


In the United States, the model minority myth refers to a controversial perception that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) are a monolithic subpopulation composed only of successful and affluent individuals whose children perform exceptionally well in the education system. For example, the National Center for Education Statistics’ (2016) report that AAPIs achieved the highest public high school graduation rate out of all racial and ethnic groups would appear to provide evidence in support of this myth. Despite its seemingly positive representation of AAPIs, the association between internalization of the model minority myth and negative student outcomes is well-documented in current literature. Kim and Lee (2014, 103) found that AAPI college students are less likely than their peers to seek help because “belief in the model minority myth may motivate an individual to highly value emotional self-control as a way to maintain a positive self-image of what it means to be an [AAPI].” The Obama administration has also invested one million dollars into the AAPI Data Disaggregation Initiative, encouraging state and local educational agencies to “obtain and evaluate disaggregated data on…AAPI subpopulations.” This measure was taken in response to the model minority myth often leading state and local educational agencies to collect aggregated student performance, placing all AAPI students into a single category. Consequently, poor performances of certain AAPI subgroups were less likely to be noticed, preventing students from receiving appropriate, targeted interventions (United States Department of Education, 2016). Due to these harmful effects of identifying as a model minority, ranging from influencing how AAPI students behave when challenged to preventing their access to critical resources, additional details of this myth must be carefully examined.

This study thus achieves three goals. First, with regards to educational attainment and income of East and Southeast Asians, the study further highlights the dangers of AAPI data aggregation. Second, census data since 1940 is examined to clarify the historical origins of the intra-AAPI education and income gaps. Finally, the study elaborates on the current states of the intra-AAPI education and income gaps.

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