Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Asian Americans are seen as different: As a follow-up to my earlier post on which ethnic groups are seen as most similar to one's own, I examined General Social Survey data for more than 1,200 Americans to see which ethnic group is perceived to be the least like one's own group. As before, the choices were white, Jewish, black, Hispanic, Asian, and all equally the same, or none is similar. It turns out that Asians are thought to be the most different by all groups except one:

Percent who say that they have least in common with Asians

Whites 33.5
Blacks 40.4
Jews 32.4
Mexicans 31.1
American Indians 32.0

All Americans 34.0

The number shown above for Mexicans is the only one that is not in first place: 37.8% of Mexicans said they had least in common with Jews.

So why does everyone think Asian Americans are so different? You might answer that they are not Christians, but many are Christians (e.g., almost all Filipinos) and anyway Jews are not Christians. Asians look a little like American Indians and Mex-Ams, so looks don't seem to be what people are focusing on. Perhaps East Asian cultures seem alien. Other ideas?


  1. My initial thought is that it has to do with the insularity of the culture. I suspect that you'd find similar results Indians & Muslims.

  2. Anonymous10:04 PM

    Does it have breakdowns by sex? Asian men are alot like white nerds, but Asian women are very different from white women. Aslo some some sexual jealosy from white women

    Asians aren't very into American sports, and men of other races are.

  3. rob: The attitudes toward Asians of both men and women are quite similar.

  4. Anonymous10:39 PM

    One possibility might be numbers+geography+visibility.

    Asians are about the smallest group, and also regionally very concentrated. And unlike Jews, they're not hugely overrepresented in TV and the media.

    Thus, most people in most parts of the country have relatively little direct or indirect contact with them, so wouldn't tend to think of them as being "similar".

    As a test, I'd bet the similarity percentages would look different for people in e.g. CA, NY, or attending colleges.

  5. Reasons for lack of exposure:

    Mostly spatially inclined, rather than verbally. So they don't talk to the rest of the country (as comedians, actors, opinion columnists, rock singers, etc.).

    Not very attractive. Obvious for the men, but also true for the women. They rarely show up in Maxim, Playboy, as pop singers chosen mostly for raw sex appeal, etc.

    Overly law-abiding, hence are not known as fun people to hang out with.

    Very low-trust, so they don't like other people getting to know them too well anyway.

  6. Anonymous7:24 AM

    Not very attractive. Obvious for the men, but also true for the women. They rarely show up in Maxim, Playboy, as pop singers chosen mostly for raw sex appeal, etc.

    Whether they consider them attractive or not, non-Asian men seem to have no hesitation about dating and marrying Asian women. Hence the sexual jealousy from white women as a prior comment noted.

  7. Given the diversity that encompasses the "Asian" label, an at least initially plausible explanation is that it's easy to think of an Asian nationality quite different from your own, even if you think of another Asian nationality as much 'closer to home'.

    As a consumer of lots of Japanese entertainment (mukokuseki though it be) and a fan of unassuming politeness, I'd say next to those of European descent, I feel like I have the most in common with the Japanese.

    But I'd put Indians, with (broadly speaking) entertainment I don't understand let alone enjoy and a demanding assertiveness that quickly makes me irritable and combative, near the bottom.

    If I'm defining myself in contrast to others, Indians will probably pop into my head first when a question regarding Asians is asked.

  8. Theres so much diversity, even within the E.Asian group (itself a subset of the Asian Group)

    For instance, in my experience, Chinese and Japanese are both insular.

    But the japanese are polite about it, and the chinese brash and openly hostile.

  9. Anonymous2:31 PM

    White women are indeed jealous of Asian women. Believe me Ive seen it.

    White women will snarkily comment about how Asian women are secretely bitchy and how they will instantly transform to being super-tyrants the minute a wedding ring is placed on their finger and boss their "poor" guy around.

    Asian females are seen by white females as "competition" whereas black women and most hispanic women (the shorter, squatter ones), and Muslims (that headgear scares men off as he sees that saying "no sex til' marriage") as not being competition.

    The FACT that so many Asian females have soft, feminine voices, and behave politely and demurely instead of loud-in-your-face-behavior-that-unfortunately so many white women were socialized by their feminist icons to emulate, eggs it on more so. Im not with an Asian woman, and find white women to be my first preference, but I ceratinly coulnd't blame any man for being desirious of one.

  10. Steve S. recently cited a study published in Nature some years ago showing that Asian babies are far more passive than black or white babies.

    So maybe the stereotype that they are different is simply an accurate perception of this fact.


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