COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Chinese Americans, one of the most highly educated groups in the nation, are confronted by a "glass ceiling," unable to realize full occupational stature and success to match their efforts, concludes a new study from the University of Maryland.
The returns on Chinese Americans' investment in education and "sweat equity" are "generally lower than those in the general and non-Hispanic White population," says the report, "A Chinese American Portrait." It adds that, on average, Chinese American professionals in the legal and medical fields earn as much as 44 percent less than their White counterparts.
Based on extensive U.S. Census data and independent interviews, the study offers the most comprehensive and current portrait of the highly diverse Chinese American population. The research was conducted by the University of Maryland's Asian American Studies Program with support from OCA, a national community-based organization of Asian Pacific Americans. The data in the report go through 2006, the latest available.
"Contrary to popular beliefs, Chinese Americans often face extra barriers to economic success, despite their educational achievements," says principal investigator Larry H. Shinagawa, a demographer and Americans Studies professor who directs the University of Maryland Asian American Studies Program. (http://www.aast.umd.edu/director.html)
"Time and hard work simply haven't been enough for Chinese Americans to fully enter into mainstream social and professional circles," Shinagawa adds. "I suspect there are many reasons such as language barriers or simply the difficulties that go along with being identified as an 'outsider.' In the long run, increasing mentoring efforts and leadership opportunities can enhance the Chinese American community. You need a pipeline, a network to help young professionals rise to their potential, and increase Chinese American participation in top positions. Success begets success."
AN EXTREMELY DIVERSE CHINESE AMERICAN COMMUNITY
Yet this is only half the story. As Shinagawa points out, the Chinese American community is characterized by extreme diversity. It is split nearly 50-50 between poorly educated recent immigrants from China and a more settled, acculturated, educated and prosperous group of older immigrants and second generation Americans. These earlier arrivals came mainly from Taiwan and Hong Kong.
"It makes for a rather bi-polar picture of wealth and poverty, high and low education levels, white and blue collars," Shinagawa says. "It's a pattern you expect to see after a wave of immigration. But in this case, the long-term settled population has yet to achieve full equal treatment."
AMONG THE STUDIES FINDINGS:
"This study marks the progress of Chinese Americans entering the mainstream fabric of American life as well as the challenges that remain," Shinagawa says. "It surely demonstrates the need to stop treating Chinese Americans as a monolithic group. Different segments of the population have very different needs. 'One size fits all' simply won't work. We hope recognition of this diversity will serve as a guide for policy makers so that their decisions will improve the lives of all Chinese Americans and Asian Americans."