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According to the 2000 U.S. census, Asian Americans make up 4.3% of the total U.S. population -- that's about 12 million people who identify themselves as at least part Asian. However, this number represents an increase of 63% from the 1990 census, making Asian Americans the fastest growing of all the major racial/ethnic groups in the U.S., in terms of percentage growth. But in so many ways, the presence of Asian Americans is much more prominent than even these numbers suggest.

Some Things You May Not Have Known

Results from the 2000 Census have given us a detailed picture at how the population of the U.S. has changed in the past few decades, especially in regards to Asian Americans. For a very nice interactive report of Census 2000 general demographics for each of the 50 states from USA Today, click here. The Rand Corporation also offers a very good and concise summary of the racial/ethnic demographics of the U.S. population. One of their graphics is presented below and it shows the racial/ethnic proportion of the U.S. population from 1900 to projections through 2050.

It shows that in terms of proportion to the total U.S. population, the Black population has stayed relatively stable and is likely to continue doing so. The groups that are experiencing the highest growth are Hispanics/Latinos and Asian Americans. Conversely, the proportion of the U.S. population who are White is expected to decrease each decade and in 2050, no racial/ethnic group will have be a majority, including Whites for the first time in U.S. history.

We can also look at the following table, taken from the 2001 Statistical Abstract of the U.S., published by the Census Bureau. It shows that Asian Americans as a whole are the fastest-growing of all the major racial/ethnic groups, both from 1980-1990 and 1990-2000:

Racial/Ethnic GroupGrowth Rate, 1980-1990Growth Rate, 1990-2000
American Indians35.44%14.42%
Asian Americans96.13%63.24%

Racial/ethnic population proportions by decade © Rand Corp.

However, keep in mind the first stereotype about Asian Americans -- that we are all the same. The numbers within the Asian American population show that we are not all alike. This diversity among Asian Americans shows up when we look at the sizes of the different ethnic groups within the overall Asian American population.

This is represented in the following table, compiled using data from the Census Bureau's The Asian Population: Census 2000 Brief. This table includes Asian ethnic groups whose total population is at least 50,000 in size. It breaks down each Asian ethnic group's total population by single ethnicity, two or more Asian ethnicities, and finally, Asian and at least one other race (multiracial Asians).

Largest Asian American Ethnic Groups, 2000 Census

Ethnic Group

Asian alone

Asian & at least One Other Race (i.e., Filipino-White) Total Population, Alone or in Any Combination
  Single Ethnicity Two or More Asian Ethnicities (i.e., Chinese-Vietnamese)    
Chinese 2,314,537 130,826 289,478 2,734,841
Filipino 1,850,314 57,811 456,690 2,364,815
Asian Indian 1,678,765 40,013 180,821 1,899,599
Korean 1,076,872 22,550 129,005 1,228,427
Vietnamese 1,122,528 47,144 54,064 1,223,736
Japanese 796,700 55,537 296,695 1,148,932
Cambodian 171,937 11,832 22,283 206,052
Pakistani 153,533 11,095 39,681 204,309
Laotian 168,707 10,396 19,100 198,203
Hmong 169,428 5,284 11,598 186,310
Thai 112,989 7,929 29,365 150,293
Taiwanese 118,048 14,096 12,651 144,795
Indonesian 39,757 4,429 18,887 63,073
Bangladeshi 41,280 5,625 10,507 57,412

Following up on the total population table above and again using data from the U.S. Census Bureau FactFinder, the following table shows the growth rates of various Asian American ethnic groups from 1980-1990 and 1990-2000, along with the proportion of each Asian group to the total Asian American population in 2000.

Growth Rates and Percentage
of All Asian Americans
Asian Ethnic Group Growth Rate
Growth Rate
% of Asian
Asian Indian 125.6% 113.4% 16.4
Bangladeshi n/a 350.3% 0.1
Cambodian n/a 20.8% 0.2
Chinese 104.1% 39.8% 22.6
Filipino 81.6% 32.5% 18.3
Hmong n/a 88.8% 1.7
Japanese 20.9% -9.4% 7.8
Korean 134.8% 34.3% 10.6
Laotian n/a 12.6% 1.7
Pakistani n/a 124.7% 1.5
Taiwanese n/a 80.5% 1.2
Thai n/a 21.5% 1.1
Vietnamese 125.3% 80.7% 10.9

In terms of growth among the six major Asian American ethnic groups, the Vietnamese were the fastest growing from 1980 to 1990. However, since 1990, Bangladeshis have become the fastest growing, largely because their population was very small to begin with. The next fastest-growing Asian ethnic groups from 1990 to 2000 were Pakistanis and Asian Indians. It is also clear that Chinese are the largest Asian American ethnic group as they comprise 22.6% of the total Asian American population, followed by Filipinos and Asian Indians

As you can see, all the Asian ethnic groups listed above grew at a rather healthy rate between 1990 and 2000, except for Japanese Americans. Their population actually declined by almost 10%. Why? Several reasons, actually. First, there are very few Japanese who immigrate to the U.S. these days so therefore they do not experience the type of phenomenal growth that large immigrant groups experience, such as Asian Indians.

Second, as many Japanese American families are into their fifth or higher generation in the U.S., they have become one of the most assimilated of all Asian American groups. Perhaps as a direct result of this, they also have one of the highest intermarriage (interracial marriage) rates of all Asian Americans (see the page on Interracial Dating and Marriage for more details). As more Japanese Americans intermarry, the less likely their children are to identify themselves as Japanese American.

Asian American Population Growth by County, 2000 © U.S. Census Bureau

The map on the right comes from the "Asian" section of the U.S. Census Bureau's Mapping Census 2000: The Geography of U.S. Diversity report (you can click on the thumbnail to see the larger version) and it illustrates the growth of the Asian American population by county from 1990 to 2000.

What it basically shows is that the counties that experienced the largest increases in their Asian American population are located in Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, and throughout the south. Keep in mind that this map does not show absolute population sizes -- just increases in size. In other words, many of the counties that experienced large increases may not have had very many Asian Americans in their counties to begin with.

Data from the 1997-1998 State and Metropolitan Area Data Book, published by the Census Bureau, show that almost 66% of all Asian Americans live in just five states: California (12.1% of the state population), New York (5.6%), Hawai'i (63.6%), Texas (2.9%), and Illinois (3.4%). Amazingly, 54.7% of all Asian Americans live in just the six metropolitan areas below:

Metropolitan AreaAsian American Popul.% of Total Population
Los Angeles1,799,00011.4%
New York1,343,0006.7%
San Francisco1,279,00018.8%
Washington DC-Baltimore373,0005.1%

For more maps and information on the geographic distribution of the Asian American population from the 2000 Census, download this report from the Census Bureau.

So what's the point to all these statistics? For one, at first glance the Asian American population as a whole may still seem relatively small on a national level. However, in many of the most dynamic and important states and metropolitan areas, our numbers show that we are a vital and integral part of that population, culturally, economically, and politically.

Second, while it's useful to look at the Asian American population as a whole, it's also important to recognize that there is a lot of diversity among us and between different Asian ethnic groups. Not only are the sizes of the Chinese, Vietnamese, Asian Indian, and other communities different, but they are growing at different rates as well. These differences give each metropolitan area or city its own unique blend of Asian American cultures.

Just as important, different Asian ethnic groups can have very different socioeconomic as well as demographic characteristics, which further show that Asian Americans are not all the same. Take a closer look at these socioeconomic comparisons and read about the effects they have on how Asian Americans are perceived as the "model minority."

Author Citation

Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Population Statistics & Demographics" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <> ().

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