Women of Color and Wealth – Looking at Outliers and Outsiders [Part 5]

by Latoya Peterson

Please note, this is part five of a multi-part series on the Lifting As We Climb: Women of Color and Wealth report released by the Insight Center for Community Economic Development. Please carefully read part one and review our comment moderation policy before participating in the comments.

Over the course of the Women of Color and Wealth series one question has come up time and time again – what about Asian women? Native women?  Other, more specific breakdowns of different racial/ethnic groups?  Is there data for queer women of color?  For transgender women of color?  Sadly, the answer is no.

The report includes a separate break out discussion of Asian and Native American women, saying (all emphasis mine):

Because Asian Americans and Native Americans comprise a much smaller proportion of the U.S. population than blacks and Hispanics and because most surveys that measure wealth do not oversample these groups, our knowledge about their wealth is less robust—particularly for Native Americans.

According to 2004 data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation, Asian Americans have a higher median net worth than white non-Hispanic households ($144,000 and $137,200, respectively).  Much of this is due to their home equity, as the Asian population is concentrated in a few cities with very high home values. When data is adjusted for these and other factors, Asians have less wealth than whites on similar socioeconomic characteristics. In interpreting the high home equity of Asian Americans, it is also important to bear in mind that they are likely to own and occupy the home with extended family members and are more likely than whites to contribute more than half of their household income to housing costs.


Moreover, it is important to take into consideration there is a great deal of variation within the Asian-American group, with Asian Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and Filipinos much better off than Vietnamese, other Southeast Asians, and other Asian groups, who are much more likely to have immigrated as political refugees than as highly-educated workers.

However, studies to date on Asian American wealth have not examined differences between men and women. Data on women ages 65 and older (see page 8), indicate that Asian women are more economically vulnerable than white women. But additional data and analysis is necessary to understand the wealth holdings of Asian women.
Much less is known about the wealth of Native Americans. They are an even smaller population than Asian Americans, rendering their presence in surveys extremely small. An exception to the lack of information on the wealth of Native Americans is research conducted by Jay Zagorski that uses the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79), which contains some wealth questions and information on Native American ancestry.

Based on this data, in 2000 the median wealth for Native Americans in the survey was $5,700 whereas the median wealth for the sample overall was $65,500, a ratio of only 8.7%. Native Americans were much less likely to own different types of assets and when they did own an asset, the value was much lower than for the survey sample overall. But, like the vast majority of research on wealth, data were not provided for men and women separately.

In addition, Native people view assets differently than the general population in the U.S. They are more likely to identify education and family as assets and also to identify communal assets such as natural resources and the environment. Land – all that nature provides – is “wealth,” it is communally owned, and the goal is stewardship.

The information about Asian Americans begs for more analysis.  The oft-touted “model minority” appears to do better financially than other minorities – let’s take another look at the median income chart from the report:

From the looks of the chart, Asian American men are actually doing the best, income wise – they edge out white men by $1,035.  Asian American women are in second place, trailing their male counterparts by over $10,000 thanks to the income gap, but still putting up a higher income than white women by $4,266.  So does this mean that Asian-Americans have achieved the American dream?  Not quite.

In 2007 and 2008, Racialicious ran a series of posts looking at an emerging phenomenon impacting Asian Americans in business termed “the bamboo ceiling.” Ultimately, the reports showed that while Asian Americans were faring better than other minorities, things still weren’t equal.

Angry Asian Man wrote most of the pieces, and over time, it paints a grim picture of the workplace realities facing Asian Americans.

From Silicon Valley’s Bamboo Ceiling:

A survey of local executives reveals that while Asians make up more than a third of the work force at some of Silicon Valley’s biggest tech companies, they only represent about 6 percent of board members and about 10 percent of corporate officers of the Bay Area’s 25 largest companies.

According to a new study, among the 25 largest Bay Area companies by revenue, 12 had no Asian board members, and five had no Asian corporate officers. Despite the growing prominence of Asians at Silicon Valley tech companies, they’ve made no gains in the share of seats on the boards of large tech companies since 1999. What’s up with that?

From Asian American Employees Underreport Discrimination:

The report, which was released earlier this month, says that Asian Americans face a number of misperceptions and stereotypes, factors that have become “the framework of barriers establishing glass or bamboo ceilings which present [Asian American and Pacific Islanders] from moving into the upper tiers of an organization.”

A 2005 Gallup poll found that 31 percent of Asian respondents said they had experienced discriminatory or unfair treatment on the job. But the EEOC noted in its report that enforcement actions reveal that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders file only 3.26 percent of discrimination [complaints].

From Comprehensive New Report on Chinese Americans:

According to the study, 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. The returns on Chinese Americans’ investment in education and “sweat equity” are “generally lower than those in the general and non-Hispanic White population.”

But again, the lack of data floats a ton of questions (why do Asian women have higher incomes, but are more economically vulnerable in retirement?), but provides few answers.

And the information about Native American wealth – and the subsequent pushback about the framing of wealth and assets from the community provides a lot more to ponder.

There is also a larger question here, about data and the census, but I will leave that for later this week.

In the meantime, let’s reflect on what is missing.  What data should be considered vital, but is missing?  What questions are still remaining in your minds?