The State of the Asian American Middle Class

(Oscar Wong via Getty Images)

Who is in it and key trends from 2010 to 2023

BY RAKESH KOCHHAR

 

How we did this Terminology

The share of Asian Americans who are in the U.S. middle class has held steady since 2010. In 2023, 48% of Asian Americans lived in middle-class households, about the same share as in 2010, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of government data.

But their economic status overall has improved since 2010. The share of Asian Americans in the upper-income tier increased from 27% in 2010 to 32% in 2023, and the share in the lower-income tier decreased from 26% to 21%. The share of Asian Americans in the lower-income tier in 2023 was less than the share of Americans overall (30%) in that tier, and their share in the upper-income tier was greater than among Americans overall (19%).

As Asian Americans moved up the income ladder, household incomes also increased at a faster rate for those at the higher rungs of the ladder. Consequently, the share of the total income of Asian American households held by the middle class has fallen since 2010, and the share of the upper-income tier has increased.

Our report focuses on the economic status of Asian Americans in the U.S. middle class. First, we examine changes in the financial well-being of those in the middle class and other income tiers since 2010. This is based on data from the Annual Social and Economic Supplements (ASEC) of the Current Population Survey (CPS), conducted in 2010 and 2023.

Then, we report on the attributes of Asian Americans who were more or less likely to be middle class in 2022. Our focus is on their origin groupagegender, marital and veteran statusplace of birtheducationoccupationindustry, and metropolitan area of residence. These estimates are derived from American Community Survey (ACS) data and differ slightly from the CPS-based estimates. In part, that is because incomes can be adjusted for the local area cost of living only with the ACS data. (Refer to the methodology for details on these two data sources.)

This analysis is one in a series of reports on the status of America’s racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. middle class and other income tiers. An accompanying report focuses on Americans overall. Forthcoming analyses will report on the state of the middle class among White, Hispanic, Black, American Indian or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander and multiracial Americans, including subgroups within these populations. These reports are, in part, updates of previous work by the Center. But they offer much greater detail on the demographic attributes of the American middle class.

Asian Americans represented 6% of the U.S. population in 2022. Following are some key facts about the state of the Asian American middle class:

Who is middle income or middle class?

Asian households in all income tiers had higher incomes in 2022 than in 2009, after adjusting for inflation. But gains for upper-income households were greater than the gains for middle- and lower-income households.

The median income of Asian households in the U.S. middle class increased from about $97,200 in 2009 to $112,400 in 2022, or 16%. Meanwhile, the median income of Asian households in the upper-income tier increased 26%, from about $220,500 to $277,600. (Incomes are scaled to a three-person household and expressed in 2023 dollars.)

The median income for lower-income Asian households increased from about $28,500 in 2009 to $31,500 in 2022, or 11%.

Thus, there is now more of a gap between the incomes of upper-income Asian households and those in other income tiers. In 2022, the median income of upper-income Asian households was 8.8 times that of lower-income households, up from 7.7 in 2009. It was 2.5 times the median income of middle-income households in 2022, up from 2.3 in 2009.

Among Asian households, the share of overall household income held by the middle class has fallen since 2009. In 2009, middle-income Asian households accounted for 35% of the total income of all Asian households. This share fell to 31% in 2022, despite no significant change in the share of Asian households who were in the middle class.

Over the same period, the share held by upper-income Asian households increased from 59% in 2009 to 64% in 2022. In part, this is because of the increase in the share of Asian Americans who are in the U.S. upper-income tier.

The share of the total income of Asian households held by lower-income households edged down from 6% in 2009 to 4% in 2022.

Asian Americans were considerably more likely than Americans overall to live in upper-income households in 2022. In that year, 27% of Asian Americans were in the upper-income tier, compared with 17% of Americans overall.

Conversely, Asian Americans were less likely to be in the middle- or lower-income tier in 2022. Some 48% of Asian Americans were in the middle class in 2022 and 24% were in the lower-income tier. That compared with 52% and 30%, respectively, among Americans overall.

The economic status of Asian Americans varies greatly across origin groups. Over the period from 2018 to 2022, about four-in-ten Asian Indians (39%) and three-in-ten Chinese (29%) were in the upper-income tier.

But while only 15% of Indians were in the lower-income tier, 29% of Chinese were in that tier. These two origin groups accounted for 48% of the Asian American population over the 2018 to 2022 period.

Among the Asian origin groups, the share of the population in the middle class among Filipino, Laotian and Hmong Americans was near 60%. There were three Asian origin groups – Mongolian, Bangladeshi and Burmese – among whom about half or more were in the lower-income tier from 2018 to 2022.

(In this section, references to Asian IndianChinese and Filipino include those who also identify as another race or origin. For example, Chinese include those who identified as “Chinese and Taiwanese.”)

About a third of Asian adults 65 and older (34%) lived in lower-income households in 2022. That compared with about one-in-five among Asian adults ages 30 to 44 (18%) or 45 to 64 (21%).

The share of Asian Americans in the U.S. middle class did not vary much by age – nearly half of each age group were in the middle class in 2022. But while about a third of Asian adults ages 30 to 44 and 45 to 64 were in the upper-income tier (33% and 31%, respectively), that was so for only 19% of those 65 and older.

There was little difference in the economic status of Asian men and women in 2022. About equal shares of both lived in lower-, middle- and upper-income households in 2022.

Marriage is associated with a move into the upper-income tier for Asian Americans. Among married Asian Americans, nearly a third (31%) were in the upper-income tier and 21% were lower income in 2022. In contrast, only 23% of Asian Americans who were separated, divorced, widowed or never married were in the upper-income tier, and 28% lived in lower-income households.

Asian veterans were less likely than nonveterans to be in the lower-income tier in 2022, 19% vs. 24%, respectively. The share of veterans in the middle class (54%) was also greater than the share among nonveterans (48%).

Among Asian Americans, immigrants were a bit less likely than the U.S. born to be in the upper-income tier and slightly more likely to be in the lower-income tier. In 2022, equal shares (48%) of Asian immigrants and the U.S. born were in the middle class. Some 26% of Asian immigrants were in the lower-income tier compared with 22% of the U.S. born.

Meanwhile, the share of U.S.-born Asian Americans in the upper-income tier (29%) edged out the share of immigrants in that tier (26%).

Asian American immigrants accounted for 65% of the overall Asian American population in 2022.

Asian Americans with a bachelor’s degree or higher level of education were much more likely to live in upper-income households. In 2022, 41% of Asian Americans ages 25 and older with at least a bachelor’s degree were in the upper-income tier, compared with 16% or fewer among Asians without a bachelors’ degree.

The share of Asian Americans in the middle class ranged from 46% among those who did not graduate from high school or had a bachelor’s degree to 58% among those with some college education. But only 13% of Asian Americans with a bachelor’s degree lived in lower-income households in 2022, compared with 46% among those without a high school diploma.

Not surprisingly, employment is critical for moving up the income ladder. Among employed Asian workers ages 16 and older, 50% were in the middle-income tier in 2022 and 34% were in the upper-income tier. Only 16% of employed Asian workers were lower income, compared with 40% of the unemployed.

About half of Asian workers in computer, science and engineering (51%) or management occupations (48%) were in the upper-income tier in 2022, while only about one-in-ten or fewer were lower income. About a third or more of Asian workers in business and finance (43%), health care (36%) or legal and related occupations (33%) were also in the upper-income tier.

On the other hand, similar shares of Asian workers in occupations involving food preparation and serving (38%), personal care and other services (36%) and transportation and material moving (37%) were in the lower-income tier in 2022. Only about one-in-ten of these Asian workers were upper income.

About six-in-ten Asian workers in construction, extraction and farming (58%) or those providing protective and building maintenance (60%), office and administrative (58%), or maintenance, repair and production services (62%) were in the middle class in 2022.

Some 55% of Asian workers in the information sector, 46% in the financial services sector and 45% in the professional services sector were in the upper-income tier in 2022. In these sectors, only about one-in-ten Asian workers were in the lower-income tier. More than eight-in-ten Asian workers in the health care and social assistance, public administration, or manufacturing sectors were in either the middle class or in the upper-income tier in 2022.

Accommodation and food services and the other services sectors are the only industries in which about a third or more of Asian workers were in the lower-income tier in 2022.

The share of Asian Americans who are in the middle class or in the upper- or lower-income tiers differs across U.S. metropolitan areas. But there seems to be little pattern to which metro areas have the highest shares of Asians in each income tier. (We first adjust household incomes for differences in the cost of living across areas.)

Most of the 10 metropolitan areas with the greatest shares of Asian Americans who are middle income are in coastal states. These areas include Honolulu to the west, where 59% of Asian Americans were in the middle class, and Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News (in Virginia and North Carolina) to the east, where 56% were in the middle class over the period from 2018 to 2022. In Vallejo-Fairfield, near San Francisco, 64% of Asian Americans were in the middle class and 18% each were in the lower- or upper-income tier.

But in several of these 10 metro areas – such as Stockton-Lodi, California, and Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, which includes part of Wisconsin – about a quarter to a third of Asian Americans were in the lower-income tier from 2018 to 2022.

Several of the 10 U.S. metropolitan areas with the highest shares of Asian upper-income residents have technology-driven economies, as is the pattern for Americans overall. This group includes San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California, in which 48% of Asian Americans lived in upper-income households over the 2018-2022 period.

Other tech-driven areas on this list include Raleigh, North Carolina; Austin-Round Rock, Texas; San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward; and Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue. Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Connecticut, is a financial hub.

Many of these areas are also home to major universities, research institutions and government centers, such as Trenton, New Jersey; Washington, D.C.-Arlington-Alexandria; and Baltimore-Columbia-Towson.

Overall, about a third to half of Asian Americans in these 10 metro areas were in the upper-income tier in the period from 2018 to 2022, and about one-in-five or fewer were lower income.

The 10 U.S. metropolitan areas with the highest shares of Asian lower-income residents include some of the nation’s most populous. From 2018 to 2022, 28% of Asian Americans in Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim were in the lower-income tier, along with 30% of Asian residents in New York-Newark-Jersey City and 32% in Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach.

Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, New York – where 50% of Asian Americans lived in the lower-income tier over the 2018 to 2022 period – stands out from the rest.

In several of these areas, such as Stockton-Lodi, about half or more of Asian residents were in the middle class over the 2018-2022 period.

It’s important to note that because of sample size limitations, we were only able to study the economic status of Asian Americans in 54 out of about 280 metro areas identified in the source data.

Note: For details on how this analysis was conducted, refer to the methodology.https://www.pewresearch.org/race-and-ethnicity/2024/05/31/the-state-of-the-asian-american-middle-class/

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