Academic journal article Asian American Policy Review

Filipino Americans and Educational Downward Mobility

Academic journal article Asian American Policy Review

Filipino Americans and Educational Downward Mobility

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT | This article challenges the simplistic narrative of Asian Americans as a singular high-achieving racial group in terms of college attainment. It focuses on Filipino Americans, a subgroup that literature suggests experiences a pattern of downward intergenerational mobility, due in part to racialized segmented assimilation. Analysis of micro-level data from the U.S. Census Bureau supports the hypothesis that U.S.-born Filipinos are less likely to have a bachelor's degree than Filipino immigrants and other U.S.-born Asians, even after controlling for age, sex, region of birth, and race/ethnicity of parents. The study's findings point to the necessity to move beyond stereotypes and to instead examine the complex relationship between ethnicity and race.


In June 2012, the Pew Research Center released a report entitled "The Rise of Asian Americans" that heralded a positive socioeconomic portrait of Asians in the United States. Based on an analysis of the 2010 American Community Survey (ACS), the well-respected research organization proclaimed Asians as the best-educated racial group in the nation (Taylor et al. 2012). The data shows that Asian Americans as a group leads all Americans in holding bachelor's degrees or higher by more than 20 percentage points. These base numbers and Pew's glowing report arguably reflect and confirm several common perceptions of Asian Americans: that they are a smart and hardworking racial group, that they play by society's rules, and that they push their children to succeed. (2) The report implies that these seemingly inherent qualities enable Asian Americans to reach the markers of educational achievement that all Americans aspire to--and that since they are clearly getting ahead, there is little need to worry about their socioeconomic prospects. (3)

One major problem with the above assertion is that it buries competing explanations of educational attainment deep in the text, privileging one based on culture and individual drive over structural explanations. As noted in earlier scholarly writings, much of the socioeconomic achievement of Asian Americans is anchored in highly selective migration after the 1965 Immigration Act eliminated racially biased restrictions. The pattern involves creaming the best educated and most ambitious from the sending country through explicit and implicit U.S. policy and law (Ong et al. 1994; Hing 1993; Hing and Lee 1996). This occupational-based immigration has enabled foreign graduate students in American universities to stay in the country permanently as needed highskilled labor and opened the door for those with advanced degrees from the best Asian colleges and universities. In turn, these immigrants become family sponsors, creating a modern chain of migration that favors the upper classes and educational elite (Liu et al. 1991). Although many highly educated immigrants have encountered problems translating their training into comparable jobs, they nonetheless are not forced to start at the bottom of the economic ladder.

Given some immigrants' "head start," the issue of educational attainment should be evaluated not just by comparing Asian Americans to other racial/ethnic groups. An equally important question is whether there is intergenerational upward mobility, or if subsequent U.S.-born generations rise from their parents' socioeconomic status (SES). The statistics do not give a resounding positive answer. Among those twenty-five years and older, 49.4 percent of U.S.-born had at least a bachelor's degree, only marginally higher than the 48.9 percent for foreign-born (Taylor et al. 2012, 10). This apparent lack of dramatic progress raises doubt about improving beyond the base built by selective immigration.

An equally important problem with the assertion is that it offers only a static view of achievement relative to the total population or the non-Hispanic White population. It fails to adequately analyze intergenerational changes, including the possibility of downward educational mobility from one generation to the next. …

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