Academic journal article Contemporary Economic Policy

Four Decades of Asian American Women's Earnings: Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino American Women's Earnings 1960-1990

Academic journal article Contemporary Economic Policy

Four Decades of Asian American Women's Earnings: Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino American Women's Earnings 1960-1990

Article excerpt


This article examines the earnings progress of Asian American women from 1960 through 1990 by comparing their actual hourly wage and salary earnings to simulated earnings. The simulated earnings are obtained by using parameter estimates obtained from human capital models of white women corrected for sample selection bias. Data come from the decennial census Public Use Micro Samples data. American-born Asian American women appear to have made dramatic gains in the 1970s. The 1980s and 1990s show some fluctuations in actual earnings relative to simulated earnings between Asian American and white women. These fluctuations may be due to problems measuring experience as opposed to differences in discrimination over time. (JEL J71, J15)


The earnings progress experienced by American ethnic minorities and women reflects changes in the structure of economic discrimination in the United States. The degree of Asian American economic progress is often marked by controversy, with some researchers arguing that substantial earnings parity for American-born Japanese and Filipinos was achieved as early as the 1970s (see, e.g., Hirschman and Wong, 1984). Others believe that Asian Americans have never reached economic parity with whites and continue to face discrimination (Nee and Sanders, 1985; Duleep and Sanders, 1992). Various empirical studies provide support for each of these positions based on analyses of men. However, scant attention has been paid to the economic progress of Asian American women in the United States.

This article's primary objective is to determine the earnings progress of three groups of Asian American women, Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino Americans, relative to white women in the postwar period. Data for this study come from the decennial census Public Use Micro Samples (PUMS) from 1960 to 1990. The years of the study are determined by data availability. Prior to 1960, the PUMS data do not provide a large enough sample of Asian American women in the labor market. The basic methodology employed is to simulate Asian American earnings using parameter estimates derived from white women's human capital regressions for each of the census years. Differences between simulated earnings and actual earnings are frequently used as a measure of discrimination as a variation of the Oaxaca (1973)-Blinder (1974) method of decomposing earnings differences into discrimination and endowment components. This method is commonly employed as a means of studying the relative economic progress of ethnic groups over time.


Most interest in Asian Americans centers on the labor market adaptation of Asian immigrants to the United States. Past studies argued that immigrants were self-selected based on high motivation. With additional time in the United States spent adapting to the labor market, higher motivation allows immigrant earnings to eventually equal and surpass native-born earnings, assuming that human capital attributes such as education and experience are equal (Chiswick, 1978, 1979, 1980). In contrast, Borjas (1985, 1987, 1990) argues that skill differences in immigrant cohorts over time, instead of labor market assimilation, account for the observed human capital results.

Carliner (1980) and Chiswick (1983) also argue that higher motivation is also passed on to the children of immigrants, allowing the second generation of Asian Americans even higher levels of earnings. Thus, much of the literature argues that not only could parity be attained by both foreign-born and American-born Asian Americans, but also that Asians would do better than the white majority due to higher motivation.

There are relatively few studies estimating the earnings regressions for Asian American women. The majority of the empirical studies on Asian American earnings have focused on the earnings of men, due to problems modeling the earnings function of women, which are complicated by their entry into and exit from the labor market (Mincer and Polachek, 1974). …

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