Asian Americans, Glass Ceilings, and PhDS

By Yamane, Linus | Asian American Policy Review, Annual 2012 | Go to article overview

Asian Americans, Glass Ceilings, and PhDS


Yamane, Linus, Asian American Policy Review


Wen Chen (1) was born in China but grew up in Taiwan. He did his undergraduate work at National Cheng Kung University and went to Canada to complete his doctorate in electrical engineering at the University of Manitoba. After teaching at Columbia University for several years, he became a research staff member at the IBM Watson Research Center. While at IBM, Chen designed 1 GB RAM chips before people had 1 GB hard drives. He published more than a hundred technical papers and held more than a hundred international patents. But after eighteen years at IBM, he felt himself bumping against a glass ceiling. So he returned to Taiwan and joined the faculty of National Chiao Tung University. There he quickly became senior vice president and then acting president of the university.

The example of Wen Chen informs this study of Asian Americans and labor market discrimination. The article will examine the experiences of Asian Americans, not by looking at all Asian Americans but by focusing on Asian Americans with PhDs. Asian Americans are known to value education, but only 3 percent of Asian Americans go so far as to obtain doctorates. These Asian Americans end up at an extreme end of the labor market. The factors that affect all Asian Americans may become magnified at the extreme ends of the labor market, particularly if there are glass-ceiling issues.

Some geologists have observed that we can learn more about earthquakes by studying one large earthquake rather than a dozen small ones (Aki 1981). As well, economists have advised that we can learn more about business cycles by studying the Great Depression rather than a dozen small recessions (Bernanke 2000; Temin 1989). Both groups believe that the nature of various phenomena can become magnified in extreme cases. Thus, we will try to learn something about all Asian Americans by looking at the most highly educated Asian Americans.

These findings show that Asian American men with PhDs earn less than comparable non-Hispanic White men with PhDs. The study makes a distinction between South Asians and East/Southeast Asians and finds that East/Southeast Asians experience more discrimination. The evidence also shows that Asian Americans are much less likely to hold managerial positions than comparable non-Hispanic Whites. Being Asian will reduce the chance of holding a managerial position by 26 percent to 29 percent. The estimates of this study may be biased downward by the effect of return migration to Asia. These results are broadly consistent with previous results published in literature by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (1988) and Marlene Kim and Don Mar (2007), suggesting very little has changed over the past two decades.

BACKGROUND

While Asian Americans are known for valuing education, (2) the actual levels of educational attainment are quite varied. The community tends to be over-represented at the extremes. While Asian Americans are more likely than non-Hispanic White Americans to have a bachelor's degree or higher (44.1 percent versus 26.1 percent), they are also more likely to have less than a high school education (19.6 percent versus 16.4 percent) (Bauman and Graf 2003). At the doctorate level, approximately 1 percent of non-Hispanic Whites and 3 percent of Asian Americans have PhDs.

Using 2000 U.S. Census Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) data, Asian Americans are disaggregated across ethnic groups and levels of higher education in Table 1. The table is limited to the twelve Asian American ethnic groups with populations of more than 100,000 because of sample-size issues. Despite combining the 5 percent and 1 percent PUMS files from the 2000 Census, the sample sizes for other Asian ethnic groups were too small, as was the number of individuals who seek PhDs, to make precise estimates regarding these smaller ethnic groups.

The percentage of Asian Americans in each ethnic group between the ages of twenty-five and sixty-four who have a bachelor's degree, master's degree, professional degree (PRO), or doctorate appears in Table 1. …

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