Overcoming the “Model Minority” Myth: AAPI Women Are Not Paid Equally

March 15, 2016

Asian women in the U.S. are typically paid 85 cents for every dollar paid to white men. Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Asian women in the United States are paid only 85 cents* for every dollar that white non-Hispanic men are paid. It’s a disheartening statistic on its own, and it also has enduring effects: Over a lifetime, those 15 cents add up to thousands of dollars!

This reality is even worse when you look more closely at the experiences among the ethnicities within the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. The AAPI community is made up of more than 50 ethnic groups who speak more than 100 different languages and bring many diverse experiences to our country.

First coined in 1966, the stereotype of Asian Americans as a “model minority” continues to mask the true experiences of AAPI people. Falsely portraying Asian Americans as the most successful and healthy racial group in the United States, the model minority myth erases the many needs and concerns of AAPI women. This myth also undermines all the nuanced and complex realities of the different ethnicities that make up our community.

Only when we disaggregate the data about AAPI women by ethnicity do we start to see the many different experiences within our diverse community. This is also true of wage gap data. On the one hand, we see that some AAPI women are among the highest paid workers. But on the other hand, we see that most AAPI ethnicities experience wage gaps worse than those of white women. In particular, Bhutanese, Marshallese, and Burmese women experience the worst wage gaps when compared to all other ethnicities (see figure 1).



fig 1

Source: American Community Survey 2011–13 data


Additionally, across all ethnicities but two, AAPI women still lag behind men of their same ethnicity (see figure 2) — an important measure that isolates the effects of gender discrimination on how much AAPI women are paid.



fig 2

Source: American Community Survey 2011–13 data


The reality is that more than a half million AAPI women live below the federal poverty line, and many others live on the edge of poverty. AAPI women make up 4.4 percent of the low-wage workforce, even though we represent just 2.9 percent of the overall workforce. Many often live paycheck to paycheck and struggle daily to make ends meet, despite working full time. These women who work in our shops, salons, restaurants, and elsewhere must no longer be faceless and anonymous.

The National Asian Pacific Women’s Forum is working hard to challenge the model minority myth and to make sure that our communities are truly visible. There’s more to the story when we delve deeper into our community, and it will take all of us working together to solve the problem of gender inequity.

*Note: AAUW uses two different data sources for earnings ratios by race/ethnicity. For black, Asian, and Latina and Hispanic women, we follow the Current Population Survey (CPS). Because the CPS lacks sufficient sample size for smaller demographic groups, we follow the American Community Survey (ACS) for Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander, American Indian, and Alaska Native women.

This post was originally written by Miriam Yeung, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, and updated with new data in 2018.



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