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Asian Americans Set to Surpass Whites in Median Family Wealth

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis examined data from 40,000 families between 1989 and 2013 and found that the median family wealth of Asian Americans has been increasing over the past 25 years and may eventually surpass that of whites. “The Demographics of Wealth--How Age, Education and Race Separate Thrivers from Strugglers in Today’s Economy” compared not only median family income—which for Asian Americans has long been higher than that of whites because of larger family sizes and higher levels of education—but also other factors comprising net worth including assets, debts, asset diversification, and liquidity.

“Asian families have changed the most during the past 25 years,” said study co-author William R. Emmons in a video statement. “Given the remarkable increase in educational attainment by younger Asians in recent decades, virtually all measures of their income and wealth will surpass those of whites eventually.”

In inflation-adjusted dollars, the median wealth of a white family rose from $130,102 in 1989 to $134,008 in 2013. For an Asian-American family, the median wealth increased at a faster rate, from $64,165 to $91,440. In contrast, median family wealth for Hispanic and African Americans stayed relatively stable.

Although the study was not able to examine the effects of factors such as historical discrimination and cumulative disadvantage, it focused on age and education. Asian Americans’ higher levels of education boosted their median family wealth over that of white families. When education was held steady, Asian American median family wealth dropped back down to below that of whites.

“Many parts of the Asian-American community are not doing so well,” Karthick Ramakrishnan, Professor of Public Policy at the University of California-Riverside, told NBC News, “It is important to disaggregate the data not just by ethnic group, but also how much is real estate and how much is college savings and how much is where they live.”

Where you live can impact income mobility 2:09

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