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Chinese Americans are a complex group, study says

November 14, 2008|Teresa Watanabe | Watanabe is a Times staff writer.

Chinese Americans are a complex and highly diverse ethnic group, filling both ends of the sociological spectrum as rich and poor, college graduates and high school dropouts, high-tech managers and sweatshop workers, according to a new national study.

The University of Maryland study found that California was home to 36.9% of the nation's 3.5 million Chinese Americans, the largest concentration. Ethnic Chinese made up nearly one-fourth of all Asian Americans and represented the nation's fastest-growing major immigrant group, increasing by 30% from 2000 to 2006.

The comprehensive study, based on 2006 U.S. census data, interviews and other sources, challenged common portraits of Chinese Americans as affluent and well-educated model minorities. More than half of Chinese American adults have college degrees, twice the proportion of the general population. But one-fifth did not complete high school, one of the highest rates among Asian American groups. Immigrants from Taiwan and Hong Kong are better educated than those from mainland China.

More than half the population works in managerial and professional occupations, but a substantial number have blue-collar jobs. The top three occupations for Chinese American men, for instance, are cooks, computer software developers, and managers and administrators.

The median family income of Chinese Americans was $62,705, compared with the national median of $48,451. But they consistently earn lower incomes than whites at every education level, the study found. On average, Chinese Americans in legal and medical fields earned as much as 44% less than their white counterparts.

"Chinese Americans occupy two ends of the spectrum," said Larry Shinagawa, the report's principal researcher and director of the university's Asian American Studies Program.

"They are a very diverse population that is very, very complex to understand, and any simple model of them doesn't express the depth of who they are."

The study, which was funded by OCA, an Asian American nonprofit organization, also found that 59.6% of the nation's Chinese immigrants were from mainland China, 15.9% from Taiwan and 9.4% from Hong Kong. A surge in immigrants from mainland China reflects improved relations with the communist government since the 1980s, the report says. About 190,000 are undocumented.

In addition, the study found that 4 out of 5 Chinese Americans were bilingual, and nearly 3 out of 4 were U.S. citizens.

The full study can be found at www.aast.umd.edu/Portrait ofChinesesAmericans.pdf

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teresa.watanabe@latimes.com

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