The Asian American Man Study — 2015 Results

What it’s like to live, work, and date as an Asian man in America

In late fall of 2015, I ran a survey of 354 Asian men living in the United States on their experiences at work, in dating, and in day to day life.

As an Asian man born in China but raised in the US, I feel there’s been a dearth of understanding of the Asian male’s experience. It’s not often discussed, either between our own community, and with society at large, and we all suffer because of it.

The survey is by no means comprehensive or exhaustive, but I hope it can shed light on some of the experiences of the nine million Asian men living in the United States and perhaps spark some important conversations.

Note: this study was a personal side project and does not reflect the views or practices of my employer

Executive Summary

  • Most Asian American men feel they are treated worse than white people but better than non-Asian minorities.
  • While proud of their Asian heritage, not all Asian American men think it’s important to uphold “traditional” Asian values in their lives, though older men (35+) are more likely to say yes to this statement.
  • Nearly all Asian men have been made uncomfortable by some kind of racial stereotype, the most common ones being “good at math”, “small penis”, and “good with computers”.
  • Many Asian American men feel that there are still race-related obstacles holding back themselves and their ethnic peers at the workplace though they report very little overt harassment at work.
  • Most Asian men have been asked “Where are you from” where the asker is looking to determine country of origin more than six times
  • Most Asian men report dating and having dating preference within their own subethnicity (East, Southeast, South) though dating white people is very common.
  • Nearly half of Asian men have heard someone say “I don’t date Asian men” in their presence.

Method

I put together a 28-question survey using Google Forms and put out a call for Asian men living in America to take the survey. The form was live on theasianamericanman.com from November 22nd to December 7th 2015. Visitors primarily came to the site from Facebook, Twitter, and Direct traffic, and a blog post I wrote on my site The Art of Ass-Kicking.

363 participants completed the survey. Of these we retained 354 responses and excluded 8 respondents who answered “Female” or “I prefer not to answer” for gender.

Analysis was performed using Statwing, YC-backed company that offers powerful and intuitive statistical analysis software.

Demographics

You can roughly imagine that the typical respondent to this survey has these attributes: a heterosexual East Asian college grad between 25 and 34 who was born in the US, with parents who were born in Asia.

With that said, we did have a decent sample of men who were South and Southeast Asian (many were mixed), men above 35, and men who born in Asia.

Age

Two thirds of the respondents were between the ages of 25 and 34, with just under 18% of them being younger and 14% of them being older.

Sexual Preference

The vast majority of respondents indicated they were heterosexual, with about 9.9% identifying as homo- or bi- sexual.

Education

This was a well-educated group, with 55% of respondents holding 4 year college degrees and another 36% with graduate degrees.

Immigration Status

71% of respondents were born in the United States with parents being born in Asia. The remaining percentage were almost all born in Asia but immigrated under the age of 13, so still people who spent their formative years in America.

Race and Ethnic Identity

In our survey, respondents were able to check more than one box when it came to indicating their race / ethnicity. We included the standard White, Black/African American, Latino/Hispanic, Native American, and broke out “Asian” into three subethnicities of East, Southeast, and South Asian.

  • 75% of respondents identified with being East Asian
  • 21% identified with being Southeast (SE) Asian
  • 8.5% identified with being South Asian
  • We estimate around 15% of respondents checked more than one box, indicating they were of multiple ethnicities

Note: Our study had higher representation of East Asians and lower representation of Southeast and South Asians compared to the US population which is important to consider as we draw conclusions from this data. [1]

This means our survey overweights East Asians compared to the ethnic makeup of the 18M Asians residing in the United States. According to the Pew Research Center, East Asians make up close to half of the Asian American population, while Southeast Asians make up slightly more than a third, and South Asians, make up a bit over a fifth.

Identity and Pride

The vast majority of Asian men surveyed were proud to be Asian and felt that their Asian heritage was important to their personal identity. There was no statistical difference in these findings based on age, immigration status (born in US vs Asia) or subethnicity.

Traditional Values

Respondents were more mixed when asked whether they personally felt it was important to uphold “traditional” Asian values in their own life. This question was explicitly worded to indicate that “traditional” Asian values were to be interpreted however they wished, without any specific guidance from the survey.

What explains the difference between Asian men who really wanted to uphold these traditional values (4’s and 5’s) and those who didn’t (1’s, 2’s and 3's)?

Immigration status seemed like a viable candidate, but we found no statistical difference between men born in the US or men born in Asia. Splitting out different subethnicities didn’t matter either.

However, one factor was significant: age.

There was a subtle but statistically significant (p value = 0.024, effect size = 0.145) correlation between age and traditional values. Asian men 35 and older are more likely to agree (4’s and 5’s) with the statement “It is important to me to uphold ‘traditional’ Asian values” compared to those under 35.

As an aside, this where Statwing really shines — I was even able to determine that controlling for subethnicity and immigration status, age was still a significant factor.

Discrimination

One of the most common race-related experiences that nearly all Asian Americans share is being asked the question “Where are you from?” in a situation where the asker is looking to identify their country of origin. The presumption is that the person isn’t from “here”.

This finding did not differ between subethnicity or immigration status.

Stereotypes

In our survey, we asked Asian men to indicate if they had ever been made fun of for a certain stereotype. We listed 10 different Asian stereotypes, from speaking with an accent to kung fu skills to being good with computers.

Some notable findings:

  • Almost everyone gets something: 88% of respondents had experienced at least one of these stereotypes and the difference between Asia and US born men was minimal.
  • The nerd stereotype is strong: between 69-71% of Asian men have experienced stereotypes around being good at math, while 65–69% of Asian men have been stereotyped as being good with computers or technology
  • Egregious stereotypes hit hard for US born: Asians born in the US were statistically more likely to experience stereotypes around having a small penis (67%) and slanted eyes (64%) than Asian-born men (53% and 43%)

Comparisons to Whites and other Minorities

To understand how Asian men are treated, we asked them to respond to the question “Overall, you believe people treat you _____ compared to [White people] [Non-Asian minorities] [Asian women].”

Their possible responses were “Better”, “The same”, “Worse”, or “I’m not sure”.

Overall, more than a third of respondents indicated they were treated worse than Whites people, while three-quarters said they were treated better than non Asian minorities. Responses were most scattered when it came to treatment vs Asian women.

We were not able to find any good explanatory factors that indicated whether someone was more likely to say “worse” vs “the same” when it came to treatment against white people.

However, when looking at treatment vs non-Asian minorities, immigration status played an important role. While both groups were more likely to say they were treated “better” than non-Asian minorities, those born in Asian were 2x more likely to say “the same” compared to those born in the US.

Finally, when looking at how Asian men compared to Asian women, the results were pretty mixed. In aggregate, the findings showed a fairly even split between all four answers. However, when breaking it down by subethnicity, we found some surprising differences.

South Asian men compared to the other groups, are more likely to respond “better” while Southeast Asian were less likely to respond “better”. East Asian men fell somewhere in between the two groups.

Race Within Institutions

Race and Work

To try to understand how Asian men feel their race plays a role in their careers today, we asked them two different questions.

The first was their agreement to the statement “I do not face any obstacles towards advancing in my career due to my race / ethnicity”. This was aimed at exploring their personal experience in work as it pertained to their career. This question had an average score of 3.0 with 1 being “strongly disagree” and 5 being “strongly agree” (90% range of 2.9 — 3.1).

The second question asked their agreement to the statement “People of my race / ethnicity are adequately recognized for their contributions at my place of work”. This was meant to get their sense of their workplace and what they saw as the overall trend. This question had an average score of 3.4 (90% range of 3.3–3.5).

What this says to us is that while overall, Asians do see their peers being recognized at work, many still feel that there are race-related obstacles holding them back from career success.

Harassment at School and Work

Bullying is a known phenomena at school, and it’s sometimes also experienced at work. When we asked Asian men to share their experiences about physical aggression and verbal harassment, we found that while nearly 20% of respondents had experienced this at school, the number dropped to under 4% at work.

Dating Behavior

These next set of questions asks about dating and race, perhaps the most interesting but also most contentious part of the study. I’ve done my best to separate out subethnicities where it makes sense because this factors so closely into results.

Remember because people were allowed to check multiple ethnicities (i.e. a man born to an Indonesian father and an Indian mother might check “South Asian” AND “Southeast Asian”), the responses of mixed race Asians will be reported multiple times when we break these findings out into subethnicity groups.

Dating History

When asked about their dating history, Asian men most frequently report dating Asians of their subethnicity, with the second most frequently reported ethnicity was White.

  • 83% of East Asians report having dated other East Asians
  • 71% of SE Asians have dated other SE Asians
  • 67% of South Asians have dated other South Asians.
  • Between 60–73% of Asian men reported having dated a White person. There was no statistical difference between Asian men born in the US vs Asia when it came to having dated someone who was White.

Preference

Beyond simply who they have dated, I also asked what ethnic groups Asian men prefer to date. Note that they could check more than one preference. What we found:

  • Again, Asian men indicated an affinity to their own subethnicities — with 62% of East Asians, 55% of SE Asians, and 53% of South Asian men indicating they preferred partners of their own subethnicity.
  • However, a nontrivial percentage of men indicated that they have no preference for race when dating.
  • White partners emerge as a popular choice, with between 46% — 52% of Asian men stating they prefer to date White people. Note that there was no statistical difference between Asian men born in the US vs Asia when it came to White preference.

Serious Relationships

We also asked specifically about Asian men who were married or in self-reported “serious relationships” to tell us about the ethnicity of their partner.

  • About one in two men in our study were married or in self-reported “serious relationships”, which
  • Of the men in relationships, about 45% of them had an East Asian partner and 28% had a White partner. This seems to support the idea that Asian men are marrying or at least getting into serious relationships with people of the ethnicity they have stated preferences for
  • Reminder: SE Asian and South Asian men represented only 21% and 10% of respondents respectively, and likely we’d see higher representation in their subethnicity as partners in serious relationships, given what we saw earlier with preference.

Perceptions

Finally, we’ll look at some of the perceptions Asian men have about themselves, and the perceptions they believe others have for them.

First, we asked men to discuss how they felt Asian men were represented in the media.

We found that the vast majority of men feel that they are underrepresented in the media, with 89% saying “agree” or “strongly agree”. Similarly, Asian men feel that when they do appear in the media, they are depicted as desexualized characters, with 78% responding “agree” or “strongly agree”.

In the survey, we wanted to explore Asian men’s belief that they could be / are attractive romantic partners.

We asked if Asian men themselves believed that Asian men could make attractive romantic partners, to see if the issue was in confidence or limiting self-beliefs. Then we asked them what they believe society thought about Asian men’s ability to be an attractive romantic partner.

What we found was that the vast majority of Asian men (90%) believe they, as a group, are, for lack of a better word, dateable. However, they felt that society did not share this sentiment, with 56% indicating “disagree” or “strongly disagree” to society thinking Asian men could make attractive romantic partners.

Neither age, immigration status, or subethnicity had any statistical relationship to either of these metrics.

Finally, we also looked at whether Asian men actually felt that race was a relevant factor in their dating life. We wonder if it was possible that while in theory, they believed these things about their race, but in practice their race didn’t affect them.

What we found was that an overwhelming majority (79%) of Asian men feel that their race in fact mattered when it came to dating.

Their answers to this question was negatively correlated with their response to the society’s views on Asian men as attractive romantic partners (r=-0.323, p-value <0.00001)

That is, when “My race/ethnicity is a relevant factor in my dating life” increases by one, “I think society believes that Asian men can make attractive romantic partners” decreases by 0.415 on average.

This may suggest that Asian men sense that race playing a role in their dating life is not conducive to being seen by society as dateable.

“I Don’t Date Asian Men”

Supporting this belief is the fact that Asian men often are told to their face that they are not viable dating options.

46% of Asian indicated that they can recall at least one instance when they heard someone state in their presence “I don’t date Asian men”. 11% of men have heard this statement 6 or more times.

In our analysis we found that, unsurprisingly, the more often Asian men have heard someone say “”I don’t date Asian men”, the more likely they are to disagree with the statement “I think society believes Asian men can make attractive romantic partners.”

Looking at other factors that might affect the response to the “datability” of Asian men, we found that people who have dated White people have statistically higher values for “I think society believes that Asian men can make attractive romantic partners” than people who have not dated White people. (2.56 vs 2.28, p-value of 0.03)

Conclusions

Little research has gone into understanding the experience of Asian men in America. Through this sample of a specific segment of this population, we were able to reveal some interesting perspectives on what it is like to be a man of Asian descent living in America.

While often grouped with Whites in many conversations about race or diversity because of their often high income levels and advanced educational backgrounds, this study makes it clear that Asian men do not feel treated the same as Whites. While perhaps not as overtly aggressive as other minorities, Asian men are the target of stereotyping, experience race-related obstacles in the workplace, and perceive a society-wide unappreciation when it comes to dating.

Whether born in the United States or in Asia, Asian men are proud of their ethnic heritage, and prefer to date people of their own ethnicity, as well as Whites. Very few experience overt harassment in the workplace, and as they get older, they are more likely to want to uphold traditional Asian values in their own lives.

This study is not meant to be a definitive look at the lives of Asian men in America, but we hope it sparks a conversation about this important but often overlooked segment of the American people.

Edit Jan 25: an earlier version of this article stated that “most respondents indicated they were treated worse than Whites” while the actual number was closer to 1/3.

Edit Jan 26: an earlier version of this article used the term “the median participant”, and since median has a very specific meaning, wasn’t the most accurate phrasing. It has replaced with the wording: “You can roughly imagine that the typical respondent to this survey has these attributes:”

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