Ask the Scholars

Interviews from 2003

Question 42
Why do recent immigrants do better than African Americans socioeconomically?

In a segment of the program it was argued that the net worth difference between whites and non-whites does not allow them to prosper but many immigrants come to the U.S. with negative net worth. Why do recent immigrants do better than African Americans socioeconomically?

David Freund


This is a really big, complicated question. And significantly, the answer to that varies by ethnic group, by a group's particular history in the United States, and even by the period in U.S. history we're talking about. But to bring it up to the present, we cannot generalize about blacks or Asians or Middle Eastern or white immigrants, because their statuses have changed. Nonetheless, there are some things that I would argue are constant. First, the vast majority of immigrants who come t...

Dalton Conley


Not only do they have supportive networks in place, but in many ways, immigrants are the world's self-selected superheroes. They are not a random sample of the world's population. If we took, for example, a random set of villagers from Bangladesh, China, and India, and threw them in the United States, they wouldn't do nearly as well as the people who are coming here, who have gone through the process to get here. They are relatively advantaged in their home countries, and they're obvious...

Sumi Cho

Legal Scholar

This "immigrants vs. African Americans" narrative represents the kind of classic model-minority argument that conservatives have deployed since day one to argue why affirmative action is not needed for African Americans and other non-Asian American minorities. And they often use Asian Americans in order to make this point - to say that Asians came with nothing and now they're graduating valedictorians of their class. I call this tactic racial mascotting, and it's quite insidious.

John Cheng


Not all immigrants are self-selected. I think there are two different populations of people who enter the United States: the super-heroic achievers and the people who come here for a variety of other reasons. If you look at the Asian American immigrant population, for example, you see there are two distinct populations that happen to be from the same region, but have different backgrounds. The ones who do well are ambitious and have means and access to capital. The achievers consist of r...