Why are Asian-Americans understudied?

screenshot from http://naasurvey.com/

Last month, the National Asian American Survey found that the Asian-American population increasingly align most squarely with the Democratic political agenda.

The report also brought up an issue: Asian-American are often ignored in national polls. According to the report, the survey is “the only nationally representative academic survey of this population’s social and political integration and attitudes.”

Other reports and studies, like a health study focused on this population published in the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, also comment on the issue that Asian-Americans are an understudied population, making it harder to understand the population and harder to develop programs and policy specific to their needs.

So why are Asian-Americans understudied?

In part because they’re still a small group, said Janelle Wong, director of the Asian American Studies Program at the University of Maryland. Although, Wong said, they are the fastest growing group in the country in terms of race and ethnicity, they are still under 6 percent of the population.

They are also understudied because it’s more difficult to collect data on a group that requires being contacted in multiple languages, said Wong, who is also a professor in the American Studies department of University of Maryland.

Asia is a large, diverse continent, with more than 40 countries and just as many, if not more, languages spoken there.

Traditional polls don’t conduct surveys in languages other than Spanish and English, and don’t sample a large enough group of Asian-Americans to draw “robust conclusions,” she said.

Why don’t traditional polls conduct surveys in languages other than Spanish and English?

One reason might be that it is more expensive and much more difficult in terms of sampling methodology and design, Wong said.

Are there groups out there studying this diverse population?

Yes, there’s a whole field dedicated to it: Asian-American Studies. You’ll find a lot of research on Asian American public health, psychology, history, education issues, mental health, but there is still less of this work than on other groups.

How does this affect how others view Asian-Americans?

Many reports, studies and articles on this population have called them “the invisible minority.” Wong said it stems from the “model minority” stereotype. It’s a generalization that all Asian-Americans are “self-sufficient, well-educated, and upwardly mobile,” as described in a 2010 study published in the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved called Methodological Issues in the Collection, Analysis, and Reporting of Granular Data in Asian American Populations.

The generalizations don’t account for the tremendous diversity among the population or for differences in socioeconomic status, access to resources, migration patterns, and immigration histories within Asian-American groups.

Wong said this leads to less attention to the challenges that some smaller, less advantaged groups face and less attention to particular needs in the Asian-American community.

What would a more representative picture of the Asian-American community achieve?

An accurate, and truly representative data of the population will correct the stereotype of Asian-Americans face as a “model minority.” It could bring to light specific needs, like language access, income inequality within the population and high dropout rates among specific ethnicities, Wong said.