Upward Mobility and Discrimination: The Case of Asian Americans

85 Pages Posted: 7 Nov 2016 Last revised: 27 Feb 2022

See all articles by Nathaniel G. Hilger

Nathaniel G. Hilger

Brown University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: October 2016


Asian Americans are the only non-white US racial group to experience long-term, institutional discrimination and subsequently exhibit high income. I re-examine this puzzle in California, where most Asians settled historically. Asians achieved extraordinary upward mobility relative to blacks and whites for every cohort born in California since 1920. This mobility stemmed primarily from gains in earnings conditional on education, rather than unusual educational mobility. Historical test score and prejudice data suggest low initial earnings for Asians, unlike blacks, reflected prejudice rather than skills. Post-war declines in discrimination interacting with previously uncompensated skills can account for Asians’ extraordinary upward mobility.

Suggested Citation

Hilger, Nathaniel G., Upward Mobility and Discrimination: The Case of Asian Americans (October 2016). NBER Working Paper No. w22748, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2865529

Nathaniel G. Hilger (Contact Author)

Brown University - Department of Economics ( email )

64 Waterman Street
Providence, RI 02912
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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