Untangling the Myth of the Model Minority

60 Pages Posted: 27 Jun 2003

Date Written: March 2003


The model minority stereotype depicts Asian Americans as a group that has succeeded in America and overcome discrimination through its hard work, intelligence, and emphasis on education and achievement - a modern-day confirmation of the American Dream. A large body of work by Asian critical scholars condemns this image and charges that it conceals more sinister beliefs about Asian Americans and other racial minorities in America. Is this critique correct? Does the model minority stereotype really mask hostility toward Asian Americans or breed contempt for other minorities?

This article presents the results of an empirical study into the model minority stereotype. Using 1990, 1994, and 2000 General Social Survey data (including some of the very data used by critical scholars to establish the existence of this stereotype), we confirm claims that some non-Hispanic white Americans think that Asian Americans as a group are more intelligent, harder working, and richer than other minorities and that some think Asian Americans are more intelligent and harder working than whites. But we also discovered that these ideas are not usually linked with negative views of Asian Americans (or of other minorities, for that matter). Indeed, we found weak support for the contrary position - that those who rate Asian Americans higher than other minorities, or particularly higher than whites, are more likely to hold other positive views about Asian Americans, immigration, African Americans, and government programs supporting these groups.

Our study nonetheless confirms the scholarly suspicions in one crucial respect: non-Hispanic whites who have positive views of Asian Americans are less likely to think that Asian Americans are discriminated against in both jobs and housing, thus tending to support the claims of some Asian critical scholars that positive stereotypes about Asian Americans tend to be associated with a failure to recognize continuing discrimination. In these data, however, this complacency by whites about prejudice against Asians does not translate into hostility toward government programs to alleviate the problems of Asian or African Americans.

Suggested Citation

McGowan, Miranda H. and Lindgren, James T., Untangling the Myth of the Model Minority (March 2003). Minnesota Public Law Research Paper No. 03-8; Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 03-10. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=420600 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.420600

Miranda H. McGowan (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN

James T. Lindgren

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
773-294-9043 (Phone)

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