The Three Segregations and Asian America

A recurring conversation in sociology is that of segregation. While we are decades away from Jim Crow, the weight of the evidence since the 1980s is that while our population is diversifying, we’re not necessarily content with living alongside those who appear different from us. In most of the research to date, segregation has often inferred race as the main marker of difference. But a few years ago, new research was emerging that suggested income was now gaining in prominence. With the availability of a new interactive online tool, we’re able to see how income segregation appears today. Here’s a screenshot of the Chicago area based on the website, (Read on to see why I chose Chicago for this example):

Using income alone, we see a pattern familiar to those who understand racial segregation. The more urbanized areas of Chicago have concentrated poverty whereas the outlying areas generally show significantly higher income levels. Substitute low income with racial minority status and the picture looks very similar. So which one is it, racial segregation or income segregation? This is the big debate. Recently published research by sociologist Lincoln Quillian provides a new perspective that essentially shows us that it’s both.

Back in 1993 a landmark book, American Apartheid,

revealed the persistence of racial segregation and its effects on minority populations. Racial residential segregation places minorities in concentrated environments of poverty which are linked to higher criminal activity, violence, and poorer schools (not to mention inadequate access to good health care, and nutritious food). As Quillian summarizes, “Massey’s (1990) core point [is] that segregation and minority poverty rates interact, or intensify in combination, to produce concentrated poverty” (p.355). This point is more formally defined as two processes: racial segregation and class segregation within race. Look again at the map of Chicago and you can almost see this argument; if greater income is coupled with white racial status, then the higher income levels tend to be more white. Within the poorer census tracts, so the argument goes, there will be segregation between poorer minorities and richer minorities. But Quillian’s study, which uses Chicago census tracts as his main example, goes one step further and provides the missing methodological key to Massey’s study: “the segregation of high- and middle-income members of other racial groups from blacks and Hispanics” (355). Stated differently, to understand how concentrated urban poverty and racial segregation work, we have to account for the difference in poverty rates between the different racial groups. It’s not only that whites and blacks are segregated, nor that richer blacks are slightly segregated from poorer blacks. It is also that whites have much less poverty as well. Since white poverty rates are much lower than blacks, neighborhoods with middle-class blacks are more likely to have poorer neighbors (regardless of race) than if the neighborhood was middle-class and white. The “three segregations” serve to distance whites from blacks (and Hispanics) generally and conversely amplifies the combination of black segregation and black poverty. This is a powerful explanation. We learn from this study that the underlying logic of racial and class segregation still go together despite increasing diversity and calls for colorblindness (which presumes that race doesn’t matter in social and individual outcomes). The integration of nonwhites and whites is very selective and coupled with perceived class of racial minorities. [If readers can’t follow my explanation, here’s another summary of the study).

Given my interest in Asian Americans, I wondered how they fit in this equation. I’ll need to contact Dr. Quillian for the additional analyses he did that accounted for Asian Americans as a separate group (p.365), but I suspect that the other observations we know about this group will explain their role pretty quickly. We know that Asian American poverty is higher than the national average (see pp.34-35 on link to report) (according to the Census Bureau, Asian American poverty increased 46% between 2002 and 2010), while at the same time Asian American household incomes are quite high. This is because Asian Americans are a very diverse group and due to the specific kinds of migration patterns (high-skilled employment, political asylum etc.) some arrive with a lot of resources and others have very little. More than half of the Asian population is foreign-born so these factors still play a sizable role in their poverty or lack thereof. But Asian Americans are also fewer in number compared to other minorities and (this is the big one) they are not often embedded in concentrated communities whether rich or poor. The Chinatowns and Koreatown are still here but they don’t contain a large number of Asians (note that each of these enclaves is a specific ethnic group; “pan-Asian” enclaves don’t really exist) in part because there aren’t as many of them to begin with. So if I could guess, Asian American segregation is fairly rare and the coupling of concentrated poverty and racial segregation doesn’t result in the same amplified results we see for blacks and increasingly for some Hispanics.

As I reflect on it some more I also wonder if predominantly white neighborhoods will absorb Asians and more readily accept their presence as a symbolic gesture toward inclusivity, a means of justifying colorblindness. Given the high incomes of many Asian Americans this seems like a real possibility given the way the three segregations play out. Note that Quillian did not describe segregation from whites, but rather from “non-black neighbors” and I suspect this is because there are just enough Asian Americans in those neighborhoods that one cannot call these exclusively white neighborhoods.

But what about Asian and black residential integration? From a news piece that appeared yesterday, I’m intrigued at the possibility of what might happen in New York. Apparently Chinatown is too expensive for some Chinese to move in; these migrants need a more affordable place to live. Their next choice is east Harlem. Will entry into a predominantly black community perhaps reshape the segregation patterns we see (at least in this city), or will it reflect more of the same, only now including poor Asian Americans? Here’s a screenshot of the richblockpoorblocks site for Harlem:

Gender, Culture and Suicide in Asia and Asian America

Fellow blogger and sociologist Mark Regnerus’ recent post on suicide rates and ideation prompted me to reflect on suicide in parts of Asia and in Asian America from the news I have been reading of late. Perhaps the most notable is the one that showed up in the New York Times citing an unprecedented increase in suicide among elderly Korean women. As the article suggests, some of this is prompted by the structural changes in Korean society that have not been adapted by all members of society due to the cultural differences brought on by structural changes. In the US, our social security system is a kind of broad social contract between generations of working Americans. Regardless of ethnicity, religion, etc. workers in America help cover some of the expenses for the retired. In Korea, the contract is more specific to the family: children, usually sons, are expected to provide the economic safety net for their parents directly. Put differently, earlier generations invested in their children with no private savings set aside for them. Thus, when we combine the other demographic dynamics in Korea (i.e. declining marital and fertility rates) we have a recipe for disaster; while the standard of living in South Korea is incredibly high, the benefits of that improvement have not resulted in unilateral better retirements for the elderly. If we follow the traditional logic, the fact that many elderly feel abandoned suggests that the highly prosperous working generation no longer feels obligated to assist their parents or perhaps they cannot do so while maintaining a new and higher standard of living. We could also ask why the government is not stepping in and supporting these elderly. According to the article the government safety net was only just recently developed (1988) and is apparently inadequate in day-to-day coverage of expenses. And there are these cultural loopholes in this system where adult children deemed “capable” of providing support to parents locks out access to social security to those elderly. In such situations (and apparently it’s growing more pervasive), many elderly Koreans find no other recourse but to take their lives when their children cannot (or will not) help, and the state fails as well.   

It turns out that this trend toward elderly suicide is more complicated for Asian Americans. According to this mini-guide on the basics of suicide, the Asian American rate is lower than other groups in general. But the picture is mixed for the elderly. According to this graph from the Centers for Disease Control, elderly white non-Hispanic males commit suicide at a much higher rate than men of other groups, including Asian Americans.  However, among elderly women, Asian Americans are more likely to commit suicide than any other group. Asian American elderly men are still more likely to commit suicide than women, but it’s noteworthy that suicide attempts are higher for women here. The question remains: why? What might be at work in the lives of elderly Asian American women that increases the likelihood of suicide? One wonders if it is a similar sense of felt abandonment by their children, many of whom managed to be very successful materially.

Suicide Rates Among Persons Ages 65 Years and Older, by Race/Ethnicity and Sex, United States, 2005-2009

Since the CDC does not provide demographic information on suicide ideation, planning and actual attempts, we can turn to research by social scientists in their paper published in the Archives of Suicide Research. There they found that among Asian American adult respondents, women more often reported attempting suicide compared to their male counterparts (3.5% v. 1.5%). Most strikingly, US-born Asian American women reported a much higher attempted suicide (compared to men, both US born and immigrant), suicidal planning, and ideation compared to immigrant Asian American women, US born Asian American men, and immigrant Asian American men. When the researchers account for other possible factors that influence suicidal thinking, they find that US-born Asian American women are significantly more likely to report suicidal thoughts compared to their male counterparts. Still a glance at the effects shows that while the differences aren’t significant statistically-speaking, there is a clear gender and nativity dynamic at work.

If suicide ideation results in part from stressful conditions, one would think that immigrant women would feel more stress and consequently be more prone to suicide ideation. The researchers suggest that the higher native-born suicide ideation rate may be a result of socio-political factors such as gender trauma, racial trauma or some combination. A year after this study was published, social scientists Janice Cheng and associates used the same data to examine this very possibility. They confirmed that racial trauma (defined as perceived discrimination) along with gender (that is, being female), family conflict and depressive symptoms contribute to Asian American suicidal ideation. Put together, these two studies suggest that native born Asian American women struggle not only with their minority racial status but also their particular position in their families. If most elderly Asian American women are immigrants, then we have a gendered multigenerational problem: both the immigrant elderly and their native-born daughters struggle with suicidal ideation. And while separated by the Pacific, today’s elderly in Korea are perhaps similar to the elderly Asian Americans in that their strategies for survival were built on assumptions that are not shared by their children who have succeeded in contexts that reward individualistic attitudes. The adult daughters in these contexts face similar dilemmas in making sense of the expectations ingrained at an early age from their parents and the world of their peers. Perhaps it’s not so surprising then that family conflict is linked to suicide ideation for Asian American women. Hopefully, these kinds of studies are reaching the right ears to aid Asian and Asian American elderly women find meaning and belonging in a world that has restructured right before their eyes.

Asian Americans and Interfaith Marriages

It’s a festive time of year for Asian Americans. As many readers know, the Lunar New Year celebration kicked off last week, and I hear that in China, the celebration lasts a good deal more than 1 day due to the mass migrations that occur for work-related reasons. For example, last year a PBS documentary called “Last Train Home” focused on the journeys of Chinese workers who often leave their rural villages to travel hundreds of miles for work and return on holidays with their earnings.

And of course this past Thursday was Valentine’s Day. On my Facebook newsfeed, the Pew research Center re-published a news piece from 2009, where they reported on religiously mixed marriages using their massive Religious Landscape Survey (RLS) conducted in 2007. Here’s the main graph:

The most intriguing for me, with my interest in Asian Americans was the rate of interreligious marriage by race. Interreligious marriages have been the topic of some debate among sociologist of religion. Given our nation’s emphasis on religious tolerance, interfaith marriages seem to be one indication of this freedom in our culture. But sociologist Robert Wuthnow’s observations from over a hundred interviews of interfaith marriages suggested that these interfaith marriages are a mixed blessing. In America and the Challenges of Religious Diversity

he notes that the most often stated strategy for dealing with religious difference between spouses was not to talk things out and compromise. Rather it was to not talk about it at all. Couples who have the most direct access to the worldview and practices of another faith often fail to connect on the spiritual. Indeed author Naomi Schaefer Riley’s new book discusses this in greater detail in her interviews with married and divorced interfaith men and women.

As I noted before, advanced survey techniques allowed Pew to conduct a national survey of Asian Americans in 2012 in several major Asian languages plus English. This was a significant improvement over the RLS since that one was only conducted in English and Spanish. So among the 2,536 respondents who reported some Asian heritage in the RLS, one commonality is that the sample consists primarily of English-preferred speakers. This excludes those Asian American households described as “limited English proficient” (LEP). The Asian Pacific American Legal Center used Census data to show that 32% of Asian Americans 5 and older are LEP. The range is quite dramatic by ethnic group:

So how does this affect something like interreligious marriage rates? I took the Asian American sample of the RLS and computed the interreligious marriage rate among these respondents using the same approach that Pew did for the Asian American survey. The results are here:

The differences are noticeable. In the Figure to the left, about 25% of English-proficient (EP) Asian American Protestants in 2007 were married to someone of a different faith, whereas in the figure just below, 19% of Asian Americans (accounting for possible LEP individuals) were interreligiously married or in partnership. While 30% of English-speaking Asian American Catholics were in an interfaith relationship 19% of Asian Americans (accounting for LEP) were so. This represents the biggest gap between the two surveys for respondents of Asian American background. The one consistent pattern is Hindu interfaith marriages. A modest 2% difference appears between EP Asian American Hindus and a broader LEP-accessible sample of Hindu Asian Americans. Notably regardless of survey, Asian American Buddhists had the highest rate of interfaith marriage compared to Catholics, Hindus, and Protestants.

This pattern of greater interfaith marriage among EP Asian Americans makes sense when we apply sociological theories of assimilation to explain the difference between the two surveys. For Asian Americans, perhaps with the exception of Asian Indians, English ability is a function of length of residence (if one is an immigrant, like 59% of Asian Americans ) or simply growing up in the US. If one is more acculturated, religious fidelity likely weakens in the aggregate. So we would expect that a survey of English-proficient Asian Americans will usually show a higher rate of interfaith marriage compared to a sample that includes LEP respondents.

Intriguing also is the notable difference between the general population results and the Asian American sample (just compare the top graph with the ones below). EP Protestant Asian Americans are less intermarried compared to American Protestants in general (30% compared to 32-46%). Most dramatically, 65% of unaffiliated Americans are in a mixed marriage, but only 47% of EP Asian American nonaffiliates are.

Further, while 55% of American Buddhists are in an interfaith relationship, only 39% of EP Asian American Buddhists are in mixed marriages. This is now a second illustration of the sociological difference between Asian and non-Asian Buddhists in the US which we learn through improved survey methods. Previously I noted that the white Buddhist population is more like 25-30% of all Buddhists in the US, and not 53% as the RLS shows.

The one remaining curiosity left unexplained is Catholic EP Asian Americans. While 22% of American Catholics are in an interfaith relationship, 30% of Catholic EP Asian Americans are. Using the assimilation framework we would expect the rate to be a good deal higher for non-Asian Catholics. Latinos do make up a substantial minority but I don’t think they are big enough to sway the figures we see. So I ask: why are assimilated Asian American Catholics in interfaith relationships more so than their American peers overall? Send your speculations!

In short, this season has ushered in some time to reflect on relationships, mixed-religious marriage being one form of it. In the American context, these marriages theoretically hold much promise, but often fall short of realizing those ideals of mutual understanding and growth. Asian Americans play a big part in the interfaith marriage world given the large presence of non-Christian religions among them (which we can verify with better survey tools). Figuring out how to make interfaith marriages work is perhaps a more noticeable issue among Asian Americans than other groups; perhaps the stories of thriving relationships will emerge from them in the years to come.

Happy (belated) Year of the Snake!

Interdisciplinary Science Research – the Japanese Way

While attending the American Sociological Association annual meetings are a humbling experience when you hear and see scholars asking super-big questions, there’s something perhaps even more humbling when attending an interdisciplinary science mini-conference like the one I attended last week. Up until the invitation to present I had never heard of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS). This organization has been around since 1932 according to their website. It was initiated by the Japanese emperor Showa to support scientific research, and from what I witnessed, it looks like the research is not exclusively practical or theoretical. From my American perspective, this sounded like great science! The JSPS has a long line of funded graduate, post-doctoral and I think some early professor awards and grants over the decades. As such the JSPS has a rich collection of alumni in universities all over the world, a few of whom are positioned at Chapman University. The aims of the JSPS are not only national interest, but also global cooperation. This seems “natural” in the sense that Japanese culture is collective and while Japanese scientists may prioritize helping their own people, they are well aware that many of today’s problems in Japan extend to other countries and the problems of other countries reach back to Japan. Hopefully more American leaders are thinking the same way.

The conference was a blitz from 8:30pm on Thursday night through 8:30pm the following night. I am not exaggerating; the full day of the conference went from 8:30am to 8:30pm and talks proceeded throughout the entire period, including lunch. Hosted by alumni Dr. Andrea Molle (an Italian sociologist of religion), and his current institution Chapman University, the arrangements were fairly typical of a conference. Some of the professors spoke in Japanese (at least 4 flew directly to the US just for this conference), and I had my first opportunity to participate in meishi, a Japanese business practice of trading business cards. It’s apparently less formal among academics compared to the “real deal” of big business exchanges.

Rather than use my sociological lens to interpret the relations of scholars around me, my post will focus more on the content of the talks, which as I mentioned earlier were phenomenal and humbling.

The presentations were led by Dr. Menas Kafatos (Chapman University), a professor of physics, and if his specialization area was not enough to make one’s research interests seem insignificant, his talk was about how the scientific community has come to accept the real possibility of multiple universes, and its implications for scientific knowledge and what spirituality and consciousness might mean. I thought I had stepped into an episode of Fringe. Here are some brief reflections and questions of the other presentations as I listened in:

Dr. Stephanie Ohshita (Univ. San Francisco), presented on her work with the Chinese government on creating low-carbon cities – how will America adapt to keep pace with the footprint that China wants to shrink?

Dr. Yoshihiko Kadoya (Osaka U.) compared the long-term care of the elderly in Japan compared to other countries – did you know that Japanese elder care workers are required to work 1000 hours before being licensed. Expectations vary within the US but the nearest number of hours was not even half that of the Japanese. Apparently Japan is quite unique even compared to other nations that adhere to a stronger link across generations.

Dr. Andrea DeAntoni (Ritsumeikan U.) briefly shared his explorations into haunted houses in Kyoto and the tourism that is built on this phenomenon. It reminded me of work on the American front by Drs. Christopher Bader, Carson Mencken and Joseph Baker. Even in nations where the majority profess no religious adherence, belief in the paranormal can be quite evident.

Dr. Rosalee Hellberg (Chapman U.) explained the pervasiveness of mislabeling fish in US food production and the societal consequences. I wondered whether sociologists can somehow incorporate this sort of research and perhaps identify the unequal distribution of mislabeled food product and the health consequences.

Dr. Longjian Liu (Drexel U.) presented his recent work on the prevalence of hypertension. This immediately had me thinking about racial and economic group disparities in identifying and addressing this condition and its implications for healthcare across the US.

Dr. Jingbo Louise Liu (Texas A & M Kingsville) talked about fuel cell efficiency; I was reminded of Ohshita’s talk about the need for reducing our energy usage and our carbon footprint. New technologies and the science behind them will hopefully solve some of these pressing problems.

Dr. Kenji Kajiwara (Kyushu U.) gave a spirited talk about the ever-persisting problems left unsolved in mathematics, despite what students flippantly think. I had few notes on this as I had to focus intently on his visual demonstrations. I think I understand basic trigonometry better now.

Dr. Minoru Yoneda (Kyoto U.) updated us on the radioactivity of the soil around the Fukushima nuclear plant and the plans underway on how to contain it. We’ve come a long way from Chernobyl but when these problems arise, the consequences run deep. Contaminated soil could result in contaminated vegetables and animals that consume those vegetables.

Dr. Yoshihiro Kawahara (U. of Tokyo) presented his latest work on using inkjet (yes inkjet) to create sensors that can work on detecting water in soil as well as (I would think) make even smaller chips for microprocessors that run the next generation of computers. His business card exemplified this new tech. How will our computing look like in the next decade?

Dr. Rebeka Sultana (Cal State U.) illustrated the difficulties in identifying snow water levels in the western part of the US. This joins Ohshita, Liu and Yoneda’s work on environmental changes and our response to it. Given the notable climate changes, snow water estimates are important in planning for a state like California where populated area might require irrigation or transportation of water to the city.

Dr. Ramesh Singh (Chapman U.) gave us startling images of the highly unusual dust waves that blanket the northern part of India affecting hundreds of millions of people. As with the other environment-focused topics, science has been employed to identify massive changes in the environment and the need for governments to take action. It’s hard to imagine the toxicity with which millions are living in given these conditions.

Dr. Greg Durgin (Georgia Tech) shared his teaching experiments in science courses on solar power harvesting tools. I told myself that I need to work on engaging my students like this; on the other hand solar power experiments are probably a fast IRB compared to many social science student-led projects.

Dr. Shamim Mirza (PK Corporation) presented an engineering feat that even he was unsure was possible: nanoimprinting. Using the “moth-eye” science used in some of today’s televisions, he has developed similar, and even smaller renderings of this technology that can be applied not only to popular consumer electronics but also medical and biological instruments.

I had wanted to take pictures of all of these but given the possible patent and copyrights involved, I opted to just watch and listen. This post would have been more visually appealing had you seen some of the slides of thousand-mile dust clouds, and micro-technology that makes the science geek buzz.

All told, these presentations drew me out of the world of surveys and interviews and into the fields that use delicate (and expensive) instruments to investigate issues that can possibly affect public policy all around the world. The scholars and their diverse backgrounds reminded me that while America is still the land of immigrants, we’re not the only nation capable of bringing scholars from around the world into the same organization. Some American sociologists are doing more transnational research (our own Margarita Mooney is one), and perhaps those like myself who seem content with the American scene can benefit from an occasional attendance at a conference like this. It helps us better understand the importance of context (understood as environmental and technological terms), and raises questions about how to integrate environmental and technological change with our studies of cognition/ attitudes, groups, social structures, politics, and culture.