The Asian American and Pacific Islander (hereafter, Asian) population in the United States has increased significantly over the past 40 years, from 3.6 million in 1980 to 18.8 million in 2019. The US Census Bureau projects that this trend will continue and estimates that in 2060, the Asian population will reach 36.8 million, accounting for 9.1 percent of the US total. But despite their growing share of the US population, Asian people are often neglected in data, underrepresented in research, and ignored in policy decisions.
Amid increasing anti-Asian violence during the pandemic, many Asian people feel that many still view them as foreigners, not Americans. And with Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month behind us, it’s a timely reminder that Asian people deserve a place in policy and media conversations every month, not just in May. More than ever, the research community needs to grapple with the unique experiences of Asian communities in the US.
One area where the experiences of Asian communities have been underdiscussed is the housing market. A majority of Asian households in the US have been in the US for many years, obtained citizenship, and bought homes. Between 1980 and 2019, Asian households had the largest homeownership rate increase of any racial or ethnic group, from 52 percent in 1980 to 60 percent in 2019.
But like other households of color, Asian households have faced barriers to homeownership and discrimination in the housing market. Many researchers overlook the historical challenges and structural barriers that Asian communities face, and instead have framed Asian people as hardworking model minorities who are, on aggregate, financially better off than other people of color. Using data from the decennial census and the American Community Survey, this blog post explores the improvements Asian people have made and ongoing challenges they face in the housing market.
Asian households have high homeownership rates but face structural barriers to obtaining homeownership
Educational attainment and household income are significant contributors to obtaining homeownership, and the aggregated data suggest that Asian people in the US have the highest rates of both among all racial and ethnic groups. In 2019, 43 percent of Asian people had obtained a bachelor’s degree, compared with 29 percent of non-Hispanic white people, 16 percent of Black people, and 11 percent of Hispanic people. And one-third of Asian households have incomes above $150,000, compared with 22 percent of white households, 17 percent of Black households, and 15 percent of Hispanic households.
But when controlling for income and education, Asian households have a substantially lower homeownership rate than white households. Like Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous people, Asian households face discrimination that hinders their ability to become homeowners and build generational wealth.
Among households with similar incomes, the homeownership rate among Asian households is significantly lower than for white households and closer to that for Black and Hispanic households. For households with incomes from $100,000 to $149,999, the Asian homeownership rate is 66 percent, compared with 83 percent for white households, 68 percent for Black households, and 67 percent for Hispanic households. Additionally, Asian people with a bachelor’s degree have a homeownership rate that is 13 percentage points lower than that of their white counterparts, and Asian households without a high school diploma have a homeownership rate that is 11 percentage points lower than that of white households. These patterns hold even after controlling for age.
Several explanations could explain the lower homeownership rate nationally, including that many Asian households live in high-cost states. About 31 percent of Asian households in the US live in California, and 9 percent live in New York, states where homeownership rates are lower than the national rate. But within these states, Asian homeownership rates are still lower than white homeownership rates in all income buckets.
Despite their high levels of income, Asian people have low levels of wealth, on average. According to the 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances, the median net worth for “Asian and other” families is less than half the median net worth for white families, making it harder for Asian households to make down payments on their homes and build home equity that can increase wealth for future generations.
Language barriers and limited English proficiency are also known barriers to homeownership. In 2019, 13 percent of Asian people did not speak English very well or at all, which can hinder their ability to understand and engage in the complicated homebuying process. A recent study also found that Asian households are discriminated against when searching for housing, as they were shown fewer available properties than their comparably qualified white counterparts, both in the rental and sales markets.
Despite these barriers, more Asian immigrants are obtaining citizenship and living here longer, both of which are associated with homeownership. The share of Asian people in the US who are citizens has increased from 60 percent in 1980 to 74 percent in 2019. And among Asian immigrant households, homeownership increases with length of stay in the US. In 2019, 45 percent of Asian immigrants had lived in the US for more than 20 years, a significant increase from 10 percent in 1980, and the homeownership rate among those who lived in the US for more than 20 years was 55 percentage points higher than for those who lived in the US for 5 years or less. Although many Asian households have gradually assimilated, the recent rise in anti-Asian violence is threatening our ability to feel that we belong here.
Policymakers can support Asian homeowners by addressing barriers in the housing market
Barriers to homeownership, including limited English proficiency and unequal treatment when searching for housing, will continue to pose significant challenges for future Asian homeowners, especially as we continue to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic that has disproportionately affected our communities. Researchers and policymakers will have a critical role in elevating the challenges Asian households face in housing and in designing and implementing inclusive solutions that address ongoing racial disparities in the housing market.
The Urban Institute has the evidence to show what it will take to create a society where everyone has a fair shot at achieving their vision of success.