Overcoming the “Model Minority” Myth: AAPI Women Are Not Paid Equally

March 15, 2016

March 15, 2016, is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Women Equal Pay Day, the day commemorating that as a whole, AAPI women are paid only 86 cents* for every dollar that white, non-Hispanic men are paid. This dismal statistic has enduring effects. Over a lifetime, those 14 cents add up to thousands of dollars!


This reality is even worse when you look more closely at the experiences among the different ethnicities within the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. The AAPI community is made up of more than 50 ethnic groups who speak more than 100 different languages and bring many diverse experiences to our country.

First coined in 1966, the stereotype of Asian Americans as a “model minority” continues to mask the true experiences of AAPIs. Falsely portraying Asian Americans as the most successful and healthy racial group in the United States, the model minority myth erases the many needs and concerns of AAPI women. This myth also undermines all the nuanced and complex realities of the different ethnicities that make up our community.

Only when we disaggregate the data about AAPI women by ethnicity do we start to see the many different experiences within our diverse community. This is also true of wage gap data. On the one hand, we see that some AAPI women are among the highest paid workers. But on the other hand, we see that most AAPI ethnicities experience wage gaps worse than those of white women. In particular, Bhutanese, Marshallese, and Burmese women experience the worst wage gaps when compared to all other ethnicities (see figure 1).



fig 1

Source: American Community Survey 2011–13 data


Additionally, across all ethnicities but two, AAPI women still lag behind men of their same ethnicity (see figure 2) — an important measure that isolates the effects of gender discrimination on how much AAPI women are paid.



fig 2

Source: American Community Survey 2011–13 data


The reality is that more than a half million AAPI women live below the federal poverty line, and many others live on the edge of poverty. AAPI women make up 4.4 percent of the low-wage workforce, even though we represent just 2.9 percent of the overall workforce. Many often live paycheck to paycheck and struggle daily to make ends meet, despite working full time. These women who work in our shops, salons, restaurants, and elsewhere must no longer be faceless and anonymous.

The National Asian Pacific Women’s Forum is working hard to challenge the model minority myth and to make sure that our communities are truly visible. There’s more to the story when we delve deeper into our community, and it will take all of us working together to solve the problem of gender inequity. So while we mark AAPI Women’s Equal Pay Day today, we also invite you to mark these other important dates: April 7 for Korean Women’s Equal Pay Day, August 26 for Vietnamese Women’s Equal Pay Day, October 21 for Hmong Women’s Equal Pay Day, and November 22 for Burmese Women’s Equal Pay Day.

This post was written by Miriam Yeung, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. AAUW is proud to work with NAPAWF in the fight for fair pay for all women.

 *Overall and subgroup pay gap data compiled with 2011–13 American Community Survey data



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