Jul 9, 2020 - Economy & Business

The myth of closing the racial wealth gap by being "model minorities"

A an illustration of a puzzle making up a Black man's face
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A prevailing myth about the wealth gap between white and Black Americans is that it could be closed if Black people valued hard work and education like so-called model minorities, typically Asians and other recent U.S. immigrants.

Reality check: Data shows that to be untrue. A 2014 Bureau of Labor Statistics study finds that across races in the U.S., "Once families decide to invest in their children’s higher education, little difference exists in the level of expenditures between racial and ethnic groups."

The big picture: The success of recent immigrants and "model minorities" has much to do with U.S. immigration laws. Since 1965, the U.S. "has given preferential admission to those with higher-than-average levels of education; white-collar, professional, and technical employment; and thus household incomes," University of Texas history professor Madeline Y. Hsu wrote in 2015.

  • Even as newcomers, "'successful' immigrant groups actually retrieve a comparable class position as the one they held in their country of origin," the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity notes.

Between the lines: A 2019 study from Georgetown finds wealth is a better predictor of college acceptance and future success than intelligence or high test scores.

The intrigue: Research also shows that post-graduate education helps Black Americans less than it does white or Asian Americans to attain wealth and higher incomes.

  • "The median family incomes of all nonwhite groups trailed their equally educated white counterparts," a 2017 St. Louis Fed study found.

Of note: The "model minority" myth also hurts these groups, studies show, in part by lumping diverse groups who have significantly different economic and educational outcomes together, and by putting undue stress on members of those groups.

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