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Profiles | Demographics | Model Minority Myth | Socioeconomic Status/Insurance Status
Cultural Language Barriers/Access to Health Care | Health Disparities


Asian Americans are not homogeneous. Rather, they are diverse ethnic groups originating from approximately 52 different Asian countries from the Far East, Southeast Asia, and the Indian subcontinent. Among all Asian Americans there are common traits, such as strong family values, emphasis on education, preserving traditions, and valuing personal relationships. However, there are many differences in language and culture among Asian American groups as well. In fact, there are more than 800 spoken languages and dialects among the Asian population. Approximately 75% of Asian Americans speak a language other than English. In addition, they vary in cultural, traditional, and religious differences among each Asian subgroup. They have different socioeconomic characteristics, wide selections of food, methods of cooking, clothing, practices of religion, and forms of entertainment. They face new challenges and barriers as they try to improve their standard of living, such as experiencing dramatic cultural shocks, learning to speak a new language, and isolation from their communities. Particularly, the older generation of immigrants finds it harder to adapt to the Western ideologies than the younger generation of immigrants. This disparity creates a generation gap.


Asian Americans are one of the fastest growing ethnic/racial minority in the U.S., representing 4.2% of the total U.S. population, with an annual growth rate of 5.2%. The U.S. Census Bureau projects the Asian American population to grow to 37.6 million by 2050, estimating that it will comprise 9.3% of the U.S. population.

Montgomery County has one of the most diverse Asian American populations. The term "Asian American" refers to those people with familial roots originating in many countries, ethnic groups, and cultures of the Asian continent including, but not limited to: Asian Indian, Bangladeshi, Bhutanese, Burmese, Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Hmong, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Malayan, Mien, Nepalese, Pakistani, Sikh, Sri Lankan, Thai, and Vietnamese.

Model Minority Myth

Many Asian Americans have achieved the American Dream of earning a good education and financial stability. These successful images have led many people to believe in the Model Minority Myth. The Model Minority Myth assumes that ALL Asian Americans enjoy a high socioeconomic status, are well educated and are healthy. However, the truth is, more than a million Asian Americans live at or below the federal poverty level, are afflicted by various health problems, and often lack health insurances.

Socioeconomic Status / Insurance Status

Low socioeconomic status is a major barrier that prevents many Asian Americans from receiving health insurance. Asian Americans often lack the necessary skills, including language proficiency, to find jobs that offer health insurance. At the same time, they can not afford private health insurance or they are not eligible for Medicaid. The aging Asian American populations also lack health insurance. Many seniors live in substandard housing, and have little or no health insurance and limited transportation to healthcare services.

  • Two million Asian Americans do not have insurance in the U.S.
  • One in five Asian American between the ages of 18-64 report having no health insurance or being uninsured at some point in the past year.
  • Among Asian Americans, 55% of Korean Americans are most likely to be uninsured. The percentage of other uninsured Asian American groups is 37% of Vietnamese, 18% of Asian Indians, 16% of Chinese, 15% of Filipinos, and 4% of Japanese.

** Source: Commonwealth Fund 2001 Health Care Quality Survey conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates

Cultural and Language Barriers / Access to Health Care

Asian Americans face cultural and linguistic barriers that may discourage or prevent them from accessing health care services available to them. The way Asian Americans deal with illness and disease is also very different from the general population. In most cases, Asian Americans with limited English proficiency have difficulties in understanding the U.S. health care system and communicating with health care providers. Many Asian Americans believe that their doctors do not understand their culture and values. They are less likely to rate their care highly and be confident about their care compared to the overall population. Varying cultural values and beliefs of disease also put constraints on an individual from seeking proper care. Because of these traditional approaches to health care, Asian Americans may not perceive the value or identify the purpose or necessity in obtaining care. This behavior contributes to the diagnosis of diseases in the later stages leading to untreatable conditions.

Health Disparities among Asian Americans

Due to various reasons mentioned above, Asian Americans are disproportionately affected by many health disparities. Some examples of these health disparities are outlined below:

  1. Cancer and cardiovascular disease are the two leading causes of death for Asian Americans in the U.S.
  2. For Asian American women, cancer is the leading cause of death in the U.S., due to the fact that Asian American women have the lowest cancer screenings rates and are usually diagnosed at a later stage compared to other racial and ethnic groups.
  3. Hepatitis B is one of the largest health threats for Asians. Asian Americans account for over half of deaths resulting from chronic Hepatitis B infection in the U.S.  They are 3 to 13 times more likely to die from liver cancer caused by Hepatitis B than Caucasians. More specifically, Chinese Americans are 6 times at higher risk of dying from liver cancer compared to Caucasians, while Korean Americans are at 8 times higher risk, and Vietnamese Americans are at 13 times higher risk.
  4. Mental health problems in the Asian American community are disturbingly high, yet its services are inadequate.  For example, Asian women aged 65 years and over have the highest suicide rate in the country compared with any other population in that age group.  Also, Asian American adolescent girls reportedly have the highest rates of depressive symptoms compared to girls of other ethnicities.  In addition, many Southeast Asian refugees are at risk of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) associated with trauma experienced before and after immigration to the United States.
  5. Asian women have a high risk of Osteoporosis.  The average calcium (essential nutrient for bone health) intake among Asian women has been observed to be half that of Western population groups.  As many as 90% of Asian Americans are lactose intolerant or cannot easily digest dairy products.
  6. Asian Americans have a higher prevalence of tuberculosis (TB) than all other racial and ethnic groups.
  7. Asian American youth in grades 7 through 12 have the highest increase in smoking rates of any racial and ethnic group.

** Source: President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Addressing Health Disparities: Opportunities for Building a Healthier America, 2003