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their numbers rise, Asian Americans are contributing to the diversity of the
U.S. religious landscape. From less than 1% of the total U.S. population (including
children) in 1965, Asian Americans have increased to 5.8% (or 18.2 million children
and adults in 2011, according to the U.S. Census).3
In the process, they have been largely responsible for the growth of non-Abrahamic
faiths in the United States, particularly Buddhism and Hinduism. Counted
together, Buddhists and Hindus today account for about the same share of the
U.S. public as Jews (roughly 2%). At the same time, most Asian Americans belong
to the country’s two largest religious groups: Christians and people who say
they have no particular religious affiliation.
to a comprehensive, nationwide survey of Asian Americans conducted by the Pew
Research Center, Christians are the largest religious group among U.S. Asian adults
(42%), and the unaffiliated are second (26%). Buddhists are third, accounting
for about one-in-seven Asian Americans (14%), followed by Hindus (10%), Muslims
(4%) and Sikhs (1%). Followers of other religions make up 2% of U.S. Asians.
only do Asian Americans, as a whole, present a mosaic of many faiths, but each of
the six largest subgroups of this largely immigrant population also displays a
different religious complexion. A majority of Filipinos in the U.S. are
Catholic, while a majority of Korean Americans are Protestant. About half of
Indian Americans are Hindu, while about half of Chinese Americans are
unaffiliated. A plurality of Vietnamese Americans are Buddhist, while Japanese
Americans are a mix of Christians, Buddhists and the unaffiliated.
when it comes to religion, the Asian-American community is a study in
contrasts, encompassing groups that run the gamut from highly religious to
highly secular. For example, Asian Americans who are unaffiliated tend to
express even lower levels of religious commitment than unaffiliated Americans
in the general public; 76% say religion is not too important or not at all
important in their lives, compared with 58% among unaffiliated U.S. adults as a
whole. By contrast, Asian-American evangelical Protestants rank among the most
religious groups in the U.S., surpassing white evangelicals in weekly church
attendance (76% vs. 64%). The overall findings, therefore, mask wide variations
within the very diverse Asian-American population.
Americans as a whole are less likely than Americans overall to believe in God
and to pray on a daily basis, and a somewhat higher proportion of Asian
Americans are unaffiliated with any religion (26%, compared with 19% of the
general public). But some of these measures (such as belief in God and
frequency of prayer) may not be very good indicators of religion’s role in a
mostly non-Christian population that includes Buddhists and others from
non-theistic traditions. Most Asian-American Buddhists and Hindus, for instance,
maintain traditional religious beliefs and practices. Two-thirds of Buddhists
surveyed believe in ancestral spirits (67%), while three-quarters of Hindus
keep a shrine in their home (78%) and 95% of all Indian-American Hindus say
they celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.
the same time, the Pew Research Center survey also finds evidence that Asian-American
Buddhists and Hindus are adapting to the U.S. religious landscape in ways large
- Roughly three-quarters of both
Asian-American Buddhists (76%) and Asian-American Hindus (73%) celebrate
- Three-in-ten (30%) of the Hindus
and 21% of the Buddhists surveyed say they sometimes attend services of
different religions (not counting special events such as weddings and
- About half (54%) of Asian
Americans who were raised Buddhist remain Buddhist today, with substantial
numbers having converted to Christianity (17%) or having become unaffiliated with any
particular faith (27%).
can many Asian-American Buddhists and Hindus maintain their traditional beliefs
and practices while at the same time adopting aspects of America’s
predominantly Christian religious culture, such as celebrating Christmas? Part
of the answer may be that U.S. Buddhists and Hindus tend to be inclusive in
their understanding of faith. Most Asian-American Buddhists (79%) and
Asian-American Hindus (91%), for instance, reject the notion that their
religion is the one, true faith and say instead that many religions can lead to
eternal life (or, in the case of Buddhists, to enlightenment). In addition, the
vast majority of Buddhists (75%) and Hindus (90%) in the survey say there is
more than one true way to interpret the teachings of their religion.
contrast, Asian-American Christians—particularly evangelical Protestants—are
strongly inclined to believe their religion is the one, true faith leading to
eternal life. Indeed, Asian-American evangelicals are even more likely than
white evangelical Protestants in the U.S. to take this position. Nearly
three-quarters of Asian-American evangelicals (72%) say their religion is the
one, true faith leading to eternal life, while white evangelical Protestants
are about evenly split, with 49% saying their religion is the one, true faith
leading to eternal life and 47% saying many religions can lead to eternal life.
are among the key findings of the new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum
on Religion & Public Life and Pew Research Center’s Social &
Demographic Trends project. The Pew Research Center’s 2012 Asian-American
Survey is based on telephone interviews conducted by landline and cell phone
with a nationally representative sample of 3,511 Asian adults ages 18 and older
living in the United States. The survey was conducted in all 50 states,
including Alaska and Hawaii, and the District of Columbia. (For more details,
see “About the Survey” and Appendix 3: Survey Methodology.)
survey finds a plurality of Asian Americans are Christian (42%), including 22%
who are Protestant and a slightly smaller percentage who are Catholic (19%).
About a quarter (26%) are unaffiliated (atheist, agnostic or nothing in
particular). Roughly one-in-seven Asian Americans are Buddhist (14%) and
one-in-ten are Hindu (10%). The remainder consists of Muslims, Sikhs, Jains and
followers of numerous other faiths.4
Asian Americans are more religiously diverse than the U.S. population, which is
overwhelmingly Christian (75%). There are also substantial differences in
religious affiliation among the largest subgroups of Asian Americans by country
the pie charts below show, about half of Chinese Americans—the single
largest subgroup, making up nearly a quarter of the total U.S. Asian population—are
unaffiliated (52%). (Also see the "Religious Affiliation Among U.S. Asian Groups" table in Chapter 1: "Religious Affiliation.") Filipinos—the second-largest subgroup, accounting for about
one-in-five U.S. Asian children and adults—are mostly Catholic (65%). Indian Americans
represent about 18% of all U.S. Asians, and about half identify as Hindu (51%);
59% say they were raised Hindu. Vietnamese Americans, who comprise 10% of U.S.
Asians, include a plurality of Buddhists (43%). U.S. Koreans (also about 10% of
all Asian Americans) are mostly Protestant (61%). Japanese Americans—the
smallest of the six subgroups, representing about 7.5% of the U.S. Asian
population—are more mixed: more than one-third are Christian (38%, including
33% who are Protestant), another third are unaffiliated (32%) and a quarter are
proportions generally reflect the religious composition of each group’s country
of origin. The Philippines, for example, is heavily Catholic. In some cases,
however, the percentage of Christians among Asian-American subgroups is much
higher than in their ancestral lands. For example, 31% of the Chinese Americans
surveyed are Christian; the vast majority, though not all, of this group come
from mainland China, where Christians generally are estimated to constitute
about 5% of the total population.6
Similarly, 18% of Indian Americans identify as Christian, though only about 3%
of India’s total population is estimated to be Christian.7
The higher percentages of Christians are a result of the disproportionate
number of Christians who choose to migrate to the United States and may also
reflect religious switching by immigrants.8
(For more details on religious switching,
see "Religious Switching and Intermarriage" and Chapter 2, “Religious Switching and Intermarriage.")
several conventional measures, religion appears to be less important to Asian
Americans than to the U.S. public as a whole. For example, fewer Asian
Americans say religion is very important in their lives (39% of U.S. Asians vs.
58% of all U.S. adults), while more say religion is either not too important or
not at all important to them (30% of U.S. Asians vs. 16% of the general
public). In addition, the proportion of Asian Americans who are unaffiliated
(26%) is higher than in the general public (19%). Asian Americans are also less
likely to say they pray on a daily basis, and they report attending religious
services at somewhat lower rates than the general public. (For more details,
see Chapter 3, “Importance of Religion.”)
relatively lower levels of religious engagement are not simply an effect of age
Analysis of the data shows that Asian Americans tend to be less religious on
these measures than the general public even when controlling for age and level
of educational attainment. For example, 29% of Asian Americans with some
post-graduate education say that religion is very important in their lives,
compared with 52% of all Americans who have studied at the post-graduate level.
overall results for Asian Americans, however, mask big differences among
Asian-American religious groups. Asian-American Buddhists and Asian-American
Hindus, for example, are much less inclined than Asian-American Christians to
say that religion plays a very important role in their lives.
these figures underscore major differences in religious beliefs and practices
between Christianity and other religions. Because Buddhists often view their
religion in non-theistic terms—simply put, many see Buddhism as a path toward
spiritual awakening or enlightenment rather than as a path to God—it is not
surprising that the proportion of Asian-American Buddhists who say they believe
in God or a universal spirit is lower (71%) than among Asian Americans who are
not Buddhist (80%) and among the U.S. public overall (92%). Similarly, Buddhists
and Hindus may regard prayer differently than Christians do. The ritual recitation
of mantras (in both Buddhism and Hinduism) is not the same as prayer to a
personal God in the Christian tradition, and this difference may help explain
why a smaller number of Asian-American Buddhists and Hindus than Asian-American
Christians report that they pray daily. And although attendance at religious
services is higher among U.S. Asian Christians than among U.S. Asian Buddhists
and Hindus, many of the Buddhists and Hindus report that they maintain
religious shrines in their homes.
one common indicator of religious commitment, Asian-American Christians are
slightly lower than U.S. Christians as a whole: 64% of Asian-American
Christians say religion is very important in their lives, compared with 70% of
Christians in the general public. But on some measures, Asian-American
Christians are more committed than U.S.
Christians as a whole. For example, six-in-ten Asian-American Christians say
they attend services at least once a week (61%), compared with 45% of all U.S.
Christians are also more inclined than U.S. Christians as a whole to say that
living a very religious life is one of their most important goals (37% vs.
Asian-American Christians, the highest self-reported attendance rates are among
evangelical Protestants, 76% of whom go to services at least once a week,
followed by Catholics (60% at least once a week) and mainline Protestants
(42%). All three Asian-American Christian groups attend services more
frequently than do their counterparts in the general public.
the other hand, Asian-American evangelicals are similar to white evangelical
Protestants in the general public on some measures of religious commitment: Both
groups are about equally likely to consider religion very important in their
lives, and both groups are about equally likely to pray daily.
same pattern holds among mainline Protestants. Asian-American mainline
Protestants attend worship services more often (42% attend at least once a
week) than do white mainline Protestants in the general public (25% attend at
least once a week). The two groups are similar, however, when it comes to frequency
of prayer and importance of religion in their lives.
with white, non-Hispanic Catholics in the U.S., Asian-American Catholics
exhibit higher levels of religious commitment on several measures. Roughly
two-thirds of Asian-American Catholics (64%) say religion is very important in
their lives, compared with 54% of white Catholics. Six-in-ten Asian-American
Catholics say they attend worship services at least once a week, compared with
about four-in-ten white Catholics (39%). Asian-American Catholics are also a
bit more likely than white Catholics to pray daily (61% vs. 55%).
evangelicals are more inclined than white evangelicals to say their religion is
the one, true faith leading to eternal life (72% of Asian-American evangelicals
vs. 49% of white evangelicals) and to believe that there is only one true way
to interpret the teachings of their religion (53% vs. 43%). Asian-American
evangelicals are just as likely as white evangelicals to say the Bible is the
word of God, though Asian Americans are somewhat less inclined to say
everything in Scripture should be taken literally, word for word.
one-third of Asian-American evangelical Protestants are of Korean descent (34%).
On most measures of religious commitment, Korean-American evangelicals look
similar to Asian-American evangelicals from other countries of origin. In one
regard, however, Korean evangelicals stand out from other Asian evangelicals:
Korean evangelical Protestants are particularly likely to hold a literal view
of the Bible; 68% express this view. By comparison, 44% of Asian-American
evangelicals who are not Korean say the Bible should be interpreted literally.
noted above, Asian-American Buddhists are less inclined than Asian-American
Christians to say religion is very important in their lives. But many nevertheless maintain distinctive religious beliefs and practices. Roughly
two-thirds say they believe in ancestral spirits (67%) and reincarnation (64%).
Nearly as many believe that spiritual energy can be located in physical things
such as mountains, trees or crystals (58%) and see yoga—a practice more
commonly associated with Hinduism—not just as exercise but as a spiritual
practice (58%). About half believe in nirvana (51%), defined in the survey as “the
ultimate state transcending pain and desire in which individual consciousness
ends.” And although just 12% say they attend religious services at least once a
week, 57% of Asian-American Buddhists say they have a shrine in their home.
the other hand, meditation—a practice with deep roots in some, but not all,
forms of Buddhism—seems to be relatively uncommon among Asian-American
Buddhists. A solid majority says they seldom or never meditate (60%), and just
one-in-seven engages in meditation on a daily basis (14%), a lower rate than
among Asian-American Christians (27%) and Hindus (24%). It is possible, of
course, that what Christians have in mind when they say they engage in
meditation is different from what Buddhists mean by that term.
of Vietnamese descent make up more than a third of all Asian-American Buddhists
(38%); they stand out from other Asian-American Buddhists for their relatively
high levels of religious commitment and practice. Vietnamese-American Buddhists
are more likely than other Asian-American Buddhists to say religion is very
important in their lives. Eight-in-ten have a shrine in their home, compared
with 43% of other Asian-American Buddhists. About half of Vietnamese-American
Buddhists fast during holy times (51%); just 10% of other Asian-American
Buddhists do this. Vietnamese-American Buddhists are also
somewhat more likely than other Asian-American Buddhists to pray at least once
a day, to attend worship services at least occasionally and to attend services
of different religious faiths. However, they are about as likely as other
Asian-American Buddhists to engage in daily meditation (11% vs. 16% for other
Hindus also maintain some distinctive religious beliefs and practices. Yoga has
a long tradition in Hinduism, and nearly three-quarters of U.S. Asian Hindus
see it not just as exercise but as a spiritual practice (73%). More than half of
Asian-American Hindus say they believe in reincarnation and moksha, defined in
the survey as “the ultimate state transcending pain and desire in which
individual consciousness ends” (59% each). About half also believe in astrology
(53%), defined in the survey as the belief “that the position of the stars and
planets can affect people’s lives.” Fewer believe in spiritual energy in
physical things (46%) or in ancestral spirits (34%).
addition, Hindus tend to practice their religion in different ways than do
Christians. Although just 19% of Asian-American Hindus say they attend worship
services at least once a week, nearly eight-in-ten (78%) have a shrine in their
home. The celebration of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, is nearly
universal among Indian-American Hindus (95%).
Asian-American Hindus say they pray less often than do members of the general
public. About half of U.S. Hindus surveyed (48%) report praying every day.
Among U.S. adults in the general public 56% report praying daily.
all Asian-American Hindus surveyed trace their heritage to India (93%). But the
percentage of Asian-American Hindus who say that religion is very important in
their lives (32%) is considerably lower than the percentage of Hindus in India
who say this (69%, according to a 2011 survey by the Pew Research Center’s
Global Attitudes Project).
a quarter of U.S. Asians (26%) are religiously unaffiliated—meaning that they
say they are atheist, agnostic or have no particular religion—which is somewhat
higher than the share of unaffiliated in the general public (19%). It
is important to realize, however, that “unaffiliated” does not necessarily mean
“non-religious.” Many people who are unaffiliated with any particular religion
nonetheless express religious beliefs (such as belief in God or reincarnation)
and engage in religious practices (such as prayer or meditation).
Asian Americans who are unaffiliated tend to report lower levels of interest in
religion than unaffiliated Americans as a whole. For example, four-in-ten unaffiliated
U.S. adults say religion is either somewhat important (26%) or very important
(14%) in their lives. By comparison, less than a quarter of unaffiliated U.S.
Asians say religion is either somewhat (18%) or very (4%) important to them.
Unaffiliated U.S. Asians also are less likely than unaffiliated people in the
general public to believe in God (49% vs. 67%) or to pray at least once a day
(6% vs. 22%).
Americans with no religious affiliation, like unaffiliated Americans as a
whole, infrequently attend worship services and tend to believe the Bible is a
human artifact rather than the word of God. Unaffiliated Asian Americans are
more inclined than those in the general public to believe in yoga as a
spiritual practice (42% vs. 28%). But they are no more likely to believe in reincarnation, astrology or the
presence of spiritual energy in physical things such as mountains, trees or
the proportion of native-born U.S. Asians who are religiously unaffiliated
(31%) is somewhat higher than among foreign-born Asian Americans (24%). Fully
half of Chinese Americans (52%)—including 55% of those born in the U.S. and 51%
of those born overseas—describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated. Because
Chinese Americans are the largest subgroup of U.S. Asians, nearly half of all religiously
unaffiliated Asians in the U.S. are of Chinese descent (49%). While some
Chinese Americans come from Taiwan, Hong Kong and elsewhere, they come primarily
from mainland China, which has very high government restrictions on religion
and where much of the population is religiously unaffiliated.10
Fully eight-in-ten Chinese (80%) say they have no religion, according to the
2012 Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes survey in China (for details, see
not nearly as high as among Chinese Americans, the percentage of Japanese
Americans who say they are religiously unaffiliated (32%) is also higher than
among the general public (19%). But among other Asian-American groups, the
percentage that is unaffiliated either is closer to the general public (Korean Americans
at 23%, Vietnamese Americans at 20%) or falls below the number for Americans as
a whole (Indian Americans at 10%, Filipino Americans at 8%).
Religious Switching and Intermarriage
of Asian adults in the U.S. no longer belong to the religious group in which
they were raised (32%). By comparison, the Pew Forum’s 2007 “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey”
found that 28% of adults in the U.S. have switched religions.11
(In this analysis, Protestants raised in a denomination different from their
current denomination, such as those raised as Methodist and now Presbyterian,
are not counted as “switching.”) Conversion rates are higher among Japanese,
Chinese and Korean Americans than among other U.S. Asian groups.
have been substantial gains due to religious switching among Asian Americans
who say they are not affiliated with any particular religion. Not quite
one-in-five Asian Americans (18%) say they were raised with no affiliation as
children, while 26% are unaffiliated today, a net gain of eight percentage points. A similar
pattern prevails in the U.S. general public, where the share of the population
that is unaffiliated also has grown through religious switching.12
Protestants also have seen net growth through switching: 22% of Asian Americans
identify as Protestant today, compared with 17% who say they were raised
Catholics (with a net loss of three percentage points) and Hindus (with a net
loss of two percentage points) have stayed roughly the same size, with little
net impact from switching.
Buddhists have experienced the biggest net losses from religious switching. Roughly
one-in-five Asian Americans (22%) say they were raised as Buddhist, and 2% have
switched to Buddhism from other faiths (or from having no particular religion).
But 10% of Asian Americans have left Buddhism, for a net loss of eight
all the largest Asian-American religious groups, Hindus have the highest
retention rate. Fully 81% of Asian Americans who were raised Hindu remain Hindu
today; 12% have become unaffiliated, and the rest have switched to other faiths
(or did not give a current religion).
Religious switching is more common among native-born
Asian Americans than among foreign-born Asian Americans. Among those born in
the U.S., 40% have a religion different from the one in which they were raised.
Among foreign-born Asian Americans, this figure is 30%.
of married Asian Americans (76%) have a spouse of the same religion, and 23%
are married to someone of a different faith.13
By comparison, the Pew Forum’s 2007 “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey”
found that roughly one-quarter of married people in the general public have a
spouse with a different faith.14
far the lowest intermarriage rate is among Hindus. Nine-in-ten married Hindus
(94%) have a spouse who is also Hindu. About eight-in-ten Asian-American
Catholics (81%) and Protestants (also 81%) are married to fellow Catholics or
Protestants, respectively. Seven-in-ten Buddhists are married to fellow
Buddhists (70%) and 61% of those with no religious affiliation have a spouse
who is also unaffiliated.
more details see Chapter 2, “Religious Switching and Intermarriage."
social and political attitudes of U.S. Asians vary by religious group.
Asian-American evangelical Protestants (like white evangelicals) overwhelmingly
hold conservative views on homosexuality and abortion. Unaffiliated Asian
Americans (like the unaffiliated in the general public) overwhelmingly take
liberal positions on these social issues. The other Asian-American religious
groups tend to fall somewhere in between. (For more details, see Chapter 6,
“Social and Political Attitudes.")
all Asian Americans, 53% say homosexuality should be accepted by society, and
35% say homosexuality should be discouraged by society. (By comparison, among
the general public, 58% say homosexuality should be accepted, while 33% say it should
be discouraged by society.) Unaffiliated U.S. Asians lean most strongly toward
acceptance of homosexuality (69%). Smaller majorities or pluralities of
Asian-American Catholics (58%), Buddhists (54%), Hindus (54%) and mainline
Protestants (49%) agree. Among Asian-American evangelicals, however, the
preponderance of opinion is reversed: 65% say homosexuality should be
discouraged, and 24% say it should be accepted by society.
Asian Americans as a whole tend to support abortion rights: 54% say it should
be legal in all or most cases; 37% say it should be illegal in all or most
cases. Support for legal abortion is highest among U.S. Asians who are
religiously unaffiliated (74%), followed by Hindus (64%), Buddhists (59%) and
mainline Protestants (50%). But the majority of Asian-American Catholics (56%)
and evangelical Protestants (64%) say abortion should be illegal in most or all
cases. Among the general public, by comparison, 51% say abortion should be
legal in all or most cases, while 43% say it should be illegal.
it comes to political party identification, more Asian-American voters identify
with or lean to the Democratic Party than the Republican Party. Among all
Asian-American registered voters (which excludes non-citizens in this largely
immigrant population), the Democratic Party holds a 20-percentage-point
advantage (52% to 32%), a much wider margin than in the general public (49% to
Asian-American Hindu voters (72%) either consider themselves a Democrat or say
they lean Democratic, as do 63% of unaffiliated U.S. Asians. Asian-American
Buddhist voters also tilt strongly Democratic (56% vs. 27% Republican/lean
Republican). Asian-American mainline Protestant and Catholic registered voters,
like mainline Protestants and Catholics in the general public, are more evenly
split. And evangelical Asian Americans lean strongly toward the GOP (56% vs.
28% Democratic/lean Democratic), though not as strongly as do white evangelical
Protestant registered voters (66% Republican/lean Republican vs. 24%
terms of political ideology, Asian Americans also tend to be more liberal than
the general public. Among all U.S. Asians, 31% describe their political views
as liberal and 24% as conservative. In the U.S. public, the balance is
reversed: 24% say they are liberal, 34% conservative.
Asian-American religious groups, the unaffiliated, Hindus and Buddhists tilt to
the liberal side, while Asian-American evangelicals tilt conservative (16%
liberal vs. 45% conservative), though they are not as conservative as white
evangelical Protestants (7% liberal vs. 61% conservative). Again, Asian-American
mainline Protestants and Catholics are more evenly split, and their ideological
leanings look very similar to those of white mainline Protestants and U.S.
surprisingly, given these patterns in partisanship and ideology, Asian Americans
strongly supported Democrat Barack Obama over Republican John McCain in the
2008 election. Of those who say they went to the polls, 63% report that they
voted for Obama, 26% for McCain. All the Asian-American religious groups
favored Obama with the exception of evangelical Protestants, who supported McCain
by a 10-point margin (45% McCain vs. 35% Obama). The highest margins of voting
for Obama were among Hindus (85% Obama vs. 7% McCain) and unaffiliated U.S.
Asians (72% Obama vs. 18% McCain).
Asian-American Hindus are much more likely to identify with or lean toward the
Democratic Party than the Republican Party and voted overwhelmingly for Obama,
their views on the size of government are more mixed. Asked whether they would
prefer to have a smaller government providing fewer services or a bigger
government providing more services, 46% of Asian-American Hindus say they would
prefer a bigger government, while 41% say they would prefer a smaller one.
the question of whether they think of themselves as “a typical American or very
different from a typical American,” U.S. Asians overall are more likely to see
themselves as very different (53%) rather than as typical (39%).
on this question are strongly linked to whether an individual was born in the
U.S. or outside of the U.S.; foreign-born Asian Americans are more likely than
those born in the United States to see themselves as “very different” (60% vs.
31% for U.S. born). In addition, religious affiliation is also associated with
attitudes on this question. Asian Americans who are Christian are more likely
to see themselves as typical Americans than either Buddhists or Hindus, even
when place of birth and length of time living in the U.S. are held constant.
Socioeconomic Characteristics of Religious Groups
terms of education and income, Hindus are at the top of the socioeconomic
ladder—not only among Asian-American religious groups but also among all the
largest U.S. religious groups. Fully 85% of Asian-American Hindu adults are
college graduates, and more than half (57%) have some post-graduate education.
That is nearly five times the percentage of adults in the general public who
have studied at the post-graduate level (12%) and 23 percentage points higher
than U.S. Jews, the second-ranking religious group in terms of post-graduate
the chart above shows, all the largest Asian-American religious groups
are above the U.S. average in post-graduate education. The differences among
Asian Americans, nevertheless, are striking. The share of Asian-American Hindus
who have studied at the post-graduate level is 40 percentage points higher than
among Asian-American Buddhists and Catholics. This reflects the great diversity
of origins and circumstances among U.S. Asians, including some who have come to
the United States as refugees or unskilled workers and others who have come to
pursue a higher education or opportunities in the high-tech industry, science,
engineering and medicine.
high socioeconomic status of Asian Americans in general, and of Hindus in
particular, is due at least in part to selective immigration. Many Asian
immigrants come to the U.S. through the H-1B visa program, which is designed to
encourage immigration of engineers, scientists and other highly skilled “guest workers”
from abroad. In 2011, for example, India accounted for more than half of all
the H-1B visas granted. The vast majority of U.S. Hindus are of Indian descent,
and Indian Americans as a whole are a well-educated, affluent group.
But Indian-American Hindus tend to have even more years of education and higher
household incomes than other (non-Hindu) Indian Americans: 51% of Hindu Indian-American
adults live in households earning at least $100,000 annually, compared with 34%
of non-Hindu Indian Americans, and 58% of Hindu Indian Americans have studied
at the post-graduate level, compared with 36% of non-Hindu Indian Americans. To
some extent, this may reflect the relatively high socioeconomic status of
Hindus in India.15
Buddhists are a much different population. Many belong to a wave of immigrants
who came to the United States as refugees from Vietnam and other Southeast
a consequence, their educational attainment levels and household incomes tend
to be lower; 34% hold a bachelor’s degree, and 27% report household earnings of
at least $75,000—including 15% with incomes of at least $100,000 (see the full
demographic table). More than a third of Asian-American Buddhists
(37%) report household incomes of less than $30,000 annually, compared with 12%
among Asian-American Hindus. Only 36% of Asian-American Buddhists rate their personal financial situation as good
or excellent, about half the share of Asian-American Hindus who do so (70%).
should be noted, however, that Buddhists in the United States also include many
native-born, non-Asian converts who tend to have relatively high education and
By the Pew Forum’s estimate, about two-thirds (67%–69%) of all U.S. Buddhists
are Asian American—the group covered by this survey. Thus, the
survey presents a portrait of Asian-American Buddhists, not of U.S. Buddhists
as a whole.
Pew Forum estimates that Buddhists make up between 1.0% and 1.3% of the adult
population in the U.S., and that 67% to 69% of all U.S. Buddhists are Asian
Americans. Hindus make up between 0.5% and 0.8% of the U.S. adult population,
and between 85% and 97% of all U.S. Hindus are Asian American, according to the
Pew Forum’s estimates.19
Christians generally fall between Buddhists and Hindus in terms of educational
attainment and measures of financial well-being. About half of the Christians surveyed
are college graduates (49%) and about a third report household incomes of at
least $75,000 (37%). There is little difference in the socioeconomic status of Asian-American
Catholics and Protestants. But the Protestant category can be
further broken down into evangelical (about 13% of Asian Americans) and
Asian-American mainline Protestants are more likely than Asian-American evangelicals
to rate their personal finances as good or excellent (57% vs. 42%), although
differences in household incomes between these two groups are not statistically
unaffiliated Asian Americans tend to have relatively high levels of education
(58% are college graduates) and household income (43% at least $75,000), though
not as high as Hindu Asian Americans.
Pew Research Center’s 2012 Asian-American Survey is based on telephone
interviews conducted by landline and cell phone with a nationally
representative sample of 3,511 Asian adults ages 18 and older living in the
United States. The survey was conducted in all 50 states, including Alaska and
Hawaii, and the District of Columbia. The survey was designed to include
representative subsamples of the six largest Asian groups in the U.S.
population: Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese. Americans
who trace their origins to many other Asian countries—including Bangladeshis, Burmese,
Cambodians, Hmong, Laotians, Pakistanis, Thais and numerous smaller U.S. Asian
groups—also are represented in the survey. However, the sample does not contain
enough individuals from every country of origin to analyze all subgroups
who identified as “Asian or Asian American, such as Chinese, Filipino, Indian,
Japanese, Korean, or Vietnamese” were eligible to complete the survey
interview, including those who identified with more than one race and
regardless of Hispanic ethnicity. The question on racial identity also offered
the following categories: white, black or African American, American Indian or
Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander.
into U.S. Asian groups is based on self-identification of respondent’s
“specific Asian group.” Asian groups named in this open-ended question were
“Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, or of some other
Asian background.” Respondents self-identified with more than 22 specific Asian
groups. Those who identified with more than one Asian group were classified
based on the group with which “they identify most.” Respondents who identified
their specific Asian group as Taiwanese or Chinese Taipei are classified as
Chinese Americans for this report.
survey was conducted using a probability sample from multiple sources. The data
are weighted to produce a final sample that is representative of Asian adults
in the United States. Survey interviews were conducted under the direction of
Abt SRBI, in English and Cantonese, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Tagalog
and Vietnamese. For more details on the methodology, see Appendix 3.
- The survey was conducted Jan.
3-March 27, 2012, in all 50 states, including Alaska and Hawaii, and the
District of Columbia.
- The survey included 3,511
interviews, including 728 interviews with Chinese Americans, 504 interviews
with Filipino Americans, 580 interviews with Indian Americans, 515 interviews
with Japanese Americans, 504 interviews with Korean Americans, 504 interviews
with Vietnamese Americans and 176 interviews with Asians of other backgrounds.
of error is plus or minus 2.4 percentage points for results based on the total
sample at the 95% confidence level. Margins of error for results based on
subgroups of Asian Americans, ranging from 3.1 to 7.8 percentage points, are
included in Appendix 3.
otherwise noted, survey results for “Asian Americans” and “U.S. Asians” refer
to adults living in the United States, whether U.S. citizens or not U.S.
citizens and regardless of immigration status. Both terms are used
interchangeably. Adults refers to those ages 18 and older.
Asian groups, subgroups, heritage groups and country-of-origin groups are used
interchangeably to reference respondent’s self-classification into “specific
Asian groups.” This self-identification may or may not match a respondent’s
country of birth or their parent’s country of birth.
otherwise noted, whites include only non-Hispanic whites. Blacks include only
non-Hispanic blacks. Hispanics are of any race. Asians can also be Hispanic.
for the U.S. general public are based on nationally representative surveys of
respondents of any race, including Asian. Thus, comparisons between U.S. Asians
and the U.S. general public may understate or overstate the magnitude of
differences between Asian Americans and Americans who are not Asian, due to the
fact Asians are also part of the general public to which the comparison is
made. The maximum possible size of such an effect would be equal to the size of
the U.S. Asian population (5.5% of U.S. adults, according to the 2010 U.S.
Census). The maximum
possible size of such an effect would occur only if responses of Asian
Americans and non-Asian Americans were completely different on a specific
survey question. In addition, the magnitude of such an effect may be smaller
than the maximum due to the tendency of most general public opinion surveys to
underrepresent U.S. Asians with limited English proficiency.
between groups or subgroups are described in this report only when the
relationship is statistically significant and therefore unlikely to occur by
chance. Statistical tests of significance take into account the complex
sampling design used for this survey and the effect of weighting.
Roadmap to the
remainder of the report is divided into six sections. First, it details the
religious affiliation of Asian Americans as a whole and of the six largest
subgroups (by country of origin). It also takes a closer look at Asian adults
in the U.S. who have switched religions and those who have married someone from
a different faith. The next sections discuss the importance of religion to
Asian Americans, their religious beliefs and their religious practices. Finally,
the report analyzes the social and political views of Asian Americans,
primarily by looking at differences in attitudes among the main religious
3 Asian Americans are a diverse group in the United States. According to the U.S.
Census Bureau, “Asian” refers to a person having origins in any of the original
peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia or the Indian subcontinent. The Asian
population includes people who indicated their race(s) as “Asian Indian,”
“Chinese,” “Filipino,” “Japanese,” “Korean,” “Vietnamese” or “Other Asian,” or
wrote in entries such as “Pakistani,” “Thai,” “Cambodian” or “Hmong.” With
growing diversity in the nation’s population, the Census Bureau has changed the
wording of questions about race and ethnicity over time. Since Census 2000,
respondents could select one or more race categories to indicate their racial
identities. (About 15% of the Asian population reported multiple races in
Census 2010.) In addition, since Census 2000, the Native Hawaiian and Other
Pacific Islander population, formerly included with the totals for the Asian
population, has been counted as a separate race group. Because of these
changes, caution is advised in historical comparisons on the racial composition
of Asians. (return to text)
4 There are not enough survey respondents from these faiths for separate
analysis. A total of 4% of U.S. Asians are Muslim. For more information on
Muslims in the United States, see Pew Research Center. 2011. “Muslim
Americans: No Sign of Growth in Alienation or Support for Extremism.”
Washington, D.C.: August. See Appendix 1 of the current report for a comparison
of U.S. Muslims and Asian-American Muslims on selected questions. (return to text)
5 The size of each U.S. Asian subgroup is based on the total U.S. Asian
population, including single or mixed-race Asians. See Pew Research Center’s
Social and Demographic Trends project. 2011. “The
Rise of Asian Americans.” Washington, D.C.: June. (return to text)
6 Classification into country–of-origin groups is based on self-identification. This
self-identification may or may not match a respondent’s country of birth or his/her
parent’s country of birth. Respondents who identified their specific Asian
group as Taiwanese or Chinese Taipei are classified as Chinese Americans in
this report. (return to text)
7 For estimates of the number of Christians living in India and many other
countries, see Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. 2011.
Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian
Population.” Washington, D.C.: December. The Pew Global Attitudes survey of
India in 2012 found 2% of the adult population to be Christian. See Appendix 2
of the current report. (return to text)
8 For more information on religion and migration around the world, see Pew
Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. 2012. “Faith on
the Move: The Religious Affiliation of International Migrants.” Washington,
D.C.: March. (return to text)
9 Asian Americans, on average, are younger and better educated than the U.S.
population. The median age among Asian Americans is 41 years vs. 45 years for
the U.S. adult population. And 49% of Asian Americans ages 25 and older have at
least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 28% of all U.S. adults ages 25 and
older. See Pew Research Center’s Social and Demographic Trends project. 2011. “The
Rise of Asian Americans.” Washington, D.C.: June. (return to text)
10 For more information on restrictions on religion in China and other countries
around the world, see Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life.
Restrictions on Religion.” Washington, D.C.: August. (return to text)
11 The figures for switching are not directly comparable between the two surveys
because they used slightly different approaches to categorizing religious
affiliation. (return to text)
12 For details, see Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. Conducted
in 2007, published in 2008. “U.S.
Religious Landscape Survey.” Washington, D.C.: February. (return to text)
13 These intermarriage rates do not count a
marriage across Protestant denominational lines—for example, between a Baptist
and a Lutheran—as a religiously mixed marriage. But they do treat a marriage
between a Protestant and a Catholic, or a marriage between a person who is
religiously affiliated and one who is not, as religiously mixed. (return to text)
14 The figures for interfaith marriage are not directly comparable between the two
surveys because they used slightly different approaches to categorizing
religious affiliation. For more information on religious intermarriage in the
U.S. general public, see Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public
Life. Conducted in 2007, published in 2008. “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey.”
Washington, D.C.: February. (return to text)
15 See, for example, Desai, Sonalde B., et al. 2010. “Human
Development in India: Challenges for a Society in Transition.” New Delhi:
Oxford University Press, January. (return to text)
16 Nearly four-in-ten Vietnamese immigrants (38%) cite political conflict or
persecution as the main reason they came to the United States, a higher figure
than among any of the other five largest country-of-origin groups. See Pew
Research Center’s Social and Demographic Trends project. 2011. “The
Rise of Asian Americans.” Washington, D.C.: June. (return to text)
17 According to the Pew Forum’s “U.S.
Religious Landscape Survey,” conducted in English and Spanish in 2007 and
published in 2008, for example, 48% of U.S. Buddhists are college graduates, and
39% report an annual household income of at least $75,000. (return to text)
18 Classification of Asian-American Protestants into evangelical and mainline is
based on self-identification as born-again or evangelical, regardless of
Protestant denomination. For more details see Chapter 1 “Religious Affiliation." (return to text)
19 Precise population figures for the religious composition of the U.S. general
public are not available because the U.S. Census Bureau, as a matter of policy,
does not track religious affiliation. All estimates of the religious
composition of the U.S. general public are based on representative-sample
surveys. These estimates are complicated by the fact that such surveys
typically rely on English-language, or English and Spanish-language,
interviewing. As such, they are likely to underestimate the size of groups with
limited English proficiency, including those speaking Asian languages. The Pew
Forum’s estimates of the size and composition of U.S. Buddhists and Hindus,
respectively, are based on combining Census data on the size of the total adult
population with survey estimates of the percentage of Asian Americans in each
religious group from the 2012 Survey of Asian Americans, as well as survey
estimates of the percentage of each religious group that does not identify as
Asian race from aggregated Pew Research Center surveys conducted between 2010
and June 2012. (return to text)
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