I have a very poor understanding of India. I know the caste system has held their society back (as class mobility is deliberately limited to lower castes by treating them as second-class human beings) but as far as I know, individual Indians who move to liberal democracies do extremely well.

I've also seen some of online videos that talks about Buddhists being more level-headed than Christians or atheists, but am not sure if that is also a contributing social factor here?

So what are the actual factors (political, social, cultural, biological etc.) that specifically advantage Indian-Americans to earn more than any other other ethnic groups in the US?

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    For a Stack Exchange question it is generally necessary to support the premises of questions about facts and figures. Can you find a way to support your assertion that "Indian-Americans earn more than other ethnic groups in the US"? Is it personal anecdotal information, or are you citing a study using generally accepted sampling techniques? Also you might remove "Buddhists keeping leveler heads than Christians or atheists" and double-check a list of the major religions in India.
    – uhoh
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 2:59
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    @uhoh was gentle and vague in making the point about Buddhism: "Religion in India (2011 Census): Hinduism (79.8%), Islam (14.2%), Christianity (2.3%), Sikhism (1.7%), Buddhism (0.7%), Tribal Religion (incl. Sarnaism, Bon, Animism, Kirat Mundhum, Donyi-Polo) (0.5%), Jainism (0.4%), No religion (inc. Atheism, Agnosticism, Secularism and Unanswered) (0.25%), Other (incl. Baháʼí Faith, Zoroastrianism, Judaism) (0.15%)" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_India
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 6:12
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    @Trilariion U.S. immigration policies implicitly disfavor immigration of Indians in most respects, which skews the mix of people who end up emigrating to the U.S.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 6:29
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    @ohwilleke Okay, then that's the interesting political aspect. The US immigration policy has a country dependent bias. Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 6:33
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    For those considering closing the question, note that it has a very good answer that more than compensates for the lack of background info by the questioner.
    – sfxedit
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 11:29

1 Answer 1


Why do Indian-Americans earn more than other ethnic groups in the US?

First of all, this is a substantially true proposition:

According to the latest US Census data, the Indians now have an average household earning of $123,700. . . . The median earnings of the Indians there is nearly double the nationwide average of $63,922.

enter image description here

(The quoted material and chart are from the Hindustan Times). Wikipedia corroborates this conclusion.

This is mostly because Indian-Americans in the United States are primarily recent immigrants who obtained visas to allow them to immigrate based upon work related visas for highly skilled and high paying information technology, science, engineering, and medical jobs, or their children who have followed in their parents footsteps.

For example, "Indians form the second largest group of physicians after non-Hispanic Caucasian Americans (3.9%) as of the 1990 survey, and the percentage of Indian physicians rose to around 6% in 2005."

This pattern of immigration explains why "in 2015, of Indian Americans aged 25 and older, 72% had obtained a bachelor's degree and 40% had obtained a postgraduate degree, whereas of all Americans, 19% had obtained a bachelor's degree and 11% had obtained a postgraduate degree." (from the same source citing this ultimate source).

The fact that Indian Americans are mostly recent immigrants is demonstrated by the explosive growth of this population in the United States:

enter image description here

More than two-thirds of Indian Americans have lived in the United States for less than twenty-five years, and more than 80% of Indian Americans have lived in the United States for less than thirty-five years. A fairly modest share of Indian Americans are highly assimilated descendants of immigrants who were born in the U.S.

Also, about a quarter of Indian Americans live in the high income New York City metropolitan area, where the high cost of living requires high incomes to obtain workers in a competitive manner with other areas where the cost of living is lower. A large share of the rest live in other high wage, high cost of living areas such as metropolitan Washington D.C. and major metropolitan areas in California.

Put another way, other countries also have immigrants of the kind that have come to the U.S. from India, but these are diluted by other forms of immigration.

In contrast, because there were very few Indian Americans in the United States until recently, there were few options for them to have family based immigration. (Most Indian American family immigration involves marriage to someone in the U.S. in a relationship that started while the Indian American was on a student visa as a college or graduate student in the U.S., or while the Indian American was on a temporary highly skilled worker H1-B visa, or a marriage of an Indian American high income tech or medical sector worker already in the U.S. permanently to someone from India.) And, because Indian Americans all live in one country with a very large population, instead of being fragmented among many smaller countries, its modest rate of immigration by other means bars people in India from using the "immigration lottery" in the U.S. immigration system to migrate to the U.S.

So, work and investment based immigration is the only option for immigration to the U.S. from India. The predominance of forms of immigration available only to high wage earners in the mix of Indian American immigrants (and the lack of "reversion to the mean" by the descendants of immigrants in the U.S. since not many of them have entered the work force in their own right yet), has driven up the average wages of Indian Americans.

Immigrant populations are almost never representative samples of the people in their homelands.

This divergence is easy to achieve because there are about 50,000 Indian American immigrants a year in recent years to the United States, but the population of India is more than 1.4 billion. Only about one in 28,000 people in Indian emigrate to the U.S. each year.

In the same vein recent immigrants from Nigeria have above average education and income, relative to native born Americans, for much the same reasons (they are also not eligible for the immigration lottery since even low levels of immigration from the country of 225 million people disqualify Nigerians from it, and they have few opportunities for family based immigration since 20th-21st century immigration from Nigeria has also seen recent explosive growth), despite emigrating from a country that as a whole is much less affluent and less well educated country than the U.S.

Another example of immigrant populations almost never being representative samples of the people in their homelands is that it is disproportionately true in most cases that immigrants adhere to religious beliefs that are minority religious beliefs in their homelands.

For example, the immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries and East Asian countries are much more likely to be Christians than members of their homelands in general, and immigrants from Latin America are much more likely to be Protestants than people in Latin America generally.

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    The Wikipedia figures seem a little suspect, though the true figures surely tell the same story. The 1941 census report gives a table showing that the population of the "continental United States" in 1920 included 4,901 people born in India and 5,850 in 1930 (I suppose they hadn't yet finished tabulating the 1940 results at that point). I started on this because I was thinking that "India" in 1940 of course included today's Pakistan and Bangladesh. If the Wikipedia figures come from self-reported race data then the numbers are likely not directly comparable because of changes in methodology.
    – phoog
    Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 14:06
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    "fewer "immigration lottery" slots open to them in the U.S. immigration system" Why is that so? Is there a reason that the immigration lottery is biased against India (and possibly other bigger countries)? Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 20:55
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    The first half of that historical population chart is kindof useless. If it's going to skip 40 years from 1940 to 1980, which saw several major changes to the world and the US, then the numbers from before do nothing except to shoehorn in an absurdly large percentage growth. Better to just start from 1980.
    – Bobson
    Commented Mar 21, 2023 at 2:11
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    @Bobson - That's most likely an unavoidable consequence of the data relying on census data, which periodically gets its racial questions changed, causing annoying statistical issues for time graphs. As another example, there was a "paper genocide" of Hawaiians for a few decades when the racial question was changed to only offer an answer for people identifying as pure native, then they all came back (like they never left) when the response choices were changed again to ask about mixed ancestry.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Mar 21, 2023 at 14:51
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    @Trilarion People from India are completely excluded from the immigration lottery because there are more than 50,000 Indians who immigrate to the U.S. by other means each year. boundless.com/immigration-resources/diversity-visa-lottery But 50,000 immigrants per year from a country of 1.4 billion still isn't very much. If, for example, each Indian state were treated as a separate country, people in India would be eligible for the immigration lottery. This issue is a generic one for large countries (e.g. Nigeria with 225 million people is also excluded from the immigration lottery).
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Mar 21, 2023 at 19:22

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