An Asian American’s View On Why Asians Save And Earn So Much

Dragon over Lake by LoggaWiggler - Public Domain


I was sitting in our weekly marketing team meeting when one of my colleagues touched upon some interesting statistics about the Asian American demographic. She mentioned the Asian American segment has grown by 60% between 2000 and 2013 to a total population of 19 million. Chinese and Indians account for the bulk of the Asian population at 23% and 19%, respectively. The third largest segment is the Filipino population comprising of 17% of the total. As relatively new immigrants, you’d think Asian Americans would earn less and be worth less than the median US household, but you’d be wrong.

A 2010 Pew Research study pegged Asian households earning a median $66,000 a year vs. $49,800 for the average US household, a 32% difference. A 2013 Nielsen Research Report found that Asian American households have a median net worth of $89,300 compared to $68,800 for overall US households, a 30% difference. Meanwhile, roughly 49% of Asian Americans have Bachelor’s degrees vs. 28% of the general US population, a 75% difference.

With language and cultural headwinds, why is the average Asian American doing much better than the general US population? There’s no proof Asians are any smarter or harder working than other races. I quit math after junior year in high school because I hated math and didn’t see the practical use of taking Calculus in day-to-day life. I also like to lounge around as much as anyone.

I can’t speak for all Asian Americans, but I can provide some perspective as a Chinese American who grew up in four different Asian countries for 14 years before coming to America for high school and college. I was born in the Philippines and lived in Japan, Taiwan, and Malaysia. In college I studied abroad in China for six months. In the workplace, I took business trips to India, Thailand, Hong Kong, Japan, and Indonesia for 13 years in a row from 1999 – 2012. I’ve lived in the States for the past 23 years.



When I was in the 4th grade in Taiwan, a Caucasian kid tripped me on the pitch and proceeded to yell racial slurs after I fell to the ground. He kept on barking obscenities until I swept his legs and stomped on his solar plexus in retaliation. He began to cry and we were both sent to “face the wall” for the entire afternoon recess period.

While we were squishing ants climbing on the brick just inches away from our faces, my assailant surprisingly turned to me and apologized. I was touched and apologized right back. We never fought or played dirty on the pitch again.

The soccer game was between “Chinese” vs. “Americans” while I was attending Taipei American School in the early 80s. I was placed on the Chinese team due to my ethnicity, instead of my nationality. I was too young to understand that I had just experienced my first racial conflict.

When I was a sophomore attending The College Of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, I had another very memorable racial encounter. My girlfriend (who was half-Asian and half-Caucasian) and I were eating some midnight waffles at Denny’s, of all places when a group of massive offensive linemen came barging in. They sat in the booth next to us and told us to “get the f*ck out you ch*nks” or else they’d beat the crap out of us.

By this time, I was already used to racial conflict as a 20 year old Asian American living in Virginia for the past seven years for high school and college. I always spoke up when there was an injustice, but this time I was outnumbered four-to-one. Although I mentally strategized on how to debilitate my oppressors, my girlfriend and I decided to leave as we were just about finished with our food anyway.

I felt ashamed I couldn’t do anything to fight for my girlfriend’s honor. Even now as a 37 year old, it irks me that I do not know their names every time I recall the incident because I want to give them a call ask them if they still have the hate. But what I do remember the week following the incident was that I made myself a promise to be financially independent as soon as possible so I would never have to take abuse from anybody again.


Building wealth starts with savings. There is no such thing as investing, buying a home, purchasing an annuity, or building alternative income streams without savings. Let me share with you six reasons why I think Asian Americans save and earn more than the median. Again, this is just one person’s point of view.

1) Asians are allergic to debt. Taking on debt to purchase a car, a piece of property, or stocks is a relatively new concept for many Asians. We’ve been taught the tenet, “If you can’t pay for something in cash, you can’t afford it.” This tenet runs counter to the heavy consumerism culture in America. If you go to any property developer in China (market is looking a little bubbly), it is common for 80%+ of the units to be purchased with cash compared to less than40% in America. Debt is slavery. Cash is freedom. The US personal savings rate is roughly 4.8% according to the US Bureau Of Economic Analysis compared to 30%+ in places like China and India.

2) Lots of historical uncertainty and upheaval. When you have political instability and war, people tend to save more for their uncertain futures. Over the past 100 years or so, there have been a lot of tragedies in developing Asia. The Cultural Revolution and the Nanjing Massacre are two such tragedies in China. The ongoing heavy hand of the government may be another. The Taiwanese are perpetually afraid the Chinese will invade their country. The Japanese have been aggressively saving since their bubble collapsed in the 1980s due to deflation. The 1997 Asian Investment Crisis destroyed the wealth of millions of Thais, Indonesians, Malaysians, and South Koreans. Meanwhile, America has enjoyed a much more stable path of growth thanks to our Democratic system. Having better expectations of the future gives you more confidence in spending more money.

3) Few Asians in leadership positions. When there are hardly any Asian American politicians or CEOs of large corporations, it’s more difficult to visualize yourself in such positions as a kid. When there’s no examples to aspire to, there’s a tendency not to even bother. There are also very few Asian Americans on TV or in the movies, except for in type-cast roles. People tend to hire and promote other people who look like them and share similar backgrounds. It starts with race, then sex, then socioeconomic background. There’s no wonder why everybody tends to look the same. Take a look around the office and see if you can find the pods of similarities. It’s not like people nowadays are intentionally racist or sexist. People just want to work with people who they trust most. It’s harder to fully trust and understand someone who has a different background. (Related: The Solution To The Gender Wage Gap)

4) Family finances. It’s common to see post-college Asian adults still live at home with their parents. Why pay rent when you can live with the parents and save money for a downpayment, is a common way of thinking. There’s also a traditional aspect of living at home until one gets married, unlike US culture, which encourages independence as soon as possible. If you save $30,000 a year in rent for 8 years until age 30, you will likely be better off financially than average. I’ve discovered living in San Francisco for the past 13 years that parental financial help for their adult children is quite common. I personally could never imagine living back home with my parents after college.

5) Sports is not a realistic way out. Only a tiny percentage of the population ever become professional athletes. But the odds are even starker for Asian Americans in athletics, an area where meritocracy reigns supreme. There are hardly any Asian American basketball, football, or baseball players for example. And these three sports are a part of Americana where the best athletes are revered as heroes. Even for non-contact sports like tennis, there’s only been a handful of Asian athletes who have risen to the top of the ranks. Without the hope of athletics, the only hope left is in the field of academics and the arts.

6) Academics is the main level playing field. If there is one level playing field among all races, it’s in academics. If you study harder, you will likely get better grades. If you get better grades, you’ll likely get into a better university. If you get into a better university, you’ll likely get a better job and make more money. It doesn’t matter if you’re only 5 feet 1 inches tall, you’ve got the same opportunity as someone 6 feet 10 inches tall in academics. Even if you are poor, so long as you have a stable household you can still study as long a someone who is rich. There is nothing more important to the Asian American population than academics. Parents will do absolutely anything to help give their kids a chance to excel in school. From after class tutors every day to Sunday school, I’ve had it all, and so have many of my Asian American friends.


Given Asian Americans account for only ~6% of the US population, many Asian Americans realize that nobody is going to save them – not the government, not their colleagues, not the NBA, not the majority. Even if every single Asian American was brilliant and physically intimidating, we’d still get crushed by everybody else as a minority.

The only people Asian Americans can count on are our immediate family and education. This is why you see such a concentration of Asian minority groups in various urban settings e.g. Chinatown, Koreatown, Japantown. It’s a similar concept to why schools of fish swim together in the great unknown ocean. This is why UC Berkeley’s undergraduate Asian population is roughly 40%, 7X the national Asian American population. Getting a good education and looking after family cannot be overemphasized.

My father explained to me after my fight on the pitch that this sort of racial conflict would keep on happening as I grew older. He was absolutely right. He taught me that in order to stop getting picked on I would have to fight back with my mind because there’s always going to be someone physically bigger and more intimidating than me. And even if I was a hulk with a black-belt in martial arts, a pip-squeak with a gun could end everything in a hurry. With his advice in mind, I started taking school much more seriously.

When I graduated from college and got my first job in NYC I decided to save as much money as I could. After the first year, I maxed out my 401k and saved 20% of my after-tax income. Yes, it sucked sharing a studio with my high school buddy as a 23 year old, but these are the types of sacrifices I had to make in order to save. Getting in at 5:30am and lasting until 7:30pm in order to eat the free cafeteria food wasn’t so bad.

After my third year of work, I was regularly saving 50% of my after-tax income because all I could think about when it was dark coming into work and dark leaving work was how wonderful financial independence would be. There were definitely many times when I was tempted to spend a small fortune partaking in NYC’s amazing nightlife. Even back then in the late 90s, it was difficult to not spend at least $100 going out. But for the most part I kept things frugal.


Asian American Income And Education Rates


After saving 50%+ of my income for 13 years, I had accumulated enough to say goodbye to Corporate America. If I did nothing with my savings, mathematically speaking I would have at least 13 years of living expenses in the bank. But I actively diversified my savings into CDs, real estate, and dividend producing equities in order to produce passive income over the years. It’s important to eventually get money aggressively working for you so you can have more options.

Perhaps it’s easier saving money as a minority in America because there’s so much motivation to get ahead thanks to a tiny safety net. Going through racial conflict and seeing so much poverty in developing countries growing up really gave me a lot of perspective. If we are fortunate enough to live and work in America, most of us have it pretty good. But once we start seeing how the rest of the world lives, we’ll appreciate our situation even better.

In early 2012, I took it upon myself to get a handle on my own finances by signing up with Personal Capital’s Dashboard to track my net worth and manage my cash flow. Nobody is going to care more about my money than me, and I’m sure the same situation applies to you.

20 crazy facts about North Korea


There are many fascinating countries around the world–in fact, we’d wager that there aren’t any truly boring places. But one of the most bizarrely “can’t look away from the train wreck” places in the world is North Korea. Now, there’s a lot of information (and misinformation) out there about the country, and sometimes it can be hard to separate the fact from fiction. Still, we like to try, right?

So, you can imagine how excited we were when we found a series of twenty photos and facts about North Korea have been making the Internet rounds! But we wanted to knowmore! Click below to see the 20 facts and some of the background information we dug up.



This fact is absolutely, horrifyingly true, and you can read about what it was like being in the second generation in this gripping book Escape from Camp 14. We won’t say that it will reduce you to a sobbing mess of a human being–but if you can read it without going “Holy crap, I can’t even…” at least once, you might be an android. If you’re wondering what might get a North Korean sent to one of these prison labor camps, the answer is political crimes, such as criticizing the government or trying to escape.



This fact appeared in various places around the Internet, but we weren’t able to find an original source for it. However, we were able to learn a little bit about how jobs are assigned in North Korea. It seems that everyone is automatically given a job by the government after high school–and stuck with that job for life. However, the system is breaking down, and North Koreans now have to earn money on their own–by bribing their factory bosses, for example, to let them go to work in markets. There are other jobs in state-run “companies” that earn foreign currency–but they also require bribery to get into.



As surprising as this might be to many people around the world, this is true–and there’s actually a bit more going on. Cannabis isn’t the only drug that’s essentially legal in North Korea–the government also encourages people to grow opium on unused land to be resold abroad. As for marijuana plants growing freely by roadsides, the report we’ve linked to suggest that marijuana is often planted next to railroad tracks to help support the rails with their deep roots. Meth, on the other hand, is strictly prohibited–and users will “face a firing squad if caught.” Walter White, stay out of North Korea!



These facts were reported widely even by the western media after Kim Jong-Il’s death in 2011. While it’s impossible to verify how many holes-in-one the Dear Leader ever made, we’re guessing it’s safe to assume the real number is slightly lower than what the official records claim. But it wasn’t just Kim who took sports seriously–allegedly the North Korean soccer team was publicly derided for their loss at the 2010 FIFA World Cup for six hours. Jeez, that’s almost as bad as having to play soccer.



Partly because of how it’s worded, this fact is a bit difficult to pin down. However, it’s worth remembering that in 2012, the reclusive country successfully launched a satellite into orbit. Fortunately, it seems that they lack any missiles capable of carrying a payload large enough to actually move any of their warheads. So, this is basically true–but they could probably land a really loud party-popper in North America if they had a few spares.



This is a kind of strange statistic to deal with, since it’s not clear what a success would be. We think this graphic is referring to satellite launches, though–and, yes, of the five launches made by North Korea, only one has made it to a successful orbit in space. However, the North Korean government claims that there is actually another satellite that made orbit in 1998 and is currently sending patriotic songs into space. For science! Or…something?



The number cited here seems to come for an Amnesty International report in the 1990s. One ex-guard who defected from North Korea guessed that about 2,000 people die of malnutrition each year in Hoeryong concentration camp–but that the number of inmates stays constant at 50,000 thanks to an equal number of incoming prisoners. The same guard estimated that 30% of prisoners have physical deformities such as missing limbs. You can read more about the camp conditions on Wikipedia, but we’re not sure we’d recommend it, especially if you’re eating.



This research was widely reported around the world when it was revealed in 2011, so you’ve probably heard about it before. What you might not have heard was the happiness ranking of the USA: Dead last. Hmm…we always suspected that Americans were all secretly depressed–just look at the TV shows! Only depressed people would watch a show called “Glee,” right?



This fact seems to have come from the 2009 book Nothing to Envy, which described the lives of six North Koreans over 15 years, including one school teacher. Apparently her accordion test was postponed due to the death of Kim Il-Sung, though she was still able to find work as a kindergarten teacher until she could take her test. 



As much as people might complain about wasteful government spending, we can’t think of anything that holds a pork barrel to this, um, unique use of funds. In addition to the empty buildings, North Korea also had loudspeakers that would blare propaganda at its southern neighbor–who responded in kind. Fortunately for everyone in earshot, both countries agreed to cease their noisemaking in 2004, after which the loudspeakers were dismantled.



This was another fact that we weren’t able to verify. A number of websites report it, but it’s not clear what the actual source is. However, it’s important to note that there are frequent power outages in North Korea, so even if this were true, we imagine that a lack of electricity would render the radios silent. Bet you never thought someone would hope for their electricity to go out!



This fact seems to come from the Daily NK website, which includes a bit more information on statutes in North Korea. It turns out that all statues are produced in one place, the Mansudae Art Institute, and are actually guarded en route and “presented with a military saluted” as if real people. Sheesh, and we can’t even get our cats to treat us like fake people!



So, what about stuff that happened before Kim Il-sung was born? Apparently it’s standard practice to simply use the Gregorian calendar that western (and most other) nations use. We’re kind of disappointed. We were hoping for B.K. years–Burger King! Or, wait, would that be Before Kim…?



This fact is another one that we weren’t able to verify. It may be true, and would explain how North Korea claims a literacy rate of 99 percent–which would put it among the highest in the world. Obviously, almost no one seems to believe this statistic (remember the 1998  satellite?). On the other, the North Korean education system apparently includes 11 years of compulsory education, so it’s possible that the average North Korean really can read and write.


Unexploded ordinance left behind by Al Shabaab lay on the ground ahead of being destroyed by controlled detonation carried out by a combat engineering team serving with the Kenyan Contingent of the AMISOM in the southern Somali port city of Kismayo

Whoa! That is one hell of a way to go, isn’t it? And, yes, execution by mortar shell is a thing in North Korea, but it doesn’t seem to be particularly common. Apparently, it was used on a top ranking government official who didn’t wait long enough to have a party after the death of Kim Jong-il and was executed for lack of proper mourning. Kim Jong-un was reported as saying that the official, who was vice minister of the army when he still had all his cells in one piece, was to be completely obliterated, demanding that there be “no trace of him behind, down to his hair.”



This is certainly true, and you can even read the North Korean constitution if you feel like it. If you’re thinking this flies in the face of reality, you’re note entirely wrong, but the document also states some stuff that might not sound so familiar to foreigners. For example: “Citizens shall firmly safeguard the political and ideological unity and solidarity of the people,” and “Work is the noble duty and honour of a citizen.



North Korea’s economy is obviously little more than a shadow of its former self. In 2011, the estimated GDP per person was about US$1,800 per year, which is just a little bit less than, say, South Korea where the GDP person is about $30,800 or the US where the number is about $51,000. On the other hand, we guess there’s not much worth buying in North Korea…



This fact hardly seems surprising, though we should note that while there is only one candidate for any position on the ballot, voters can, technically, veto a candidate. This means, that they can vote against someone by crossing their name out–but to do so, a voter would have to enter a special booth without any privacy. We’re not sure why, but we have this crazy idea that someone might be keeping track of anyone who feels like casting a veto vote.


A North Korean woman uses a computer in

We haven’t been able to find up-to-date numbers for this fact, but we suspect that it might be a bit out of date. The use of computers and the Internet seems to be growing in the country, though mostly limited to upper class professionals and students. For example, North Korea recently debuted its own operating system, called Red Star, based on Linux. Additionally, some are even saying that North Korea is going through a digital revolution–though on such a small scale that we think “hiccup” might be a better word than “revolution.” However, it’s even been claimed that North Koreans have a hand in developing software for everyone from Middle Eastern banks to…Nintendo and Sony? Uhhh…let’s just say we’re a bit…skeptical.



There’s really not much you can add to this, except to note that the wood is apparently being sold to a British company and is used in the “particleboard furniture you’ve got all over your house.”


Toyota and Honda see record sales in China

Japan Times: 


Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. said their sales of new vehicles in China hit record highs in 2013, a turnaround from the previous year when demand for their products fell sharply due to the territorial row between Tokyo and Beijing.

Toyota’s sales of new vehicles rose 9.2 percent from 2012 to 917,500 units, while those of Honda jumped 26.4 percent to 756,882 units, the carmakers said Monday.

Honda’s December sales alone surged 60.4 percent from a year earlier to 101,465 units, also an all-time high. The figures suggest a sign of a dramatic improvement in Chinese consumers’ sentiment toward Japanese autos, despite the lack of tangible political progress in bilateral relations.

In 2014, Toyota said, it will aim to sell more than 1.1 million units in the Chinese market, excluding Hong Kong and Macau, by strengthening sales of the Yaris and other compacts.

Honda, which hopes to sell more than 900,000 units this year, said it will push the sales of the new Accord sedan introduced in the Chinese market this fall.

It is almost certain that 2013 sales of cars and buses in the Chinese auto market, the world’s biggest, has reached more than 20 million units, which is unprecedented by any other single-country market.

Toyota’s previous sales record in China on an annual basis was set in 2011, while that of Honda was marked in 2010.

The Japanese government’s purchase of most of the Senkaku Islands from a private Japanese owner in September 2012 set off a wave of protests and led to a consumer boycott of Japanese products.

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