Zaid Jilani et al., Deseret News, December 16, 2021
With Jack Dorsey bowing out and Parag Agrawal taking over as CEO of Twitter, Indian immigrants now captain not just Twitter but many of the biggest companies in the tech sector, from Google to Microsoft. In a comment highlighted by many in the Indian press, Tesla CEO Elon Musk picked up on the trend in a Tweet that read, “USA benefits greatly from Indian talent!”
Indeed, Agrawal was born in Ajmer, a city in the Indian state of Rajasthan. He joins a growing list of American tech executives of Indian descent, including Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and IBM head Arvind Krishna.
One way to view the Indian American success in tech is simply as a matter of numbers. “If a dozen of the top CEOs in the world come from a country with 18% of the world’s population, why would I be surprised?” asked Seshadri Kumar recently.
But the Indian CEOs at the top of American tech companies are hardly the only example of Indian American success. Our analysis of data derived from the 2019 American Community Survey paints a picture of a group that has found astounding success in the United States in achieving what could be called the “Indian American Dream.”
Indian immigrants make up about 6% of the U.S. foreign-born population and are now the second-largest immigrant group in the U.S., after immigrants from Mexico. As one example of their success, Indian Americans now top the charts in income. Median family income among Indian Americans between the ages of 25 and 55 was $133,130 in 2019, well above the white median income of $86,400. Indian Americans also have higher income than other Asian Americans. The median family incomes for Chinese, Japanese and Filipino Americans ages 25 to 55 were about $100,000 in 2019, well below Indian Americans’ median family income.
Two factors appear to play central roles in the rise of Indian Americans: education and family. No other racial group of Americans is as well educated as Indian Americans — 82% of Indian American adults ages 25-55 are college educated, compared to just 42% of whites who have a degree. Meanwhile, no other group of Americans is as likely to be married as Indian Americans — 78% of Indian Americans ages 25-55 are married compared to 58% of whites.
Indeed, both education and marriage help explain the income gap between Indian and white families. After controlling for education, the white-Indian gap in average family income shrinks from $61,868 to $36,628. When marital status is also controlled in a regression model, the gap falls to $28,410.
This Indian American emphasis on education came through crystal clear in a study conducted in 2017 by the life insurance company Mass Mutual. The study of parents across America concluded that “Asian Indian parents consider a college education as the key to a child’s success, maturity, respect and the gateway to full employment — and woven into the fabric of Asian Indian culture is a parental obligation” to fully fund their kids’ education. The researchers noted that “by the time a child has reached the age of 10, 79% of Asian Indian parents, more than any other ethnic group in the study, are saving for college.” Moreover, 90% of Indian American parents, higher than any other ethnic group in the study, said that a college education was important.
Family, too, is a cornerstone of Indian American life. Our analysis of the 2019 American Community Survey finds that Indian immigrants have the highest family stability of any group in America, with 94% of Indian immigrants with children stably married, compared to 66% of white Americans. (Family stability is also higher for Indian immigrants than native-born Indian Americans — for whom 87% are stably married, still way higher than average, but not as high as what we see among the first generation.)