Indian American ethnicity

By Razib Khan | October 26, 2008 11:42 pm

There was a comment below on Indian American ethnicity in terms of proportion. By “ethnicity,” I mean the dominant language-based groups which serve as the organizing unit of many Indian states. The usual figures I see quoted are that 50% of Indian Americans are Gujarati, 25% Punjabi, with the balance a host of other groups (e.g., Bengalis, Tamils, Assamese, etc.). Digging around, I found these data:

In 2006, 26.3 percent of Indian immigrants age 5 and older reported speaking Hindi at home. Gujarathi (14.1 percent) was the next most popular language, followed by English (10.1 percent), Panjabi (10.0 percent), Telugu (9.7 percent), Tamil (6.7 percent), Malayalam (6.1 percent), Urdu (3.4 percent), Marathi (3.1 percent), Bengali (2.2 percent), and Kannada (1.7 percent).

These data are from the United States Census’ American Community Survey. Here are the results where I simply removed the English speakers from the sample:

Language % Ratio with India %
Hindi 29.2 0.71
Gujarati 15.7 3.5
Punjabi 11.11 3.53
Telugu 10.8 1.32
Tamil 7.4 1.26
Malayalam 6.8 2.11
Urdu 3.8 0.75
Marathi 3.4 0.49
Bengali 2.4 0.30
Kannada 1.9 0.51

From these data, it looks like I was wrong, South Indians may very well be more than 25% of the Asian Indian population. The idea that 3/4 of American Asian Indians are Punjabi or Gujarati seems refuted by these data. Many Gujaratis and Hindu Punjabis raise their children speaking Hindi, which is in any case very closely related to these languages, but even if you assume that the whole of the 29% who speak Hindi at home are Gujarati or Punjabi you only get 56% for these two groups. As it is, though immigrants from the core Cow Belt states where Hindi is the official language are almost certainly underrepresented among Asian Indians, some of the 29% are going to be from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and so forth. Urdu is sister language of Hindi which is spoken by South Asian Muslims, so that allows us to peg the low bound for the proportion of Asian Indians who are Muslims (many Muslims do not speak Urdu, but speak the language of their region).
The main caution I would offer about these data is that they are of Indian immigrants, and so skew toward more recent migration waves. I am willing to bet that Punjabis and Gujaratis were far less well represented among the migrants of the 1965-1980 period. Many of their children are not immigrants by definition, as they were born in this country, and a great number of these would speak English at home. Since about 25% of American Asian Indians are native-born adding these would change the results above if their proportions were different, though I think the snapshot of the first-generation immigrant community serves as a good first approximation. I believe that adding the native-born Asian Indians would reduce the proportion of Punjabis and Gujaratis further, so I simply don’t believe the .quoted statistics anymore.
Addendum: 7.4% of Asian Indians do not speak any of the languages listed above at home (including English). So in this 7.4% you will find Assamese, Oriya, Tulu, and so on.

  • rec1man

    A crude way to estimate the Indian xtian population
    is 80% of Malayalam speakers, + 10% of tamil and 10% of telugu speakers + 10% of kannada speakers
    About 7% of NRIs are Xtians
    Due to Arya Samaj movement, there was
    a language split between punjabi sikhs and punjabi hindus
    with punjabi hindus declaring hindi as their language
    A good deal of the 29% hindi speakers , maybe half are punjabi hindus
    All the punjabi speakers are sikhs
    All Indian muslims except in kerala and tamil nadu
    declare urdu as their language
    And most of them lack the higher ed skills to come to US
    and go to gulf
    So 3.8% is most likely the upper bound of the Indian muslim population
    The bengali Indian population is mostly hindu, 2.2%
    and my guess of less than 5% was accurate
    Bengali muslims tend to be from bangladesh
    the socio-economic status of bengali muslims in India is among the lowest, thanks to commie rule
    The 29% hindi population is most likely
    10% real hindi speakers from cow belt, 10% Punjabi hindus
    and 9% gujurati hindus
    A crude estimate of south Indian brahmins
    is 70% of tamil speakers, 10% of malayalam speakers, 50% of kannada speakers and 30% of telugu speakers, comes to about 10%
    Among marathi speakers, about 50% are brahmins
    Among bengali speakers, about 50% are brahmins

  • razib

    All Indian muslims except in kerala and tamil nadu
    declare urdu as their language

    this isn’t true. i mean, it isn’t true in west bengal where 30% of the population is muslim but most are bengali speakers. doesn’t effect indian americans much though because there aren’t that many bengalis, and the vast majority of indian bengali immigrants are hindu (way more than 70%). you can tell caste origin of bengalis pretty easily by surname i think. sen = brahmin, sarka = kayastha.

  • rec1man

    From what I heard
    All the chatterjis, bannerjis, mukerjis are all brahmins
    it was an anglicisation of
    Chattopadyaya, Mukhopadyaya, and Bandopadyaya
    Upadyaya means teacher in sanskrit
    and all bengali brahmins are migrants from UP
    1500 years ago
    Sen, could be brahmin or kayasth
    Bengali muslims are non-urdu speaking
    But, bengali muslims in India have the lowest ed skills
    thanks to commie rule ( messed up ed for all )
    and hence are unlikely to have migrated to US
    Indian bengali immigrants to US are most likely 95% hindu,
    though they are only 70% in west bengal

  • razib

    ok, i went to the census india site. you can find out languages spoke in states, and religion. assuming that every urdu speaking person in gujarat is a muslim, about 1 out of 9 in gujarat speak urdu. some of the other states it looks plausible that urdu is the language, but with the assumptions above (assume that all urdu speakers are muslim), 4 out of 9 muslims speak urdu in uttar pradesh, and 11 out of 16 muslims in bihar. so it seems like it is really not a good first approximation to assume what you did above (i’m actually totally surprised by uttar pradesh, but hindi vs. urdu is kind of a political an symbolic thing anyway since most of the masses speak local dialects anyway).

  • razib

    But, bengali muslims in India have the lowest ed skills
    thanks to commie rule ( messed up ed for all )

    uh, should i attribute the relatively high literacy rates of kerala muslims to communism? 😉

  • razib

    for reference, muslim-hindu lit rate differences between states
    note huge contrast between WB and kerala, both ruled recently by left-wing communists.

  • rec1man

    When the british left,
    the literacy in native states was 11% and in areas under
    direct british rule was only 6%
    Starting in the 1920s, CP.Ramaswamy Iyer, the dewan
    of Travancore, in kerala, started a mass literacy program
    In addition, the xtian church, 20% of kerala, had a literacy program, with the result, that kerala became literate
    way back in 1955, before the commies took over in 1957
    In west bengal the commies banned english from govt schools
    until a few years ago
    In west bengal, only party apparatchiks get hired as govt school teachers
    As far as the muslims of west bengal,
    the commies have a deal with the mullahs,
    vote for us, and you can keep your community backward in the 7th century
    Hindu villages get bad commie controlled schools
    muslim villages get madrasas
    In kerala, commies only rule 50% of the time
    and havent screwed it up as badly as west bengal

  • toto

    The usual figures I see quoted are that 50% of Indian Americans are Gujarati, 25% Punjabi,
    They got the numbers mixed up. As shown conclusively by a wide survey of Bollywood movies, India is 50% Punjabi, 25% Gujarati, and the rest are English-speaking Mumbaites, hazel-eyed Muslims, and a handful of those dark-skinned fellows who apparently also live in the country.

  • as

    Rec1Man: “A crude estimate of south Indian brahmins
    is 70% of tamil speakers, 10% of malayalam speakers, 50% of kannada speakers and 30% of telugu speakers, comes to about 10%”
    This is certainly incorrect for Tamils.
    For Tamils, the first wave of the 60s was mostly Brahmin.
    But mass immigration of the H1B types that started in the 90s? For Tamils, it’s almost all non-Brahmin. This may be due to 70% quotas for the non-Brahmin population in Tamil Nadu.

  • as

    Is there some way to compare the different waves of Indian immigration that you alluded to?
    Indians I’ve met from who came to the US in the 1960s seem to be of diverse provenance (they’re from all over and not just Gujus or Sikhs) and speak English well with a good accent.
    On the other hand, all the newcomers I meet, whether they work for a franchise or in software, have terrible grammar and thick accents. And maybe it’s from looking at the newcomers, that you got the idea that 50% are Gujarati and 25% Punjabi?

  • rec1man

    The first wave came in the 1960s
    and consisted of MDs and Scientists
    This was rather small
    The second wave came in the 1970s and was family reunification of above
    The third wave came by F1-scholarship, TA/RA
    ( those who scored over 1350 in GRE verbal and math )
    ( IQ > 140 )
    In this wave, from South India, about 70% were brahmins
    and went into silicon valley with MS and PhD
    Based on the stellar field reputation of above
    the H1-B ripoff started
    The H1-B are mostly BSEE and consists of a large number
    of affirmative action castes, non-fluent in english,
    and no longer markedly superior talent

  • John Emerson

    If Americans only knew how important caste is, they would not allow these H1-Bs to enter.

  • rec1man

    The F1-scholarship, >140IQ, was predominantly south Indian brahmin, ( over 70% ), and this went into silicon valley,
    got a stellar reputation
    Remember this is south Indian brahmin IQ, not average Indian IQ
    Foolish / Careless / reckless US employers extrapolated the south Indian brahmin IQ to the rest of the Indian population
    Most of the H1-Bs are 1 SD below the 140IQ south Indian brahmin tech stars
    So instead of getting 70% south Indian brahmins, they are getting only 15% south Indian brahmins in the H1-B wave

    Here is the Indian nuclear team of the 1974, Indian nuclear blast
    The other castes lack the IQ to handle complex equations
    They can do a BS, but very few can do MS , PhD
    Note 8 out 12 are south Indian brahmins
    The Indian govt does not do affirmative action in the nuclear weapons programs
    ndian atomic team for the 1974
    Smiling Buddha, Indian nuclear tests
    BARC Team Lead: Raja Ramanna,
    ( Southern Brahmin )
    Director of BARC
    Team Second-in-Command: P.K. Iyengar
    ( Southern Brahmin )
    (responsible for the actual manufacture of the device)
    * Nuclear System Design Team
    o Team lead: Rajagopala Chidambaram
    ( Southern Brahmin )
    o Satinder Kumar Sikka
    ( Northern Merchant )
    * Electronic Detonation System Team
    o Team lead: Pranab Rebatiranjan Dastidar
    ( Northern Brahmin)
    o Sekharipuram Narayana Aiyer Seshadri
    ( Southern Brahmin)
    * Neutron Initiator Team
    o Vasudev K. Iya
    ( Southern Brahmin)
    o T.S. Murthy
    ( Southern Brahmin)
    o C.V. Sundaram
    ( Southern Brahmin)
    * Plutonium Core Fabrication Team
    o Team lead: P.R. Roy
    ( Northern Merchant )
    * System Integration Team
    o Team lead: Jitendra Nath Soni
    ( Northern Merchant )
    o Anil Kakodkar
    ( Southern Brahmin) ( also current head of India nuke program )

  • rec1man

    The IQ layers of the Indian immigrants to US
    The lowest layer is the caribbean hindus, descendants of lower level peasants of north India
    They run subway joints
    The next layer up, are the Jat sikhs, upper peasantry of punjab
    they drive taxis and farm
    Next level up is the Patels, small merchants of gujurat who run motels
    All these levels so far have poor english skills
    Next level up are the Reddys and Syrian christians – south Indian land lords and estate owners
    Next level up are the khatris – A punjabi merchant caste
    – Bobby Jindal, Sabeer Bhatia, Vinod Khosla, Vinod Dham
    Final level are south Indian brahmins, mostly found in silicon valley, software etc

  • John Emerson

    This is getting bizarre.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


See More


RSS Razib’s Pinboard

Edifying books

Collapse bottom bar