According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2011 American Community Survey, 470,341 (+/- 21,201) individuals reported their first or second generation ancestry as Iranian. However, it is widely believed that this figure is an undercount of the Iranian American community. This can be attributed to a lack of participation in the census surveys, as well as the methods used by the Census Bureau to obtain such information. Estimates of the size of the Iranian American community range from 500,000 to one million.
The Iranian American community, like the population of Iran, is ethnically diverse and includes Persians, Azaris, Kurds, Lors, Gilakis, Arabs, Balochs, Armenians, Assyrians, and Turkmens.
The Iranian American community is also religiously diverse, and includes people of the Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, and Baha’i faiths. PAAIA’s Surveys of Iranian Americans show that while approximately two-fifths of Iranian Americans identify themselves as Muslims, almost an equal percentage appear not to practice any particular religion, and the balance are roughly equally divided among Christians, Jews, Bahais, and Zoroastrians.
An Overview of Socioeconomic Characteristics of the Iranian American Community based on the 2000 U.S. Census, completed by the Iranian Studies Group at MIT in 2003, concluded that as a group, Iranian Americans have educational attainments that greatly surpass the national average. Of those questioned in the 2013 Public Opinion Survey commissioned by PAAIA, fifty-five percent said they had received a bachelor’s degree or higher. This figure is consistent with other surveys and studies. In the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2011 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, fifty-eight percent of Iranian Americans age 25 or over were said to have received at least a BA. In comparison, the percentage of Americans as a whole (also 25 or over) receiving a BA or a higher degree only surpassed thirty percent for the first time in the 2011 census.
According to Ronald H. Bayer’s Multicultural America: An Encyclopedia of the Newest Americans, about 50 percent of all working Iranian Americans are in professional and managerial occupations, greater than any other group in the United States today. Iranian Americans are also one of the most entrepreneurial groups in America, with a self-employment rate of 22 percent, ranking Iranian Americans in the top 25 immigrant groups with the highest self-employment rate. This entrepreneurial spirit has been beneficial to America’s continued economic development. Iranian Americans today are college deans, CEOs in corporate America, senior executives at Fortune 500 companies, top scientists in NASA, executives in the Silicon Valley, and more.
In the 2013 survey, a majority of respondents—54%—said that their annual household income was $60,000 or more—similar to previous PAAIA surveys. According to Census Bureau data for 2011, the most recent year available, only forty-two percent of Americans as a whole earned at the same rate. Thirty-two percent of Iranian Americans in the 2013 survey reported a household income of $100,000 or more, whereas the 2011 Census Bureau figures showed only twenty-one percent of all Americans earning that much.