June 20, 2014, Washington D.C. – Last month, the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA) released its 2014 National Public Opinion Survey of Iranian Americans, the sixth such survey PAAIA has commissioned since its creation in 2008. The report includes the poll results themselves as well as extensive demographic information on those questioned. While the poll results have, understandably, attracted the lion’s share of attention, it would be a mistake to neglect the demographic information included in the report.
The picture that emerges from the demographic data is one of a community that is well-educated, relatively affluent, and religiously and politically diverse.
Foreign Born vs. U.S. Born
A large number of respondents (87%) of the 2014 sample reported being born in Iran. (This compares with the U.S. Census Bureau’s finding that approximately 60% of Iranian Americans are foreign-born). The overrepresentation in this survey of foreign-born Iranian Americans is reflective of the fact that the median age of second-generation Iranian Americans is currently only 17 years old, so many of them are part of their parents’ households, and while their parents may take the survey, they are not eligible to do so. Thus, the foreign-born proportion in the Census data is in a sense “diluted” by those who were not eligible to take this survey. The median age of Iranian Americans born in Iran is currently 49 years of age.
This year’s survey results revealed that 20% reported having a 4-year college degree, and 31% of respondents reported having graduate education or a professional advanced degree, reflecting very high levels of educational attainment in the Iranian American community. This is corroborated by the figures of 28% with Bachelor’s degrees and 25% with graduate degrees for foreign-born Iranian Americans. This level of educational attainment dramatically exceeds the educational attainment of native U.S.-born individuals, 17% of whom have Bachelor’s degrees and 10% of whom have graduate or professional degrees.
Greater education tends to mean greater affluence, and this holds true for the Iranian American community as well. Similar to previous PAAIA surveys, in the 2014 survey, a majority—57%—stated that their household income was $60,000 or more. According to Census Bureau data for 2011, only forty-two percent of Americans as a whole earned at the same rate. Approximately 30% of Iranian Americans in the 2014 survey reported a household income of $100,000 or more, whereas the 2011 Census Bureau figures showed only 21% of Americans as a whole earning that much.
The religious preferences in the 2014 survey results reflect that although the largest single religious group among Iranian Americans is Muslim (24%), there is tremendous variation and multiplicity in the beliefs of Iranian Americans. Other religious affiliations are also represented, including but not limited to Jewish (8%) and Baha’i (8%). Importantly, there are a large number (41%) of Iranian Americans who identify their religious preference as other, atheist, or agnostic.
Political Party Affiliation
The party affiliations of Iranian Americans appear to have changed somewhat from previous years. There are fewer self-identified Democrats, and this seems to correspond with the higher rates of disapproval of President Obama’s handling of Iran. However, the overall self-identified number of Republicans is relatively low in the Iranian American community. In 2014, 33% of Iranian Americans identified themselves as Democrats, while 23% consider themselves to be independent and 12% as Republicans.
Census data reveals that 71% of foreign-born Iranian Americans are naturalized U.S. citizens. Survey results of 26% of Iranian Americans who are “not politically active” corroborates the possibility that the respondents are not yet eligible to have formal involvement in U.S. politics.
Being one of the only regular sources of demographic information on the Iranian American community, the data contained in the 2014 National Public Opinion Survey of Iranian Americans has great potential for assisting in future research on this community and its evolution.
PAAIA’s surveys, which are used by policy-makers, media, and the general public to gain a better understanding of our community, paint the picture of a community that is, in many ways, different from how it is often times portrayed by mainstream media. The community is diverse and relatively affluent and has strong connections to its culture and heritage. In addition to maintaining close ties to the people of Iran, they have assimilated well to the social and economic fabric of America, and have contributed substantially to the prosperity of the country.
Click here to read PAAIA’s report on Iranian American immigration and assimilation.