There are about 1.5 million Asian American Buddhists in the United States. Or at least, that’s my estimate. My confidence interval is pretty big, but I feel certain enough to start tossing this number around from now on. This figure keeps the data and assumptions of the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, but adjusts them to address discrepancies related to the U.S. Census, linguistic preferences of Asian Americans and geography (i.e. counting Hawai‘i and Alaska).
In past posts, I observed that the Pew Forum severely underestimated the size of the Asian American community (by about 56%!), and I also investigated what it meant to exclude Buddhists in Hawai‘i. I even tried out my own deliberately-flawed estimate. But there was one issue that I left off until now: language.
Furthermore, it bears repeating that the Pew Center conducted their survey exclusively in English and Spanish and only called land-line households. This further excludes two significant populations of American Buddhists: non-English speaking Asians, and younger Buddhists who may not have a land-line but certainly have a cell phone. Were these two populations actually counted, I wonder if we would be seeing the same results of an aging, largely white Buddhist population. Again, the Pew Center’s methodology does not count certain segments of the American populace that are relevant to our Buddhist communities.
It turns out that the Pew Study was aware of this. The report includes a couple pages which explain that the methodology of the survey resulted in numbers that underestimated the number of Spanish speakers who identified as Catholic by about 17%. I made the assumption that the underestimation of “Asian” speakers who identified as Buddhist was the same. This may be complete inaccurate for Asians/Buddhists, but it’s the only validated base of reference that I have found to work with.
In raw terms, this new number of Asian American Buddhists (792,000) isn’t much higher than if we take Buddhists in Hawai‘i into account (782,000). It’s even much smaller than if we fix the Pew Study’s estimate of the size of the Asian American community by using U.S. Census data. But when all the adjustments fold together, the final estimate of 1.5 million Buddhists is more than double the original estimate of the Pew Study.
This new figure also increases the size of the U.S. Buddhist community to 2.9 million. That’s less than 30% more than the Pew Study’s estimate, as this new figure is based on the assumption that virtually all of those uncounted Buddhists are Asian American. That increase now brings the proportion of Asian Americans to just over 50% of the Buddhist community in the United States.
Now, I have to admit my own bias when it comes to counting the number of Asian American Buddhists. From the outset, I imagined that the number of Asian American Buddhists was at least half of the American Buddhist community. This study confirms my predictions. And whenever I see a study that confirms a researcher’s predictions, then I have to take the results with a grain of salt. So keep your salt shakers close at hand. This Asian-heavy perception of mine probably arose because I was born and raised in a city where every third person you run into is of Asian descent. In contrast, I just came back from Boston, where there are more Jews than Asian Americans. So I imagine that Americans who live in the Old Country are likely to be more open to the Pew Study’s proportions than we who live on the West Coast (where most of the Buddhists are). This perception was certainly true among the Asian Americans I met out East.
Now I have a new estimate to plug into my Asian Meter graphs. After all, the original point of reviewing the Pew Study was because I didn’t feel as though I had proper estimates for those graphs. There are many, many issues with my analysis, but this is what I’ll be running with until I find a better set of numbers to bandy about.