Iranian-Americans also contribute substantially to the U.S. economy
By Phyllis McIntosh, Washington File Special Correspondent
Washington -- Iranian-Americans are far more numerous in the United
States than census data indicate and are among the most highly educated
people in the country, according to research by the Iranian Studies
Group, an independent academic organization, at Massachusetts Institute
of Technology (MIT).
The group estimates that the actual number of Iranian-Americans may top
691,000 -- more than twice the figure of 338,000 cited in the 2000 U.S.
census. According to the latest census data available, more than one in
four Iranian-Americans holds a master's or doctoral degree, the highest
rate among 67 ethnic groups studied.
With their high level of educational attainment and a median family
income 20 percent higher than the national average, Iranian-Americans
contribute substantially to the U.S. economy. Through surveys of Fortune
500 companies and other major corporations, the researchers identified
more than 50 Iranian-Americans in senior leadership positions at
companies with more than $200 million in asset value, including General
Electric, AT&T, Verizon, Intel, Cisco, Motorola, Oracle, Nortel
Networks, Lucent Technologies, and eBay. Fortune magazine ranks Pierre
Omidyar, founder and chairman of the board of eBay, the wildly popular
online auction company, as the second richest American entrepreneur
under age 40.
Iranian-Americans are also prominent in academia. According to a
preliminary list compiled by ISG, there are more than 500
Iranian-American professors teaching and doing research at top-ranked
U.S. universities, including MIT, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Carnegie
Mellon, the University of California system (Berkeley, UCLA, etc.),
Stanford, the University of Southern California, Georgia Tech,
University of Wisconsin, University of Michigan, University of Illinois,
University of Maryland, California Institute of Technology, Boston
University, George Washington University, and hundreds of other
universities and colleges throughout the United States.
The Iranian Studies Group (ISG), founded in 2002 by a group of Iranian
Ph.D. candidates enrolled at MIT, analyzes social, economic, and
political issues involving Iran and Iranians. The group began compiling
statistics on the Iranian-American community at the request of Iranian
associations and community leaders in the United States who do not have
the time or capacity to conduct such research.
The ISG arrived at its population estimate of 691,000 Iranian-Americans
by assembling a list of 100 family names from the national university
examination database in Iran, then conducting a computer analysis of
U.S. white page telephone directories to count households with those
names. They then multiplied that total by 2.83, the average number of
individuals per Iranian-American household as reported in the 2000
census. Overall census counts of Iranian-Americans may be low in part
because many people are reluctant to identify their country of origin
due to troubled relations between the United States and Iran over the
past 25 years, says Ali Mostashari, one of the founders of the Iranian
Iranians have achieved a high level of success in the United States
because unlike many immigrants, most left their homeland for social,
political, or religious reasons, rather than in search of economic
opportunity, Mostashari adds. The two large waves of immigrants who came
to the United States because of the 1979 revolution in Iran consisted
mainly of people with education and assets, he notes.
"These were people who could make it to the U.S. and sustain themselves
in the U.S. It was a pre-selection, not your typical immigration where
people come mainly for financial reasons," he said.
In another recently issued report, the Iranian Studies Group has
undertaken the mission of convincing Iranian-Americans to become more
active participants in the American political process. According to
surveys in some major cities, fewer than 10 percent voted in the last
presidential election. The report cites the experiences of other ethnic
groups, such as Israeli-Americans, Arab-Americans, and Cuban-Americans,
to show how Iranians could use their collective voice to influence U.S.
foreign policy regarding Iran and address the needs of the
In addition to its focus on Iranian-Americans, the ISG issues reports
about topical issues in Iran, such as earthquake management, and
publishes the Iran Analysis Quarterly, which features scholarly articles
about social, political, and economic issues in Iran. Through its
Development Gateway Project, the group has established Internet links to
some 400 articles representing a wide spectrum of views about Iranian
development issues. A lecture series brings experts from Iran and the
United States to MIT to discuss a broad range of topics, such as The
Fate of Local Democracy under the Islamic Republic, Nonviolent Struggle:
Liberation Without Violence, Temporary Marriage and Women's Rights, and
Rethinking Persian Modernity.
More information about the Iranian Studies Group is available on its
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.
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