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Smart bunch
Iranian-Americans reported among most highly educated in U.S.

By Phyllis McIntosh
January 26, 2004
Source: Washington File

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 Studies Group.

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 Iranian-American community.

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 website,

The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.

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