Disaggregating the data: Diversity of COVID-19 stressors, discrimination, and mental health among Asian American communities

Sumie Okazaki, Christina Seowoo Lee, Aakriti Prasai, Doris F. Chang, Gahwan Yoo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Much of the public discourse as well as research regarding the negative impact of COVID-19-related anti-Asian discrimination has been conducted at the broad racial group level, yet data aggregation masks critical points of diversity among Asian Americans. We conducted an online survey of 620 Asian American adults in December 2020 and examined whether there were any demographic differences–including by ethnic subgroup and Chinese street race (being Chinese or being mistaken as Chinese)–in their experiences of COVID-19-related stress, direct and vicarious discrimination, and psychological outcomes. Our analyses found that younger age was correlated with higher reports of pandemic stress, discrimination, distress, and worry. Female and U.S.-born participants reported higher levels of pandemic stress and vicarious discrimination, but there were no gender or nativity differences in levels of direct discrimination. Being uninsured was also related to higher levels of pandemic stress, discrimination, and distress. East Asian Americans reported significantly lower frequencies of direct anti-Asian discrimination than did South Asian or Southeast Asian Americans, but the ethnic subgroups did not differ in their reports of vicarious discrimination. Of note, Chinese street race was not associated with either direct or vicarious discrimination. Separate hierarchical regression analyses for East Asian, South Asian, and Southeast Asian participants revealed that, regardless of ethnicity, racial discrimination significantly contributed to psychological distress and worry beyond the effects of pandemic stress. However, the three groups varied in the demographic indicators and COVID-19 stressors that were associated with psychological outcomes. Pandemic stress was more strongly associated with negative outcomes among South Asian Americans than East Asian and Southeast Asian Americans, and neither direct nor vicarious discrimination were associated with mental health among South Asian Americans. Direct discrimination, compared to vicarious discrimination, was a particularly robust predictor of both distress and worry among East Asian Americans. For Southeast Asian Americans, direct discrimination significantly predicted higher levels of distress, whereas vicarious discrimination predicted higher levels of worry. Vicarious discrimination was not significantly related to distress across ethnic subgroups. Results suggest that practitioners and policy makers would benefit from attending to these within-group differences in Asian Americans' experiences during the pandemic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number956076
JournalFrontiers in Public Health
StatePublished - Oct 19 2022


  • Asian Americans
  • COVID-19 discrimination
  • data disaggregation
  • distress
  • mental health
  • worry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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