Published: April 8, 2021

Has Covid-19 heightened anti-Asian bias? New research involving Life Course Centre researchers shows some worrying signs in both Australia and the United States.

This research, from Life Course Centre Senior Research Fellow Dr Rennie Lee from the University of Queensland, and Life Course Centre Associate Investigator Associate Professor Leah Ruppanner and Xiao Tan from the University of Melbourne, investigates anti-Asian sentiment, both subtle and overt, through nationally representative online YouGov surveys of 1,375 Australians and 1,060 Americans at the height of COVID-19 in September 2020. The results show anti-Asian bias is similarly present in both countries. In fact, Australians expressed a slightly higher level of anxiety about catching COVID-19 from Asians, with an average response of 2.74 out of 5, compared to 2.53 among Americans. Similarly, slightly more Australians (46 per cent) than Americans (39 per cent) would have avoided a Chinese restaurant. In the United States, the most significant predictor of anti-Asian bias is political affiliation. In Australia, the picture is more complex ­– anti-Asian bias is linked to a wide range of socioeconomic factors including political affiliation, age, gender, employment status, and income.

These research findings demonstrate the complexity involved in anti-Chinese, and more broadly anti-Asian sentiment, during COVID-19. For Australia, the worrying sign is that despite a better pandemic response, much lower infection rate, higher proportion of Asian diasporas and a smaller economic recession, the population shows a slightly greater worry about catching COVID-19 from Asian Australians, compared to their American counterparts and how they view Asian Americans. Even though COVID-19 had been largely contained in Australia, Australians still feared the risk of being infected by Asians.

For Asian communities in the United States and Australia, these unmitigated fears have created a double whammy, by hollowing out Chinatowns and Asian businesses and generating a greater fear of random, racially motivated attacks and violence. The survey results show that the pandemic may have triggered historical stereotypes about Asians, while rising anti-Asian sentiment is deepening broader discriminatory narratives around the world. Combined, these findings point to a need for more substantial efforts to document and address these biases.

Read more about this research in The Washington Post or at The Lowy Institute.