Who Are The Most Successful Immigrants in the US?

By Kayla Gonzalez

Who Are The Most Successful Immigrants in the US?

Who Are The Most Successful Immigrants in the US?
Photo by Sanja Gjenero

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly which immigrant group has been the most successful in the United States. A number of outstanding individuals who’ve emigrated to escape civil war or create businesses have risen above the ashes and done pretty well for themselves and their families. But sometimes individuals of a particular nationality or heritage seem to do better than the rest. To name a few: the Nigerian population is one of the most educated immigrant groups in America, Slovaks have the highest rate of home ownership in the United States, and 20 percent of Nobel Prize winners are Jewish. Freakonomics radio’s Stephen Dubner has become increasingly curious of the successes of Lebanese immigrants in the US, and brought in some experts to discuss.

Gaining From Disorder

Stephen Dubner, was on a plane when he happened to meet up with Lebanese American author Nassim Taleb. Essayist and scholar, Taleb is famous for his literary philisophical books The Black Swan, and Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder. During their plane conversation, Taleb noted that Lebanon has “gained from disorder.” From adversity, comes the inner drive to succeed.

Taleb backs up his theory by giving examples of comparative research he conducted on his trips to Lebanon. Taleb visited Lebanon shortly after the Lebanese civil war in the 1970s. During the war his city had been completely destroyed, but he noticed that after the huge upheaval it was “richer than ever.” This led him to investigate the phenomena of antifragility, which is the topic and title of his second book.  In an interview with Reason.tv, Taleb explains that antifragility describes the ability for a country to thrive after upheaval and turmoil. In his view, the systems that make up a country do not function like a machine but instead are organic. Organic complex systems (like the government or the economy) must be exposed to stressors, which then act as source of fuel to thrive.

Taleb makes the claim that the Lebanese success does not rely solely on having an entrepreneurial spirit. It’s about a biological, almost chemical, reaction. When anything organic is faced with disorder, the probability of a positive outcome is higher. Lebanon is “antifragile” in this way, because the country’s reaction to stress after the civil war sparked growth and necessary change to make it into the “richer” city he described in his research.  

Facts & Statistics

Facts on the Lebanese DiasporaWith violence comes economic difficulty which, according to Taleb, drives people to work toward stability.  The crash in the Lebanese silk market and the civil war from 1975 on were major catalysts for their population’s emigration. According to Akram Khater, a historian at North Carolina State University, 40 percent of the population left the country in the late 70s.

Statistically, there are more Lebanese people living outside of Lebanon today than within it, with half a million in the US and around 3 million Americans of at least partial Lebanese descent.The average household income for Lebanese Americans is $65,000 compared to $50,000 for the average American. Their education levels are on a 3:1 ratio, meaning - for every three Lebanese Americans with PhD’s, the general population is at one. Thus, most Lebanese Americans, and most Arab-Americans in general, tend to be more highly educated than the general population.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

With such a large, educated Lebanese population in the US, it’s not surprising that a number of them are right here in New York City. The Lebanese have had quite a few success stories, especially in finance. Executive Magazine highlights successful entrepreneurs on Wall Street, especially those who hold high-ranking position amongst the world’s top investment banks like Anwar Zakkour of J.P. Morgan.

Rho Ventures, a top Investment firm with offices in New York, has been under Lebanese leadership since 1993. When Habib Kairouz stepped up to the plate as the managing partner, the venture capital firm has helped countless companies improve their access to finances for 20 years.

With their entrepreneurial spirit and their increasing emigration numbers, it’s no wonder that Lebanese businesses are a huge boost to the economy. According to “Success Factors of Lebanese Small Businesses in the United States”, author Zeinab Fawa states that Lebanese businesses contribute to the economy at the significant level of .05. Their contributions continue to grow, not just in the state of New York, but in Missouri, Michigan, California, and more.   

A Few Notable Lebanese-Americans

Carlos Slim – Businessman and former richest man in the world.

Helen Thomas – Author and White House Correspondent.

Jamie Farr – Actor known for playing Corporal Klinger on hit TV-show, MASH.

Salma Hayek – Famous Mexican-Lebanese actress.

Spencer Abraham – Former US Senator.

Paul Orfalea – Founder of Kinkos.

Manuel Maroun – Businessman who owns CenTra Inc., the company which controls the Ambassador Bridge that connects Canada and Detroit.

Article originally published : October 28, 2013