Thursday, September 15, 2011
A new study of interracial marriages in the United States since the 1980s suggests that the racial boundary between blacks and whites continues to break down – but is not yet close to disappearing
Marriages between blacks and whites increased rapidly between 1980 and 2008, outpacing the rate of unions between whites and other ethnic and racial groups, including Latinos, Asian Americans and American Indians. Still, the total number of marriages between blacks and whites continues to be much smaller than those between whites and other racial and ethnic groups. The number of marriages between whites and African Americans is undeniably increasing rapidly, but it is still a small number. In 1980, only 5% of black men married a white woman, but that increased to 14% in 2008. Still, by comparison, 38% of Asian American men and Hispanic men married a white woman in 2008. The racial boundary is blurred, but it is still there. Overall, while marriages between blacks and whites showed large increases between 1980 and 2008, there was only a slight increase in marriages between whites and Hispanics. This period also marked the end of the long-term rise in marriages between whites and Asians. Much of this can be explained by large increases in immigration of Hispanics and Asians into the United States, the study revealed. This has meant that Hispanics and Asians living in the United States now have a larger pool of potential marriage partners from their own racial and ethnic groups. Indeed, results showed that marriages between U.S. born and foreign born Asians and Hispanics increased rapidly between 2000 and 2008. With the enormous growth of the immigrant population, Asians and Hispanics now have more opportunities than ever to find a marital partner who shares the same cultural background. Such marriages reinforce their cultural identity. However, when the researchers calculated what would have happened if the size and characteristics of minority populations hadn't changed between 1980 and 2008, they found that intermarriage rates would have actually increased rather than decreased or stayed the same. This suggests that any evidence of a retreat from interracial marriages is mostly a reflection of changing marital market opportunities, rather than changes in whom people are willing to marry. The experience of blacks living in the United States was different from that of Latinos and Asians. There wasn't a great increase in black immigrants into the United States, so the rise in black-white intermarriages really suggests greater racial tolerance and a new openness to marrying outside one's own race. This suggests a weakening of the racial boundaries. One noticeable change was the role of education in interracial marriages. For many years, highly educated Hispanics and Asian Americans have been more likely than their less educated counterparts to marry whites. But that was never true for blacks. It used to be that race trumped everything, including education, when it came to marriage between blacks and whites. But that is changing. For the first time, we found that highly educated blacks and whites were more likely to intermarry. That is very significant and is another sign that racial boundaries are blurring. The study also found that people who classified themselves as white-Asian or white-American Indian were more likely to marry whites than Asians or American Indians. However, black-white biracial people are still more likely to marry blacks than whites. In general, the results were similar in cohabiting couples as they were in married couples. However, interracial couples were slightly more likely to be in cohabiting unions than they were to be married, according to the findings. The study suggests that, when it comes to marriage, ethnic and racial boundaries are being crossed, especially among men and women with college education. But the increasing immigrant population also means that many minorities in the United States, particularly Asian Americans and Hispanics, will have a greater opportunity than ever to marry within their ethnic or racial groups.