31 January 2011

One in seven marriages is mixed race.

One in seven (14.6%) of new marriages in 2008 and 2009 is mixed race (in a method that counts a Hispanic-Anglo marriage as mixed race), according to a recent New York Times article reporting on a Pew Research Center study from June of last year. In 1960, the figure was 2.4%.

Among all newlyweds in 2008, 9% of whites, 16% of blacks, 26% of Hispanics and 31% of Asians married someone whose race or ethnicity was different from their own.

Gender patterns in intermarriage vary widely. Some 22% of all black male newlyweds in 2008 married outside their race [in 1960 the percentage was 1.3%], compared with just 9% of black female newlyweds [in 1960 the percentage was 0.9%]. Among Asians, the gender pattern runs the other way. Some 40% of Asian female newlyweds married outside their race in 2008, compared with just 20% of Asian male newlyweds. Among whites and Hispanics, by contrast, there are no gender differences in intermarriage rates.

Rates of intermarriages among newlyweds in the U.S. more than doubled between 1980 (6.7%) and 2008 (14.6%). However, different groups experienced different trends. Rates more than doubled among whites and nearly tripled among blacks. But for both Hispanics and Asians, rates were nearly identical in 2008 and 1980. . . . ["High levels of Hispanic and Asian immigration over the past several decades helped drive both seemingly contradictory trends."] . . .

Native-born Hispanics are more than three times as likely as the foreign born to marry a non-Hispanic. . . native-born Asian-Americans are nearly twice as likely as those who are foreign born to marry a non-Asian. . . Among Asian men, the native born are nearly four times as likely as the foreign born to marry out. Among Asian women, the native born are only about 50% more likely than the foreign born to marry a non-Asian.

For U.S. born people, outmarriage rates were 41.7% for Asian men, 41.3% for Hispanic men, 37.4% for Hispanic women, and 50.3% for Asian women. For foreign born people, outmarriage rates were 11.7% for Asian men, 11.3% for Hispanic men, 12.2% for Hispanic women, and 36.8% for Asian women.

Mixed race marriage is much more common among the young than the old.

There are strong regional trends. The outmarriage rate for African-Americans in the West is 38% compared to 15.5% nationally and 11.9% in the South. Whites are most likely to outmarry in the West at 15.5%, compared to 8.9% nationally and 5.5% in the Midwest. Hispanics are most likely to outmarry in the Midwest (41.0% v. 25.7% nationally), although Colorado at 35% has a higher outmarriage rate among states with statistically significant numbers of Hispanic outmarriages than any other single state. Asians are most likely to outmarry in the South (36.8% v. 30.8% nationally). Outmarriage for whites is 20% or more in Nevada, New Mexico and California. Black outmarriage rates are 36% in California, the higher percentage in single states with a statistically significant number of black outmarriages, in contrast the lowest percentage of black outmarriages where numbers are statistically significant is found in North Carolina where the percentage is 9%.

These regional trends seem to be driven by a combination of outmarriage being more common when there are more other race and fewer same race options available, and by Hispanics and Asians being more likely to be U.S. born in areas with higher outmarriage rates. Differences in regional attitudes surely do have an effect, but a less intense one than one might expect.

The more education you have, the more likely you are to outmarry.

About 41% of mixed race marriages are Hispanic-white, about 16% are both non-white, about 15% are Asian-white, about 11% of Black-white, and 17% are "other" (which includes Native American, mixed race and "some other race").

In terms of expressed views, far more religious people are uncomfortable with having a child marry an atheist than are uncomfortable with having a child marry something of another race. Whites in 2009 were considerably less likely to have a problem with a child marrying someone of another race than they were in 2001, while blacks were more concerned in 2009 than in 2001 (although still more accepting of mixed race marriages in all time periods with all other races).


This observation comes with caveats:

[S]ome sociologists say that grouping all multiracial people together glosses over differences in circumstances between someone who is, say, black and Latino, and someone who is Asian and white. (Among interracial couples, white-Asian pairings tend to be better educated and have higher incomes, according to Reynolds Farley, a professor emeritus at the University of Michigan.)

Along those lines, it is telling that the rates of intermarriage are lowest between blacks and whites, indicative of the enduring economic and social distance between them.

Any study of marriage rates also has to be conscious of the increasing number of parents and intimate couples were are not married. For African-American women, for example, most mothers are not married. The higher rate of interracial marriage for African-American men than for African-American women, for example, could reflect non-African-American women in serious relationships with African-American women placing a greater importance on recognizing that relationship through marriage than African-American women in serious relationships with non-African-American men do.


This is a little less than half of what one would see if marriage were entirely random relative to race and ethnicity, although a significant share of the divide between truly random and what is seen is due to neighbor effects (i.e. mixed race marriages tend only happen to the extent that there is someone of another race geographically nearby), rather than actual race or ethnicity based selection of a spouse.

Intermarriage rates are higher for the college educated, despite the fact that the ethnic diversity of college campuses is considerably lower than the ethnic diversity of society as a whole. The gap between the intermarriage percentage that you would expect by random chance if people married others with the same level of education, and what is actually observed, is quite modest among college graduates, but its quite high for high school dropouts.

Asian and Latino intermarriage seems to fit the general profile of immigrant assimilation. Second and later generation immigrants assimilate very fully into their communities linguistically and otherwise, and often outmarry. The future of Asian and Latino marriage patterns may follow that of the "Southern European" identity, which ceased to be very ethnically distinct in the United States in a way that drives marriage patterns. Yet, the WASP v. non-WASP divide, which distinguished people from Catholic and Jewish immigrant populations, from Ireland and Southern Europe in the case of most of the Catholics, and from Eastern Europe in the case of most of the Jews, from non-immigrant American whites, has faded greatly from our ethnic consciousness.

My intuition is that interracial marriage rates for African immigrant populations (e.g. recent immigrants from Ethiopia and Kenya), are probably more similar to Latino and Asian immigrant populations than to African-American populations. For example, immigrant Africans in Denver's public housing projects are much more likely to be married than African-Americans in Denver's public housing projects, and there is probably less discrimination against African immigrants than there is against African-Americans in economic and social contexts.

Razib notes that "The article ignores the elephant in the room: that Americans do not treat African ancestry like they treat Asian (or Amerindian) ancestry. Someone with a black American parent may identify as mixed race, but there is a great deal of social pressure and expectation, such that they are de facto viewed as black." But, I am not so pessimistic.

While African-American outmarriage rates are lower than for U.S. born Hispanics and Asians (a little more than half as much for African-American men, and a quarter as much for African-American women), this has changed dramatically in the last fifty years when it was almost zero, and outmarriage rates have continued to surge in the last twenty years.

Anecdotal evidence that I have encountered, at least, suggests that "one drop" rule notwithstanding, that mixed race children with a black parent and a white parent are indeed a major bridge between the two groups in social settings. A many fold increase in the number of children of black and non-black parents, probably under reported by statistics that only measure actual marriages, means that the bonds between these two ethnic communities in the United States are probably much stronger than they were a generation or two and getting stronger all the time.

Social Class Implications

This elephant in the room is also shrinking as social class divides based on race and ethnicity fades.

The increase in rates of African-American outmarriage closely mirror the growing ranks of the black middle class in the same time period against a background of very low social class mobility in the United States generally..

Despite the fact that almost every statistic you may see on African-American socio-economic success is discouraging, in the big picture in the medium to long term, the story has been one of remarkable socio-economic progress.

Indeed, the rise of the black middle class made possible by the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and social gains of second generation immigrants, particularly Hispanic immigrants, who have been able to advance further socio-economically than parents who were not native English language speakers and were not assimilated into American culture, explains a great deal of all of the social mobility in the United States in the last forty years. The flip side of this optimistic fact, is that social class mobility is probably considerably lower in the United States for Anglos than the overall figures suggest.

On the other hand, some of the apparently high social class mobility seen in many European nations may be a product of immigrant assimilation patterns seen in the United States, as most of the developed countries of Europe has experienced considerable immigration in recent times. Immigration in the United States in recent years has been typical of the developed world generally.

The seeming immutability of social class boundaries among American whites is remarkable given how fiercely we deny that social class divides exist in American culture (something that our obsession with race has helped make possible), and how irrelevant the distinctions between white ethnics have become in our society.

Perhaps we truly are developing a meritocratic society and perhaps social class divisions based for a couple of generations on real merit are more stable than divisions based on proxies for merit. But, it may also be the case that the weak social welfare system in the United States makes where you start more outcome determinative than it is elsewhere.

New Tribes

Professor Rainier Spencer, who is quoted in the article notes: “The mixed-race identity is not a transcendence of race, it’s a new tribe. A new Balkanization of race.” This may be the case. Definitions of race evolve and have changed in almost every census. The Latin American experience, the French colonial era experience in North America, and the experience in places like Jamaica and South Africa during colonial eras, has been to conceptualize mixed race identities as a "new tribe" or as "new tribes."

If you run mathematical models in which some people in each ethic category have strongly endogenous attitudes and others do not, in a surprisingly small number of generations, almost everyone but those with strongly endogenous tendencies ends up as mixed race, although the smaller a group is, that more quickly this happens.

The fact that more than half of U.S. born children of immigrants still do in marry, and that anecdotal evidence suggests that preferences are similar for third and later generation individuals to those of second generation individuals, suggests that some version of this kind of model makes sense.

My sense in reading political and identity politics rhetoric has been to see a tendency to conceptualize a large "brown" category that includes Hispanics, mixed race people of all types, North Africans, South Asians, Southeast Asians, and Arabs, that has been gaining traction relative to the "People of Color" conception that includes all non-Anglos. The latter is probably easy to measure with linguistic databases like Google's new toy, but the former, because "brown" is used in so many senses, would be harder to measure.

In the same vein, I find it quite interesting that white Southerners in the United States increasingly identify as "American" in ethnicity, while whites outside the South tend to see a connection to some ancestral place of origin in Europe. This is more than a question of style. It has some authentic base in reality and history.

For example, most whites outside the American South practice a religion that has clear historical roots in Europe. Lutherans, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Jews, Orthodox Christians and Catholics, for example, all practice religions with direct European sources and often have religious denominations that remain in communication with parent denominational authorities in West Eurasia. In contrast, the Evangelical Christians of the American South have far more cryptic ties to their European forebears. Colonial era European Baptists, for example, were closer theologically and in liturgical practice to American Quakers and Anabaptists than to the Southern Baptists whose denomination is the predominant white Baptist denomination in the United States. Evangelicals in Latin America, Africa and Asia trace their roots to the United States, not the other way around.

There are multiple narratives of people from the American South touring Europe and discovering just how non-European they are culturally, despite the fact that they look similar physically. An Evangelical Christian white Southerner is more distant culturally and in values from the European norm than a Bostonian Anglican, a Lutheran from Saint Paul, or a white Catholic in Buffalo. The 18th century Scotch-Irish society that those white Southerners who do not identify as "American" identify with barely exists any more outside United Kingdom's territory of Northern Ireland, as the herding and marginal farming economy that sustained that culture has faded away. Politically, the federal election Republicans of the American South (who are overwhelmingly white and whose politics are the overwhelmingly dominant ones of white Southerners) have few parallels in Europe apart from the far right neo-fascist parties.

The American South from the 1700s to the mid-1800s is really one of the better cases in recent history of ethnogenesis. In religion, culture, politics and dialect this cauldron created an ethnicity so distinct from its antecedents that its sources aren't easily traced to a single source anywhere. Few other places in the United States have been more of a melting pot and less of a mixing bowl.

Indeed, the fusion of this new culture and worldview has been so intense that ethnically identified non-Evangelical Christians have been increasingly pressured in reaction to abandon their more specific ethnic ties in favor of a united Pan-American mainline, liturgical Christianity. First, ethnic divisions within major denominational distinctions within Christianity by fusions of ethnically divided denominations of Reformed Christians, Lutherans and Orthodox Christianity, respectively, as these ethic divisions faded in favor of purely denominational ones going back to pre-ethnic division roots. Increasingly, institutions like the National Council of Churches and ecumenical efforts between particular mainline denominations are erasing even that level of division.

Ethnically and culturally, the descendants of Northern, Midwestern and Western white ethnics have been dissolved into an ethnicity that outsiders have described a "Yankee," as inapt as that may be to describing their real roots. How long will it be before whites outside the South start to identify their ancestry as "European" rather than Italian or German or Danish or French or English, in contradistinction to the "American" of Southerners?

Will people who have roots in both Europe and Asia start to identify themselves as "Eurasians," in ancestry, as distinct from Africans or those who self-identify as "Americans"?

I also think that it is possible that we may increasingly start to see a divide in self-identification between African-Americans from the South, and those who are from outside it.

I do think that racial categorization at a social level is basically inescapable. No matter how much the educational establishment and social elite urge us to leave in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s truly color-blind society, I seriously doubt that it will happen, at least not in my lifetime or even that of my grandchildren. But, I do think that the racial and ethnic divisions of the United States will grow increasingly balkanized replacing many categories with the stark black-white dichotomy, and that as we reach a point where there is no majority race or ethnicity in the United States, that those distinctions will become less pernicious.

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