16 February 2012

Interracial Marriage (And Children) More Common

The rate of new marriages which are interracial, according to the Pew Research Center in a new report, has increased dramatically in the last thirty years, as has public acceptance of these marriages. The executive summary of the open access report makes "key findings" including the following:

The increasing popularity of intermarriage. About 15% of all new marriages in the United States in 2010 were between spouses of a different race or ethnicity from one another, more than double the share in 1980 (6.7%). Among all newlyweds in 2010, 9% of whites, 17% of blacks, 26% of Hispanics and 28% of Asians married out. Looking at all married couples in 2010, regardless of when they married, the share of intermarriages reached an all-time high of 8.4%. In 1980, that share was just 3.2%.

Gender patterns in intermarriage vary widely. About 24% of all black male newlyweds in 2010 married outside their race, compared with just 9% of black female newlyweds. Among Asians, the gender pattern runs the other way. About 36% of Asian female newlyweds married outside their race in 2010, compared with just 17% of Asian male newlyweds. Intermarriage rates among white and Hispanic newlyweds do not vary by gender. . . .

[W]hite/Asian newlyweds of 2008 through 2010 have significantly higher median combined annual earnings ($70,952) than do any other pairing, including both white/white ($60,000) and Asian/Asian ($62,000). When it comes to educational characteristics, more than half of white newlyweds who marry Asians have a college degree, compared with roughly a third of white newlyweds who married whites. Among Hispanics and blacks, newlyweds who married whites tend to have higher educational attainment than do those who married within their own racial or ethnic group. . . . [W]hite male newlyweds who married Asian, Hispanic or black spouses had higher combined earnings than did white male newlyweds who married a white spouse. As for white female newlyweds, those who married a Hispanic or black husband had somewhat lower combined earnings than those who “married in,” while those who married an Asian husband had significantly higher combined earnings. . . .

Intermarriage in the United States tilts West. About one-in-five (22%) of all newlyweds in Western states married someone of a different race or ethnicity between 2008 and 2010, compared with 14% in the South, 13% in the Northeast and 11% in the Midwest. At the state level, more than four-in-ten (42%) newlyweds in Hawaii between 2008 and 2010 were intermarried; the other states with an intermarriage rate of 20% or more are all west of the Mississippi River. . . .

More than four-in-ten Americans (43%) say that more people of different races marrying each other has been a change for the better in our society, while 11% say it has been a change for the worse and 44% say it has made no difference. Minorities, younger adults, the college-educated, those who describe themselves as liberal and those who live in the Northeast or the West are more disposed than others to see intermarriage in a positive light. . . . More than one-third of Americans (35%) say that a member of their immediate family or a close relative is currently married to someone of a different race. Also, nearly two-thirds of Americans (63%) say it “would be fine” with them if a member of their own family were to marry someone outside their own racial or ethnic group. In 1986, the public was divided about this. Nearly three-in-ten Americans (28%) said people of different races marrying each other was not acceptable for anyone, and an additional 37% said this may be acceptable for others, but not for themselves. Only one-third of the public (33%) viewed intermarriage as acceptable for everyone.

Ten observations.

1. Attitudes about race are fluid. This study is a good example to show that public attitudes can change dramatically over the course of a generation or two. American attitudes towards race and sexual orientation have both transformed dramatically over the last sixty years or so. A lot of the short and medium term political science literature could leave you thinking that it is a fools errand to try and change what people believe as opposed to trying to massage coalitions that take those beliefs to be a given. But, over time frames of several decades, movement politics can achieve ends that electoral politics could never hope to achieve.

2. Complexity has led to acceptance and reframed racial thinking. An important piece of the radical change in attitudes towards race and interracial marriage has been the reframing of race from a binary category (black and white) to a multiple choice category. This has created a great deal of middle ground which allows, for example, someone whose frame of reference might once have been black-white marriages in the Deep South to also consider, for example, Hispanic-Asian marriage in California about which they had no strong preconceptions, which in turn has weakened views about the general issue. I am also inclined to think that the multi-racial as opposed to biracial frame has also decomposed the monolithic "white" category somewhat. For example, it has probably reducing the likelihood that someone of Spanish descent from Spain, or someone of Middle Eastern or North African descent, or someone of Russian descent,would think of themselves as being part of the same race as someone with British ancestors.

3. Racial categories are in constant flux. Almost every U.S. Census has had a slightly different set of them. Is a marriage between someone of Indian descent and someone of Chinese descent an interracial marriage, even though both are counted as Asian on a census form? We may relocate Hispanic to a standing on a par with ancestry categories in twenty or thirty years, or may start to conceptualize a mestizo racial category rather than as a Hispanic ethnicity, for official business. The check more than one box approach currently in use could fall out of fashion. I don't see U.S. society entirely abandoning race as a concept any time soon, but the trend towards de-emphasizing it, for example, in college admissions in some state university systems, has probably not yet fully run its course.

4. Familiarity breeds acceptance. When interracial couples marry and the world doesn't end and the present company excluded rule starts to limit what you can politely say at social events about interracial marriage, opposition fades. More than a third of native born Asian Americans and Hispanics marry across racial or ethnic lines respectively. A quarter of black men and one in eleven black women do as well. Almost every native born Asian American, Hispanic individual, or black person will have a peer or near peer of the same race who has had an interracial marriage. There are also many serious interracial relationships that are not marital across racial and ethnic lines that aren't counted in these statistics, some of which produce children. In parts of the United States that are not overwhelmingly white (e.g. Hawaii or California or New York City), this will often be true for native born whites as well.

5. Everyone is somewhat endogamous. The overall out marriage rate in the absence of any in marriage preference would be something on the order of 35-40% of newlyweds rather than the current 15%, although geographic considerations and social class considerations might trim the race neutral out marriage rate to closer to perhaps 30%. There is no race-gender combination in a person who is more likely to marry a person of another race than they would be if random chance determined pairings, and for almost all minority groups the difference between random pairings and actual out marriage rates is considerable. Even the people most prone to outmarry (for example, certain subcategories of U.S. born Asian and Hispanic women) have outmarriage rates on the order of 50%-60%, in a society where outmarriage rates would be closer to 80%+ in the absence of some endogamy effects. Once one controls for geography at the scale where people actively interact with potential spouses and for social class, quite a bit of this endogamy tendency is diluted, but any way you measure it, it is still there. As a general rule, people tend to marry people who are as similar to them as possible without being closely related.

6. There is no end in sight. There is every reason to believe that overall out marriage rates will continue to increase for the foreseeable future, certainly for another several decades at least. This trend has not yet run its course. The more frequently people intermarry, the less of a social barrier there is to other people doing likewise. Obviously, there is an absolute limit on outmarriage, but we are nowhere near to being close to it. And, those limits are reached piecemeal. The demise of elevated in marriage rates between two ethnicities relative to random chance is a good operational definition of the cultural merger of those ethnicities. But, one could easily imagine a world in which, for example, East Asian and white merge ethnically, while black and white do not. Since some of the endogamy tendency we observe today is still driven by the cultural preferences of not fully assimilated first and second and third generation immigrants, the inexorable assimilation of immigrant communities in later generations almost assures that out marriage rates will continue to increase.

7. There is a corresponding rise in the number of multiracial children. Weakening norms of hypodescent (i.e. the "one drop rule"), especially in couples where one parent is not black (majorities still have difficulty thinking of even prominent interracial individuals whose family origins are widely known and who are part black, like President Obama and Tiger Woods, as something other than "black" ethnically), and dramatically increasing rates of interracial marriage, has meant that there are more people in the United States who are interracial, more people who identify as interracial, and a much higher percentage of children who are interracial than there are adults who are interracial. This too is a trend with no end in sight. It isn't really clear at this point to what extent the United States will follow in the footsteps of Latin America in which a monolithic category like "mestizo" come to be a new category that includes all or more mixed race people, and to which extent there will instead be many widely accepted social categories of particular subtypes of mixed race individuals as there was, for example, in pre-Louisiana purchase Louisiana, or is now in Brazil.

8. End Game Predictions From Mathematical Models. If you play with mathematical models of intermarriage long enough, and you make an assumption that there is a range of strength of beliefs about the importance of in marriage in different subpopulations within ethnic categories, it takes only a few generations for a quite robust set of conclusions to emerge.

a. A large pool of interracial children emerges rapidly and eventually their descendants will become one of the largest categories, in the absence of hypodescent systems of ethnic affiliation or something like them adding these children to one of the existing catgories. A century or two out, almost everyone who isn't intentionally trying to marry people only of their own race ends up "brown."

b. The smaller the percentage of the total population a minority comprises, the more rapidly it will become the case the only people who remain monoethnic in that minority group are people who have a very strong commitment to endogamy that will probably materially influence a great many aspects of their daily lives through intentionally maintained monoethnic communities.

c. The largest ethnicity will be the last to have significant number of monoethnic people in the absence of powerful culturally imposed endogamy constraints because many people in this ethnicity will in marry simply by random chance anyway. The presence of people who are not opposed to out marriage, but don't end up out marrying tends to make the endogamy values of the minority populations much more influential in determining intermarriage rates than the endogamy values of majority populations. It takes a very strong endogamy preference to a majority group to have the same effect as a quite modest endogramy preference in a minority group.

9. Social class factors. Several decades of economic prosperity leading up to the Great Recession, declining residential segregation in housing, and the return of properous people to central cities from the suburbs, has shrunk the ranks of isolated underclass ghetto residents, and the class structure of the United States has evolved in a way that sets the bottom 95% against the top 1% with little in between economically, and secondarily within the bottom 95% an upper middle class and a working class. The American socio-economic class system is less finely graded than it was in 1980 and this has somewhat deracialized few remaining social class bins that are left. Falling crime and reduced rates of teen pregnancy especially in minority communities, and declining prosperity among working class whites, has made the lives of people at the bottoom of the heap of differing races less different that it was a few decades ago.

10. Out marriage rates are very context specific. Overall out marriage rates are mere statistics that don't tell you much about reality. Out marriage rates can be wildly gender asymmetric, can depend on the degree of assimilation of people with immigrant roots, on the local cultural climate, on the race combinations for husband and for wife in a pairing, or for that matter on the same factors in different ways for husband-husband v. wife-wife pairings, which are themselves not symmetric with each other. Every single factor in the complex matrix of interacting considerations that give rise to a particular rate of out marriage for someone in a particular demographic to someone in another demographic has a story to tell.

a. Gender Asymmetry In Out Marriage For Asians. The factor that I suspect drives asymmetry of intermarriage by gender in Asian Americans is the perception that Asian patriarchal attitudes towards husband-wife relationships are good for Asian men and that these benefits are lost if they out marry, while Asian women fair better by assimilating into more egalitarian attitudes about how husbands and wives should interact that are held by middle clas and affluent white Americans.

There may also be immigration factors at work. First generation (i.e. born abroad) Asian immigrants, who are the least assimilated and hence the least comfortable with out marriage, are much more likely to be men than women in the United States. At the second generation and later, among Asians who are more assimilated, there is likely to be something close to gender balance. Thus, even if out marriage rates were identical for later generation Asian men and Asian women (which they aren't, although the gap fades somewhat in later generations), we would still expect Asian men to outmarry less than Asian women overall.

Native-born Hispanics were nearly three times as likely as their foreign-born counterparts to marry a non-Hispanic in 2010 [36.2% v. 14.2%]. The disparity among native- and foreign-born Asians is not as great, but still significant: Nearly four-in-ten native-born Asians (38%) and nearly a quarter (24%) of foreign-born Asians married a non-Asian in 2010.

Among Asian newlyweds, the intermarriage gap between native and the foreign born is much bigger for Asian men than for Asian women. In 2010, native-born Asian male newlyweds were about three times as likely as the foreign born to marry out (32% vs. 11%). Among newlywed Asian women, the gap between native and foreign born is much smaller (43% vs.34%). The gender differences are not significant among Hispanic native- and foreign-born newlyweds.

Also, it is worth recalling that in a multiethnic category like "Asian" that the largest populations in the United States sample statistically swamp contrary trends in less numerous subpopulations. I suspect, for example, that the out marriage rates of Korean women in Buffalo, New York, where my wife grew up, are very differnt from the marriage rates of Vietnamese women in Denver. But, the marital tendencies of immigrants from China and India in major immigration centers like New York City and Los Angeles probably swamp any other trends in the data. To the extent that the rates are similar for different subcategories of Asians, this is probably a product of similar immigration histories for these ethnicities, similar to the parallels between Irish and Italian immigrants in the Northeastern cities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Similarly, even if Cubans in Florida, or Dominicans or Puerto Ricans in New York City, are atypical of Hispanics generally, the demographic tendencies of Mexicans in the American Southwest are going to swamp the trends in any other category statistically. Trendlines and generalizations about patterns of relationships for smaller subgroups of multiethnic categories are invisible when they are lumped into categories with larger subgroups.

b. Gender Asymmetry In Out Marriage For Blacks. I don't think I know enough to explain all of the factors that could be driving the asymmetry of outmarriage rates between black men and black women. But, one factor that may be coming into play could be something of a statistical artifact of the reality that the most common form of black household in the United States today is a matriarchal household in which the father or fathers of the children, as well as their mother, are black, but the couple has never been married even if they have lived together or maintained a non-cohabiting romantic relationship for many years. A lot of black men who have serious relationships with black women may not produce a marriage and not feel a strong cultural pressure to do so, while black men who have similarly serious relationships with non-black women may feel more pressure from their non-black partner to be formally married.

Thus, black men and black women might have fairly similar rates of entering into serious long term relationships with someone of another race, but black men in a relationship like this with non-black women may be considerably more likely to memorialize that relationship with marriage than a black woman in a relationship serious long term relationship with a non-black man.

It isn't implausible to hypothesize that in general, it is the woman in an opposite sex serious relationship who insists upon marriage more often than the man. After all, the economic upsides of marriage in the event of a break up disproportionately benefit married women relative to unmarried women and married men. Alimony payments and property divisions upon divorce usually have the net effect of transfering wealth from ex-husbands to ex-wives, but aren't worth the litigation costs necessary to secure them in households where the couple has few assets and the ex-husband doesn't have a capacity to make substantial alimony payments. (Child custody and child support payments are now independent of marriage.) And, if that is the case, and if black women have grown to place a lower priority on being married on averge than other women do on average that could explain a great deal of the asymmetry seen in intermarriage rates between black men and black women.

Why might black women marrying black men place less of a premium on getting married and in turn give rise to a cultural norm that cares less about a formal marriage for oneself? Perhaps, in part, black women on average have less to gain economically from marriage to a black man when the relationship ends than other women. This could be because black women tend to be socio-economically better off on average than black men. Black women, on average, have higher levels of education, a lower likelihood of having a criminal record, lower unemployment rates and higher average incomes than black men. This could also be because both young black men and young black women, on average, have few prospects of having much property to divided or alimony that could be paid in the event of a divorce.

This factor alone probably isn't enough to explain all of the gender asymmetry in outmarrriage rates for black men v. black women, but it probably explains a good chunk of that gap, maybe even a majority of the asymmetry.

c. Divorce rates are also not monolithic.

[I]nterracial marriages that are most vulnerable to divorce involve white females and non-White males (with the exception of white females/ Hispanic white males) relative to white/white couples. Conversely, there is little or no difference in divorce rates among white men/non-white women couples, and white men/black women couples are actually substantially less likely than white/white couples to divorce by the 10th year of marriage.

In other words, white men and black women are less likely to divorce, while white women and black men, or white women and Hispanic non-white men, and white women and Asian men, are more likely to divorce.

1 comment:

Dave Barnes said...

Let me summarize.
One more strength of the USA.