Skip to content
For Your Marriage

Marriage Today covers current trends and research pertaining to marriage and family life in today's world.

Interracial and Interethnic Marriages Reach Record Levels

The percentage of U.S. newlyweds entering an interracial or interethnic marriage reached a record level in 2008, according to a report June 4 by the Pew Research Center. It found that:

— One of every seven new U.S. marriages either was interracial or interethnic in 2008.

— A record 8 percent of all currently married adults “had a spouse of a different race or ethnicity” in 2008. In 1980, this statistic was just 3.2 percent.

In an America that has grown “more racially and ethnically diverse than ever before,” current attitudes toward “intermarriage” represent a sharp break from the not-too-distant past, the report commented.

A Pew research team headed by Paul Taylor, the Pew Hispanic Center’s director, found that “a record 14.6 percent of new marriages in the U.S. in 2008 were between spouses” of different races or ethnicities. Its report, titled “Marrying Out,” explained:

“This includes marriages between a Hispanic and non-Hispanic (Hispanics are an ethnic group, not a race) as well as marriages between spouses of different races — be they white, black, Asian, American Indian or those who identify as being of multiple races or ‘some other’ race.”

The Pew report is based primarily on statistics drawn from two sources: the center’s analysis of demographic data in the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and data from a nationwide Pew telephone survey conducted in late 2009.

Among the newlyweds of 2008, the report said that “9 percent of whites, 16 percent of blacks, 26 percent of Hispanics and 31 percent of Asians married someone whose race or ethnicity was different from their own.”

The percentage of interracial and interethnic newlywed couples in 2008 “is an estimated six times the intermarriage rate among newlyweds in 1960 and more than double the rate in 1980,” the Pew Center said. “This dramatic increase,” it commented, is driven in part “by the weakening of longstanding cultural taboos.”

In the Pew survey, more than 60 percent of Americans agreed it would be “fine with them” if a family member decided “to marry someone from any of three major race/ethnic groups other than their own.”

However, another factor in the increase of interracial and interethnic marriages is the large “wave of immigrants from Latin America and Asia” during recent decades, the report explained. Here it examined two “seemingly contradictory trends” related to what it termed the “pool” of potential spouses among immigrants.

First, it noted that the rates of interracial or interethnic marriage “more than doubled among whites and nearly tripled among blacks” from 1980 to 2008. Second, however, it reported that rates of intermarriage were “nearly identical” among “both Hispanics and Asians” in both 1980 and 2008.

But how can both those trends be “driven by the heavy, ongoing Hispanic and Asian immigration wave of the past” 40 years? The Pew Center explained:

— For whites and blacks, “these immigrants (and, increasingly, their U.S.-born children who are now of marrying age) have enlarged the pool of potential spouses for out-marriage.”

— For Hispanics and Asians in America, “the ongoing immigration wave has also enlarged the pool of potential partners for in-group marriage.”

Since 1980, the overall rates of interethnic and interracial marriage among Hispanics and Asians in the U.S. have followed a winding route, declining during the 1980s, leveling off during the 1990s and rebounding during the 2000s “to the point where they are now nearly identical to what they had been in 1980,” according to “Marrying Out.”

Shifting intermarriage patterns among Hispanics or Asians in the U.S. during this time period appear to relate to differences among those of them who are foreign-born and those born in the U.S. The Pew report noted that foreign-born immigrants “marry out at lower rates than do the native born.”

During the 1980s, it said, heavy immigration flows from both Latin America and Asia increased the proportion of each group that was foreign born. This “had the effect of reducing overall intermarriage rates within these groups.” However, the share of foreign-born immigrants “peaked in the early 2000s for Hispanics and in 2000 or earlier for Asians.” And by 2008, the share of foreign-born immigrants “among younger Hispanic and Asian adults had dropped back to 1990 levels.”

The Pew center said that “partly as a result of these compositional changes,” intermarriage rates for both Hispanics and Asians rebounded. In fact, it said, “intermarriage rates for marriages occurring in 2008 were above those for marriages in the 1990s and 2000s” and had returned roughly to “the levels seen in 1980.”

“Marrying Out” pointed to a Westward tilt of U.S. interracial and interethnic marriages. “Among all new marriages in 2008, 21 percent in the West were interracial or interethnic, compared with 13 percent in both the South and Northeast and 11 percent in the Midwest,” it observed.

It also noted, based on Pew estimates, that in 1961 fewer that one in 1,000 new marriages in the U.S. involved a white and a black spouse. But by 1980 “that share had risen to about one in 150 new marriages. By 2008, it had risen to one in 60.” Even so, the report said, these marriages “represented only about one in nine of the approximately 280,000 new interracial or interethnic marriages in 2008.”

More Marriage in the News articles