That’s up from just 3% in 1967 and 7% in 1980. In fact, since 1990, the inter-ethnic marriage rate has more or less doubled.
That’s surely a positive sign of greater tolerance and diversity in our culture. Old barriers are starting to come down, albeit slowly.
There are various factors in play that contribute towards the growth in mixed marriages in America. One is sheer demographics.
America is becoming increasingly multicultural, especially with a dramatic increase in foreign immigration since 1990.
The foreign-born share of the US population stands at 14%, its highest level since the 1900s.
That means the pool of available spouses from non-White groups, especially Hispanics and Asians, has increased dramatically, affording new opportunities for inter-ethnic marriage.
Another factor, possibly related, is the explosion of dating and marriage sites that allow people from all over the world to get to know each other and eventually to marry, even if they were born and still live in different counties.
A third factor is the weight of public opinion.
Public support for inter-racial marriage has increased sharply, especially over the past decade. This is especially true of Black-White intermarriage.
As late as 1990, nearly two thirds 63% of non-Blacks opposed the idea of these couplings. Today, that figure is down to 14%, but it is still higher than non-Black opposition to White marriages with Asians and Hispanics (9% in each case).
Sadly, opposition to Black-White pairings, a legacy of America’s long and painful history with slavery, perhaps, endures.
Sharp variation in Inter-ethnic marriage rates
It’s worth noting that some inter-ethnic pairings are significantly more common than others.
The most common, by far, is one between a White man or woman and a Hispanic spouse. About 42% of Hispanics, men, and women marry a White spouse.
The next most common is a marriage between a White man or woman and an Asian spouse (15%).
However, the nativity is also a key factor. Foreign-born Hispanics and Asians are far less likely to marry across ethnic lines than their more assimilated native-born counterparts.
The discrepancy is stark. Only 15 % of foreign-born Hispanics married across ethnic lines. Three times as many native-born Hispanics did.
Overall, inter-ethnic marriages fail at a higher rate than same-ethnic marriages.
The rate of marital success for Whites and Hispanics and Whites and Asians are relatively high, approaching the national average. By contrast, Black-White marriages are far less successful.
Gender turns out to be a key factor in inter-ethnic marriage success.
Marriages between non-White men and White women, especially in the case of Black and Asian men, have relatively high failure rates. The success rate for Black male-White female marriages, just 25%, is the lowest of any inter-ethnic pairing.
By contrast, marriages between White men and non-White women tend to be highly successful. Some studies show that White male-Black female marriages are even more successful than marriages among Whites alone.
Reason for the success and failure
While the numbers are hard to deny, explaining divergences in marital success rates can be challenging and fraught with peril.
Do these marriages often fail because of the cultural differences in marriage or ethnic tensions inside the partnership or opposition from friends and family add to the couple’s burden? What about age, education, and income factors?
One study found that inter-ethnic partners, as a rule, shared fewer core values than did partners of the same ethnic background.
Another factor was the lack of support for their marriage from parents and relatives.
Once the lure of romance tended to weaken, these couples could find common marriage issues becoming especially sharp, owing to underlying differences in their backgrounds and life perspectives as well as disapproval from family members.
When trouble strikes, some inter-ethnic couples may fall back on their underlying ethnic differences to explain their difficulties, whether these differences are truly relevant or not.
And parents, instead of helping the troubled couple resolve its differences, might counsel divorce, seeing their children’s marital problems as confirmation of their own cultural bias.
Partners should be emotionally mature and stable. They should know themselves well and be willing to learn from each other. This means they should be aware of and sensitive to cultural differences.
Happy inter ethic partners know the culture of their spouse intimately; in many cases, they have experienced it through travel and participation in cultural rituals. They may even consider themselves bi-cultural.
Awareness of racial and ethnic bias in the society at large, and even among friends and family members is another requirement for success.
Happy inter-ethnic couples do not shy away from issues of prejudice but have strategies to address it when it arises. Vestiges of prejudice, many of them unconscious, may arise in their own interactions.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Stewart Lawrence is a trained sociologist and political scientist and a regular columnist for the Washington Times and the Federalist. He is also a former feature contributor to Inside Philanthropy, Counterpunch and the Huffington Post. In 2012 and 2016, he covered the US presidential election campaign for the conservative news magazine Daily Caller. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor and Washington Post.