Interracial Marriage Rates Going Up

CNN has an interesting story on a recent Pew Research Center survey that shows that interracial marriage rates have increased greatly over the last 30 years. Unlike the Associated Press, CNN’s story emphasizes the important positive aspects of this trend:

Asian. White. Black. Hispanic. Do race and ethnicity matter when it comes to marriage?

Apparently, race is mattering less these days, say researchers at the Pew Research Center, who report that nearly one out of seven new marriages in the U.S. is interracial or interethnic. The report released Friday, which interviewed couples married for less than a year, found racial lines are blurring as more people choose to marry outside their race.

“From what we can tell, this is the highest [percentage of interracial marriage] it has ever been,” said Jeffrey Passel, a senior demographer for the Pew Research Center.

He said interracial marriages have soared since the 1980s. About 6.8 percent of newly married couples reported marrying outside their race or ethnicity in 1980. That figure jumped to about 14.6 percent in the Pew report released this week, which surveyed newlyweds in 2008.

Especially noteworthy is the fact that interracial marriage rates have gone up sharply for blacks, as well as other groups:

The African-American population also saw increases in interracial marriage, with the number of blacks participating in such marriages roughly tripling since 1980, the study said. About 16 percent of African-Americans overall are in an interracial marriage, but researchers point out a gender difference: It’s more common for black men to marry outside of their race than for black women.

The full Pew study shows that only about 5% of black newlyweds married members of other races in 1980, compared to 16% in 2008. Historically, black-white interracial marriages have faced greater hostility than those between other racial groups.

As nearly all experts on the subject agree, growing acceptance of interracial marriage is an important indicator of increasing racial tolerance and improvement in intergroup relations. Studies still show that most people tend to prefer to date and marry members of their own racial and ethnic group, often very strongly so. Such preferences are, however, weakening, and even those who still hold such views are less likely to oppose interracial relationships by others than a generation ago.

Even in a society completely free of racism and intergroup hostility, we would not necessarily expect to see a racially random pattern of marriages. Some people may prefer to marry within their group for noninvidious reasons, and others might be more likely to marry within their group even if they don’t have any racial preferences one way or the other (e.g. – because they simply know more people from the same background as their own). Despite such caveats, however, the growth of interracial marriage is definitely a positive trend.