According to the Pew study, about 15 percent of new marriages in 2010 crossed racial or ethnic lines, double the rate from three decades ago. Intermarriages comprise 8 percent of all marriages now, up from just 3 percent in 1980. And most Americans tell pollsters they are untroubled at the prospect of intermarriage in their own family.
“In the past half century, intermarriage has evolved from being illegal, to being taboo, to being merely unusual,” said Paul Taylor, director of the Pew Research Center. “With each passing year, it becomes less unusual. . . . The face of the country is changing, and behaviors are changing with it.”
The study, called “the Rise of Intermarriage,” found patterns that varied by gender, geography and race or ethnicity.
For example, black men were almost three times as likely to marry someone of another race as black women were. Conversely, Asian women were twice as likely to marry outside their race as Asian men were. There was no difference between genders for Hispanics and whites.
In the District, intermarriages account for 19 percent of all newlywed couples, compared to 14 percent in Virginia and 12 percent in Maryland. The only states where intermarriage is more common lie west of the Mississippi River.
But the biggest differences are between different races and ethnicities. The share of whites who marry “out” of their race has more than doubled since 1980, to 9 percent. The percentage of blacks who marry non-blacks has more than tripled, to 17 percent. Asians and Hispanics have the highest rates of intermarriage, with more than a quarter of all Asian newlyweds marrying a non-Asian. But that rate of Hispanics who marry non-Hispanics hasn’t changed since 1980, while the percentage of Asians who intermarry has dipped a bit.
Sociologists and demographers attribute that to four decades of immigration that has increased the pool of Hispanics and Asians who are potential mates.
“Because of the increase of the marriage eligibility pool of Asian Americans, the option of marrying outside in order to have a higher or middle-class lifestyle is much less,” said Larry Shinagawa, director of Asian American studies at the University of Maryland. “You have a higher probability of finding someone of the same ethnic or cultural background.”
Christian Oh, who teaches Asian culture at the State Department, never imagined while growing up that he would marry another Asian.
He came to the United States from South Korea when he was 2, in the early 1970s, so his father could work for his PhD at Iowa State University. It seemed to him at the time that “there were no other Asians in a 400-mile radius” of Ames.