Interracial Marriage and Divorce

Divorce rates among interracial couples are slightly higher than divorce rates among same-race couples, but interracial marriages in the United States have climbed to 4.8 million – a record 1 in 12 – as a steady flow of new Asian and Hispanic immigrants expands the pool of prospective spouses. Blacks are now substantially more likely than before to marry whites.

Minorities, young adults, the higher educated and those living in Western or Northeast states were more likely to say mixed marriages are a change for the better for society.

Minorities, young adults, the higher educated and those living in Western or Northeast states were more likely to say mixed marriages are a change for the better for society.

In 2002, the Center for Disease Control published statistics about divorce rates that showed interracial marriages were more likely to end in divorce than same-ethnic marriages — 41 percent versus 31 percent.

Interracial couples may grapple with different cultural assumptions and expectations so integrated into their lives that they’re not aware of them on top of all the usual marriage adjustments and stresses. Working through these differences can be challenging. Avoiding the risk factors associated with interracial divorce can help create a successful marriage. Within an existing marriage, interracial couples can overcome differences inherent to their backgrounds, cultures and races.

One census study found that interracial couples that married young were more likely to divorce than interracial couples that married later. However, data from The Center for Disease Control in 2002 states that divorce is more likely for all couples when the bride is younger than age 18. Forty-eight percent of brides married before age 18 were divorced 10 years later compared to 24 percent of brides married at age 25 or older.

Interracial unions and the mixed-race children they produce challenge typical notions of race, according to a Pew Research Center study detailing the diversification of America. Says sociologist Dan Lichter of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., “This is a movement toward a post-racial society, but most social scientists would agree we’re a long way from a colorblind or post-racial society…Race is still a category that separates and divides us,” but “this might be evidence that some of the historical boundaries that separate the races are breaking down,” Lichter says. “The rise in interracial marriage indicates that race relations have improved over the past quarter century,” says Lichter, a sociology professor. “Mixed-race children have blurred America’s color line. They often interact with others on either side of the racial divide and frequently serve as brokers between friends and family members of different racial backgrounds,” he said. “But America still has a long way to go.”

While overall interracial marriages have less duration than same-race marriages, some of the studies concluded that factors such as educational level and the age at marriage had more bearing on the stability of these marriages than the racial differences of the individuals. (As educational level goes up, the likelihood divorce goes down, and marriages occurring earlier in life are more likely to end in divorce).

Moreover, members of interracial pairings are more likely to have traits correlated with a higher probability of divorce. However, these studies failed to account for gender in connection with the race of each individual in interracial marriages. A recent study published by the National Council on Family Relations (NCFR) explored this aspect in interracial couples in the United States. Using data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth, the study analyzed almost 6,000 men and women between the ages of 15-44 who had never been married, over a period of ten years. The study found that:

> Marriages between a black husband and white wife were twice as likely to divorce as marriages involving a white husband and white wife. When adjusted for background aspects such as age at marriage and educational level, differences between black male/white female marriages and white male/white female marriages virtually disappeared in some cases. This suggests that, contrary to prior findings, the higher rate of interracial divorce between black male/white female marriages is not due to background factors.

  •  Asian male/white female marriages were 59 percent more likely to end in divorce than white male/white female marriages.
  • Marriages involving a white husband and black wife were substantially less likely to end in divorce than marriage involving a white husband and white wife; the former pairing’s divorce rate was 44 percent less than the latter.
  • A white husband and Asian wife were 4 percent more likely to end in divorce than marriages involving a white husband and white wife.
  • Hispanic white/non-Hispanic white and Asian/white marriages were more liable to divorce than those of Hispanic whites and Asians.
  • Marriages including a black husband and white wife were more prone to divorce than those composed of black husbands and black wives. Black male/white female couples also had the highest likelihood of divorce of all white/non-white marriages.
  • While interracial marriage correlates to a higher rate of divorce, this parallel applies mainly to marriages involving a non-white male and white female.

This study seems to both contradict and confirm popular beliefs about gender, race and marriage. Divorce determinants within an interracial marriage make it more likely that a couple will divorce. These determinants include cohabitation before marriage, having grown up in single-parent homes, lack of religion, previous marriages and childlessness. Each of these factors makes divorce more likely for the interracial couple. Marrying between the ages of 21 and 49, the woman having been foreign born and a higher level of education are factors that reduce the rate of divorce for interracial couples.

The Pew study finds that 8.4 percent of all current U.S. marriages are interracial, up from 3.2 percent in 1980. While Hispanics and Asians remain the most likely, as in previous decades, to marry outside of their race. States in the West where Asian and Hispanic immigrants are more numerous, including Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico and California, were among the most likely to have couples who “marry out” – more than 1 in 5. The South, Northeast and Midwest followed the West. By state, mostly white Vermont had the lowest rate of intermarriage, at 4 percent. In all, more than 15 percent of new marriages in 2010 were interracial.

The numbers also coincide with Pew survey data showing greater public acceptance of mixed marriage, coming nearly half a century after the Supreme Court in 1967 barred race-based restrictions on marriage. About 83 percent of Americans say it is “all right for blacks and whites to date each other,” up from 48 percent in 1987. As a whole, about 63 percent of those surveyed say it “would be fine” if a family member were to marry outside their own race.

Minorities, young adults, the higher educated and those living in Western or Northeast states were more likely to say mixed marriages are a change for the better for society. The figure was 61 percent for 18- to 29-year-olds, for instance, compared to 28 percent for those 65 and older.

Due to increasing interracial marriages, multiracial Americans are a small but fast-growing demographic group, making up about 9 million, or 8 percent of the minority population. Together with blacks, Hispanics and Asians, the Census Bureau estimates they collectively will represent a majority of the U.S. population by mid-century.

“Race is a social construct; race isn’t real,” said Jonathan Brent, 28. The son of a white father and Japanese-American mother, Brent helped organize multiracial groups in southern California and believes his background helps him understand situations from different perspectives.

Brent, now a lawyer in Charlottesville, Va., says at varying points in his life he has identified with being white, Japanese and more recently as someone of mixed ethnic background. He doesn’t feel constrained with whom he socially interacts or dates.

“Race is becoming a personal thing. It is what I feel like I am,” he said.

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