Racial and Ethnic Intermarriage in the United States [Interview with Daniel T. Lichter]

Racial and Ethnic Intermarriage in the United States [Interview with Daniel T. Lichter]

Population Reference Bureau

Questions and Answers with:

Daniel T. Lichter, Professor of Policy Analysis and Management and Sociology
Cornell University

Donghui Yu:
Could you please tell us some features of Asian American(partucularly Chinese American)’s intermarriage with other race? Thanks.

Daniel T. Lichter:
Asian women have among the highest rates of interracial marriage in the United States. My colleague, Yujun Wang, has shown with the 2007 American Coummunity Survey that roughly 55 percent of U.S. born Asian women (aged 18-34) married non-Asians, mostly white men. That’s a lot of out-marriage.

Compared with Asian women, Asian men have much lower rates of marriage to whites or other races. My Asian male students sometimes complain that white guys are dating Asian women, but that white women seem uninterested in them. There is lots of debate about why this is the case, and the empirical evidence is too weak to draw strong conclusions. Antecdotal explanations sometimes emphasize cultural definitions of masculinity (e.g., shorter height of Asian men) or gender roles (e.g., perceptions that Asian men may hold patriarchal gender role attitudes). We just don’t have enough hard data on these sorts of questions, which deal with highly sensitive issues that often strike a nerve.

To your last question, Chinese Americans overall have higher rates of outmarriage to whites than some other Asian groups (e.g., Asian Indians or Vietnamese). This probably reflects that fact that they have been in the U.S. for many generations (and a large percentage share common cultural traits of the majority white population, including language). But among recent Chinese immigrants—the first generation—rates of intermarriage are much lower and perhaps lower than in the past. Some of this seems to reflect the recent influx of Chinese with lower education levels from new sending areas(e.g., from Fujian province).

Chinyere Osuji:
Does interracial marriage really demonstrate a blurring of racial boundaries? If so, in what ways can we see this happening? Does this impact the lives of black-white couples? If so, in what ways?

Daniel T. Lichter:
From my perspective, the growth of interracial marriages has definitely blurred racial boundaries in the U.S. In fact, I often think of interracial marriage as the spoon that stirs the “melting pot.” For example, interracial couples bridge the family and social networks of each partner. They span racial boundaries by interacting on both sides of the racial divide and, more importantly, they bring other friends and family members with them. Of course, this assumes that both sides of the racial divide accept the interracial couple, which isn’t always the case.

Also, the mixed race children of interracial couples, by definition, blur the racial line. These children are more likely than single race children to have cross-racial friends and to marry interracially themselves. Most children of black-white couples, however, are still likely to identify themselves as black or African American rather than as mixed-race or some other racial label. President Obama identified himself as black on the 2010 decennial census, even though his mother was white and his father was black…

…Yang Jiang:
Dr Lichter,
How do you think the increase of biracial/multiracial population in the U.S affect the overall interracial marriage rates? Compared to single race counterparts, are they more likely to to inter marry or intra-marry? How should we distinguish inter- vs intra-marriages for biracial/multiracial individuals?

Daniel T. Lichter:
This is a more difficult question to answer than it appears at first blush. On the one hand, mixed-race individuals are more likely to than single-race persons to marry someone other than another mixed-race person. So if mixed-race people are treated as a separate racial category, then this would increase the overall share of interracial marriages in the United States. Zhenchao Qian and I have treated black-white mixed-race persons as black or white or mixed race in separate analyses. In the end, regardless of classification, it doesn’t have much effect on overall rates of racial intermarriage.

This is likely to change in the future. Only 2-3 percent of the population today self-identifies as having more than one race. Of course, many people who self-identify as having only one race (President Obama) may in fact be multi-racial. Is President Obama’s marriage to Michelle Obama interracial? This question makes clear the conceptual challenges of this sort of research and the subjective nature of racial self-identification…

Read the entire interview here….

Tags: , ,