COLUMBUS, OH – Immigration played a key role in
unprecedented declines in interracial and inter-ethnic marriage in the United
States during the 1990s, according to a new sociological study.
findings, published in the February 2007 issue of the American Sociological
in an article titled, “Social Boundaries and Marital Assimilation:
Interpreting Trends in Racial and Ethnic Intermarriage,” suggest that the
growing number of Hispanic and Asian immigrants to the United States has led to
more marriages within these groups, and fewer marriages between members of these
groups and whites.
“These declines in intermarriages are a significant
departure from past trends,” said Zhenchao Qian, co-author of the study and
professor of sociology at Ohio State University. “The decline reflects the
growth in the immigrant population during the 90s; more native-born Asian
Americans and Hispanics are marrying their foreign-born
The study also found that interracial marriages involving
African Americans increased significantly during the 1990s, but still continued
to lag far behind other minorities.
Qian conducted the study with Daniel
Lichter, a professor at Cornell University. The researchers studied U.S. census
data from 1990 and 2000. They examined married couples between the ages of 20 to
34 who identified themselves as whites, African Americans, American Indians,
Asian Americans, Hispanics, or some combination of these groups. Interracial and
inter-ethnic marriages began to increase in the 1970s and continued to grow
through the 1980s, Qian said. Almost all such marriages are between whites and
minorities; very few marriages occur between people of different minority
groups. But the rate of intermarriages began declining in the 1990s,
particularly those involving whites and Asian Americans or Hispanics. This study
was designed in part to find out why.
One theory had been that the rise
of cohabitation was the cause of the decline, and that fewer interracial couples
were marrying because they were more likely to be living together outside of
marriage. However, this study found that is not the case, Qian said.
results showed that recent increases in cohabitation have gone hand-in-hand with
increasing shares of interracial marriages,” he said. For example, with African
American men, intermarriages increased by about three-quarters (from 8.3 percent
to 14.9 percent) over the 1990s, while interracial cohabitation rates grew by
about one half (from 14.7 to 21.9 percent).
“Interracial couples choosing
to cohabitate have not siphoned off couples who would have otherwise married,”
Qian said. “If you look at changes in the 1990s, the bigger picture is really
immigration, especially for Asian Americans and Hispanics. Those are the groups
that had the largest influx of immigrants during the 90s.”
suggests Hispanic and Asian immigrants are likely to marry among themselves. In
addition, more native-born minorities are selecting marriage partners from the
growing pool of immigrants.
The result is that the number of native-born
Hispanic men in intermarriages with whites declined by nearly 4 percentage
points between 1990 and 2000 – from 35.3 percent to 31.9 percent. The number of
native-born Asian American men in intermarriages declined from 50.2 to 45.8
Qian said it is impossible to say if intermarriage trends found
in this study will continue. “It is unclear whether the 1990s represents a
short-term pause in the decades-long upward trend in marital assimilation, or
whether it is the beginning of a new racial divide,” he said.
possible that the continuing influx of immigrants from Asia and Latin America
may continue to slow intermarriage, especially if new groups are segregated from
the majority white population and native-born minorities.”
Sinha, (202) 247-9871, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Jeff Grabmeier, Ohio State
University, (614) 292-8457, email@example.com