When it comes to finding, choosing, and marrying your forever partner, having the same race and ethnicity appears to be less of a concern today than in previous generations.
The Pew Research Center released a new analysis of 2011-2015 US Census Bureau data that suggests 17% of new marriages these days are between individuals of different races or ethnicities. That's about one in every six couples. These new data reveal a more than five-fold increase in the rate of intermarriage since the latter half of the 20th century.
Why the increase? Today's rates of intermarriage are linked to a 1967 change in regulations that has helped shift social norms, underscoring the importance of institutional policy in affecting social and demographic change. Back in 1967, when approximately 3% of marriages were interracial, the Supreme Court ruled on a landmark civil rights case, Loving vs. Virginia, that individuals could marry—legally in all states—regardless of their race or ethnic origin. Since that time, a steady increase in interracial marriages has been observed, though today's rates vary considerably by geographical region.
Certain areas of the country, including in Hawaii (42%), Fayetteville, NC (30%), and areas of California and Florida (29%) have higher rates of inter-racial marriage, whereas other areas of the country, like Jackson, Mississippi and Asheville, NC have intermarriage rates similar to those rates that were more common in the 60s (3%). In addition, city dwellers are more apt to marry across races (18%) relative to people living in less urban areas (11%).
An analysis of intermarriage—note they considered only certain races (Asian, Black, Hispanic, and White)—showed that 42% of intermarried couples included one Hispanic partner and one White partner. Asian-White marriages were also fairly common (15%). Gender differences also emerged: For example, Black men were more likely to intermarry than Black women.
These analyses are important given the growing diversity of the United States, yet they do not suggest interracial marriages are occurring within entirely supportive contexts and without family or social resistance. On one hand, American attitudes towards interracial marriages appear favorable: Only 11% of Americans report disapproving of interracial marriage, according to 2012 Pew Research data. However, recent experimental research suggests explicit attitudes towards interracial couples are not always mirrored by implicit attitudes. Skinner and Hudac (2017) showed that interracial couples still elicit strong negative implicit reactions. Their work employed multiple methods (including physiological and neural responses and implicit association tasks) and their conclusion—that on average, Americans have negative affective reactions to interracial couples—warrants considerable concern.
Skinner, A. L., & Hudac, C. M. (2017). “Yuck, you disgust me!” Affective bias against interracial couples. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 68, 68-77.