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Asian-American Interracial Marriage in the United States

What are the experiences of Asian-Americans and those they intermarry?

Key points

  • Asian Americans intermarry with other races at a high rate in the United States.
  • The social climate matters: The pandemic changed how some couples process events that affect them.
  • Focusing on the strengths of interracial marriage is important.

Interracial marriage can be difficult for couples as culture, language, and family expectations often clash, sometimes fueled by implicit or explicit bias or racism. Despite challenges, those in interracial marriages often endorse them and find joy in knowing they are part of a wave of the future.

The number of interracial and interethnic marriages is on the rise, with one in ten couples in such marriages in the United States and one in six newlyweds marrying someone of a different race or ethnicity. In 2015, Asians living in the United States were the most likely newlyweds to marry someone of a different race or ethnicity, with 29 percent of newlywed marriages being interracial. For those who identify as Asian and born in the United States as distinct from those Asians living in the United States who immigrated, the intermarriage rate was even higher (46 percent) with Asian women much more likely than Asian men to intermarry (think Yoko Ono who married John Lennon and Elaine Chao, married to Mitch McConnell).

Given the rising intermarried population and the potential challenges they (and their biracial/multiracial children) may face, therapists need an up-to-date understanding of these families’ experiences to better provide treatment and services. We (Haelim Lee, Peiyuan Zhang, Yoonzie Chung, and I) analyzed interviews with more than 30 individuals (Asian Americans who intermarried with White Americans or Black Americans, and white Americans who intermarried with Asian Americans) looking for themes that therapists should be aware of when working with couples seeking help. We acknowledge that we combined Asian Americans from different countries of origin and may have missed some possible further themes by doing so. Further, we did not account for the number of generations an Asian American spouse had lived in the United States, which can have an impact on a potential level of assimilation and acculturation.

Five major themes emerged:

The Social Context Affects Individuals and the Couple

These intermarriages happen in a social context that is important to note. According to the Pew Research Center, the fear of hate crimes in the Asian community is on the rise as is the number. Anti-immigrant narratives and the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated hatreds that, in some cases, are historical throwbacks to past waves of anti-Asian sentiment. Such fears and crimes affect not only the well-being of targeted individuals but also the well-being and functioning of the couple and their children. When out in public, this can manifest itself in overt behavior against the couple or an individual in the couple or in microaggressions.

Implications for therapy: Therapists must stay up to date on the news and how anti-immigrant rhetoric or a targeted hate crime affects clients. These topics must sensitively be brought into the therapy room and inquired about. The country of origin of the client must be taken into account as the history of, for example, Vietnamese coming to the United States and their treatment is different from the treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

White Privilege

While not all the marriages were Asian-American–white American, those that were often discussed the protection that the Asian American spouse garnered through marriage. One woman talked about doing her paper route with her white husband whom she felt would provide her with protection and legitimacy when she was feeling unsafe around others. White men, in particular, were seen as providing privilege. Second- and third-generation Asian Americans were less likely to consider the white spouse’s race a privilege gained through the marriage. Marrying a white person was seen as more of a privilege than marrying a Black person by one of the respondents.

Implications for therapy: Therapists need to be aware of the intersection of gender and race and how they play out for the couple both in the home and when out in public.

Cultural Differences and In-laws

Intermarriage was not always accepted by either of the spouse’s families. Some Asian Americans reported their grandparents or aunts and uncles who were living in their country of origin were unhappy with their marrying a white or Black American and losing family traditions. Communication with extended family members was sometimes problematic when there was a language barrier or a distance with family members living thousands of miles away.

Implications for therapy: Therapists need to understand the unique cultural heritage of each of the partners and give voice to the historical differences that may appear in the room. These differences may drive how connected or loyal one spouse feels to their extended family, which can affect the type of connection the spouses have to each other.

Raising Children

About half of those interviewed were raising children. Recent racial protests had heightened their concerns about how their children would be viewed and treated in society. One parent worried that her child did not fit neatly into any single racial category and was struggling to be accepted in school. Another parent who was about to give birth fretted that her child would not be accepted by her white in-laws as readily as other grandchildren were because of her color.

Implications for therapy: Encouraging communication between parents about their childrearing philosophies around racial socialization is key. This includes helping their child accept their own or a unique identity, one that may be different from either parent yet includes both parents.

Strengths of Interracial Marriage

Couples talked about their marriage being a bellwether for the future, the direction the country and world were heading. One white spouse said, “I have really grown as a person by marrying someone of a different nationality and especially by living in his home country. I have a much broader view of the world.” A parent commented about how his children were more worldly because of their exposure to two cultures.

Implications for therapy: Focusing on the reasons for the intermarriage and the strengths derived from such a union is an important part of treatment. This may include discussion around initial attraction as well as where they see the future of race relations.

These families are part of our future. As therapists, we must examine our own feelings about interracial and inter-ethnic marriage so any biases (conscious or unconscious) that we have do not spill out into the therapy room and impede our competence.


Greif, G. L., Chung, Y, Lee, H., & Zhang, P. (2023). The experiences of Asian Americans who intermarry in the United States: A Qualitative Study. Families in Society. November 23.

Greif, G. L., Lee, H., & Zhang, P. (2024).The Intermarriage of Whites and Asian Americans: Clinical considerations from qualitative interviews.” Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy. 10.1080/15332691.2024.2307046. January 23.

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