More Americans are “marrying out” of their racial, ethnic groups, U-M study finds

March 24, 1997

ANN ARBOR—A new University of Michigan study provides some reason for optimism about the state of racial relations: more Americans are marrying outside of their own racial group than at any time in the past.

For the study, U-M demographer Reynolds Farley analyzed U.S. Census data on marriage between whites, Blacks, American Indians, and native-born Asians and Hispanics.

Farley, a researcher at the U-M Population Studies Center and a professor of sociology, will present the findings March 27 at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America in Washington, D.C.

“In recent years, the proportion of both men and women from all racial groups who ‘marry out,’ meaning out of their racial group, has increased,” says Farley, “and the percent of young Black men who marry white women has increased fairly sharply.

“Just under 10 percent of the Black men who married in the 1980s or 1990s married white women,” he reports, “compared to less than 2 percent of Black men who married in the 1940s or 1950s.”

Throughout this century, a majority of American Indians have married outside their racial group. In recent decades, a majority of Asian-Americans have also married out, but intermarriage is still much less common for Blacks and whites than for Hispanics or Asians.

In the study of married couples, Farley found important gender differences in the rate of intermarriage. Among Asian- Americans, for example, women have married out at a much higher rate than men, but among Blacks, men were much more likely to marry out than women.

Farley identified a number of factors strongly linked to intermarriage. Place of residence made a large difference, with those living in California or Hawaii much more likely to marry out than those living in the South or Midwest. Educational attainment also made a large difference, especially for Blacks. “Black men with college degrees were most likely to marry white women,” notes Farley.

“It’s unclear whether these differences result from differences in racial attitudes and in the willingness to cross racial lines, or whether they are primarily due to demographic differences in the pools of potential marital partners found in various geographical areas and social circles,” says Farley, observing that people select marriage partners from the people they meet on a daily basis.

More influential than either geography or education, however, was recent service in the armed forces. White men who had served in the military were three times as likely to marry Black women as white men who never served. White women who had served in the military were seven times as likely to marry Black men as white women who were lifelong civilians.

The effective racial integration of the military is having the important consequence of breaking down traditional racial dividing lines, Farley points out, since Blacks, whites, Asians and Hispanics who serve in the military are unusually likely to marry outside their own group.

Reynolds FarleyPopulation Association of America