Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

What makes us more likely to marry outside our race?

Photo by steena/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Who is marrying whom? This was the question that sociologist Andrew Beveridge answered in a stellar graphic that ran earlier this year in the New York Times as part of a package on the emergence of an increasingly multiracial - though not post-racial - United States.

The graphic illustrated the accompanying rise in interracial and interethnic marriages, which have doubled in this country since 1980. Beveridge, a consultant to the Times, is an ideal expert to document this shift. A professor at Queens College and the City University of New York, Beveridge is also the president and CEO of Social Explorer, an award-winning web application that maps and charts demographic data.

Beveridge discusses not only who is marrying whom, but why and where.

M-A: Intermarriage between racial and ethnic groups has gone up, but the work you've done for the New York Times suggests that some groups are more likely to marry outside their own than others. Most likely to marry out are black Latinos and Native Americans. Next on the list are Asians, particularly women, then white Latinos. Why is this?

Beveridge: Intermarriage has gone way up, but it’s still somewhat minimal, particularly black-white. Asian intermarriage is high and continues high. And with Latinos, it’s more complicated. Ninety-five percent of Mexicans say they are white. (And first generation) Latino and Asian immigrants are nowhere near as likely to intermarry as are second and third generation.

Native Americans, they have been intermarried for years. The Native American out-marriage is so high that Native Americans would have been eliminated if there had been one multi-racial category.

M-A: The data on black Latinos, many of whom are of Caribbean descent, is interesting. Why is it they are more likely to marry out than white Latinos, and who are they marrying?

Beveridge: They probably marry blacks, non-Hispanic blacks. I had a student who was Honduran and black. She also spoke one of the so-called endangered languages, Garifuna. She is a good example. She would be very likely to marry out. Among the Latin American countries, the black-white division is not so stark, it is not a zero-one thing. It is more like a gradation.

It is well known that black Hispanics are very well segregated from white (Hispanics) because of how the real estate market works, and they would mix. The same things goes with white Hispanics. Well-spoken white Hispanics basically become white Europeans. We had a couple  across the street. She is from Caracas (Venezuela) and had blond hair. He is from Palestine. Down the street we had a Puerto Rican married to an Italian.

Hispanics, if they are white, they can just sort of blend in, where blacks never would, never could.

M-A: Are there factors that drive intermarriage among other groups?

Beveridge: With Asians, the thing that drives it is income. Well-off Asians are kind of honorary white, where poor Asians are more likely to be segregated.

M-A: So with all the divisions and segregation that still exists, how is it that multiracial families are on the rise? How do these couples meet, and how has this acceptance come about?

Beveridge: I think what happens is the kids go off to college and the worst possible thing happens. I grew up in the Midwest and there were two brothers, both Jewish, and one of them came back to town. He married a Lutheran girl, and mom went to bed for a month. That is the kind of thing you get.

My impression is that in more recent years, most of the younger people are not into it as much, racial or ethnic identity. They will cross over.

M-A: So where are we headed then? Will we become an increasingly multiracial society in the next few decades?

Beveridge: I think we are going toward a blend. People will cross over. Whites have been marrying out more. They will marry Asians, and Asians will marry whites. With Latinos, the same thing, there will be Latinos marrying whites. The Latino thing is kind of complicated, because you have to overlay on it their socioeconomic background.

If you take a look at the kids under 18, they are much more multi-racial, so something is going on out there. And a lot of people don’t get married, they just have kids these days.

Someone who is definably mixed race, it’s kind of over, isn’t it? Racial purity is over. It’s like with Obama. He is the product of a mixed marriage.

M-A: Are there geographic factors, places where you are more or less likely to find mixed marriages?

Beveridge: The New York Times was running around Alabama (before the 2008 election) talking to people, and they asked this guy, “Wouldn’t you be more likely to vote for Obama because he is partly white?” But he said no, because “that is the mark.” He believed that is the mark of the devil.

So you may have a situation where you have areas like New York or Los Angeles, where people are less into being whatever, and then you’ve got areas (where it’s not like this). These places don’t have intermarriage, so you’ll have people leaving there. If you’re in Oklahoma and you’re gay, you’ll go to New York or San Francisco or L.A. You’ll migrate.

There is plenty of segregation, particularly in the Rust Belt, which NewYork state is part of. But I think that what is going to happen, if you go to a major college now, you are going to run into people who don’t look like you. So you might marry one.

M-A: Black Americans are among the two groups least likely to marry out, according to your research, but they are still more likely to do so than whites. Why?

Beveridge: With black Americans, there is a general problem. Since women in the metros are much better educated than men, they are running out of men to marry. Black males are much less likely to go to college than black females. It is almost two to one. Generally it’s like 50 to 40 percent (women with degrees vs. men with degrees), but for black women it is much higher.

They will probably have a harder time finding a mate in the same race group, so they will marry a white person. But there are not many white men, either. It’s 53 to 47 percent for white people, but women’s education level is higher than that of men, and it is tough. But I do know that there is intermarriage.

M-A: Are there regional differences in who marries whom?

Beveridge: In California, they were doing a census dress rehearsal in Sacramento before 2000, and they were trying to figure out how to release race data. The number of people who said “multi-racial,” was so huge, they gave up. They have all these permutations.

In the southern part of the country, there is very little reported mixed race. In California or New York, reporting is much higher. In the south, you know if you are black or white. They have had some intermarriage in the south, but I’m sure it is going to be in the major metros.

M-A: We've talked about changing attitudes among younger people, but attitudes about interracial marriage among parents, in particular immigrant parents, are another thing. How are younger people getting around this?

Beveridge: If the kids get a foothold here, it's probably a middle ground. If they are close to their family, there will be that. And then they might rebel. There will be a lot more intermarriage, I think.

I think loosening the bonds of parents is important. If you go to a sleep-away college, that will take care of that.