One of the most public manifestations of race is the choice of one's partner or spouse. This very individual and personal aspect can sometimes produce a lot of public discussion. Studies consistently show that Asian Americans have some of the highest "intermarriage" (also known as "outmarriage") rates among racial/ethnic minorities -- marrying someone else outside of their own ethnic group. But as always, there's more to the story than just the headline.
The Public and Private Sides of Ethnicity
Whether it's dating or marrying someone of a different race, interracial relationships are not a new phenomenon among Asian Americans. When the first Filipino and Chinese workers came to the U.S. in the 1700 and 1800s, they were almost exclusively men. A few of them eventually married women in the U.S. who were not Asian. However, many people soon saw Asian intermarriage with Whites as a threat to American society. Therefore, anti-miscegenation laws were passed that prohibited Asians from marrying Whites.
|Marriage Patterns for Six Largest|
Asian American Ethnic Groups (2010)
(Updated Nov. 2011)
|Multiracial & All Others||0.6||2.1||3.4|
|Population Size (x1000)||701.6||62.1||32.1|
|Asian Indian||92.9||70.6||52.0||Other Asian||0.9||1.9||2.9|
|Multiracial & All Others||0.7||1.7||2.4|
|Population Size (x1000)||691.6||68.3||39.2|
|Multiracial & All Others||0.5||1.7||2.3|
|Population Size (x1000)||707.0||140.8||96.8|
|Multiracial & All Others||0.8||2.3||2.4|
|Population Size (x1000)||777.9||138.5||112.6|
|Multiracial & All Others||1.4||4.7||5.8|
|Population Size (x1000)||440.8||99.2||71.3|
|Multiracial & All Others||2.6||7.8||8.9|
|Population Size (x1000)||608.7||121.0||102.2|
|Multiracial & All Others||3.5||4.5||4.9|
|Population Size (x1000)||151.1||104.7||91.2|
|Multiracial & All Others||4.1||5.1||5.2|
|Population Size (x1000)||212.6||104.3||99.7|
|Multiracial & All Others||0.4||0.7||1.1|
|Population Size (x1000)||265.4||47.8||30.2|
|Multiracial & All Others||1.2||2.7||3.3|
|Population Size (x1000)||351.5||72.6||58.4|
|Multiracial & All Others||0.6||1.3||1.6|
|Population Size (x1000)||299.7||44.9||26.8|
|Multiracial & All Others||0.7||0.5||0.8|
|Population Size (x1000)||323.6||54.4||35.0|
|USR = U.S.-Raised (1.5 generation or higher)|
FR = Foreign-Raised (1st generation)
"USR + USR or FR" = Spouse 1 is USR while Spouse 2 can be USR or FR
"USR + USR Only" = Both spouses are USR
Methodology used to tabulate these statistics
History shows that these anti-miscegenation laws were very common in the U.S. They were first passed in the 1600s to prevent freed Black slaves from marrying Whites and the biracial children of White slave owners and African slaves from inheriting property. It was not until 1967, during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Loving v. Virginia case that such laws were unconstitutional. At that time, 38 states in the U.S. had formal laws on their books that prohibited non-Whites from marrying Whites. As suc, one could argue that it's only been in recent years that interracial marriages have become common in American society.
Of course, anti-miscegenation laws were part of a larger anti-Asian movement that eventually led to the Page Law of 1875 that effectively almost eliminated Chinese women from immigrating ot the U.S., the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, and other restrictive regulations. These laws actually made the situation worse because Asian men were no longer able to bring their wives over to the U.S. So in a way, those who wanted to become married had no other choice but to socialize with non-Asians.
After World War II however, the gender dynamics of this interracial process flip-flopped. U.S. servicemen who fought and were stationed overseas in Asian countries began coming home with Asian "war brides." Data show that from 1945 into the 1970s, thousands of young women from China, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and later Viet Nam came to the U.S. as war brides each year. Further, after the passage of the 1965 Immigration Act, many of these Asian war brides eventually helped to expand the Asian American community by sponsoring their family and other relatives to immigrate to the U.S.
These days, Asian Americans in interracial relationships are very common. One of the best research articles on this topic is a study conducted by Shinagawa and Pang entitled "Asian American Panethnicity and Intermarriage," reprinted in the highly recommended Asian Americans: Experiences and Perspectives. Similar in structure to their study, my colleague J.J. Huang and I have analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau to construct the following table on marriage patterns among Asian Americans.
How to Read and Understand the Table
Using data from the 2010 Census (updated Nov. 2011), the table shows the percentage of the six largest Asian ethnic groups who are married either endogamously (within their ethnic group), to another Asian (outside their ethnic group), or to someone who is White, Black, Hispanic/Latino, or someone who is Mixed-Race/Multiracial, by husbands and wives. The other major component of the table is that it presents different numbers depending on which statistical model is used.
That is, the specific numbers for each ethnic group vary depending on how you measure "intermarriage." The different models are:
- All Spouses: This model include all marriages that involve at least one Asian American. The benefit of this approach is that you get a complete picture of all marriages involving Asian Americans. The drawback is that since most married Asian Americans are immigrants, many of them got married in their home countries before immigrating to the U.S. -- i.e., they came to the U.S. already married.
- USR + USR or FR: USR stands for "U.S.-Raised," or those who are either born in the U.S. (the 2nd generation or higher) or came to the U.S. at age 13 or younger (the '1.5 generation'), while FR stands for "Foreign-Raised," the 1st generation (those who came to the U.S. at age 14 or older). In this model, the 'subject' spouse (either the man or the woman) is USR, but his/her spouse can be either USR or FR. This model narrows down the sample somewhat by trying to exclude those who were already married when they arrived in the U.S.
- USR + USR Only: This model includes only marriages in which both spouses are U.S.-raised. This has the advantage of including only those who were raised and socialized within American society and its racial dynamics. It is this U.S.-raised population that best represents young Asian Americans, since they are the ones who have the most exposure to prevailing American cultural images and media. The drawback of this model is that by focusing exclusively on the U.S.-raised (who only represent about one quarter of all marriages involving Asian Americans), it may overemphasize and "over-highlight" instances of outmarriage among Asian Americans.
I present these three models to give you, the reader, the opportunity to decide for yourself which model best represents the "true" picture of marriage among Asian Americans. You should understand that each model has its strengths and weaknesses and as you can see, each produces some very different numbers. If you would like to read about the exact procedure J.J. Huang and I used to calculate these numbers, visit the Statistical Methodology page.
These are certainly a lot of numbers to consider and as I mentioned above, each model presents a different proportion. Nonetheless, what these stats tell us is that generally speaking, across all three models (calculated by using the admittedly unscientific method of averaging the proportions across all three models to emphasize the last two models), these are the Asian ethnic groups are most or least likely to have each kind of spouse:
Men/Husbands -- Most / Least Likely to Have a(n) __ Wife:
- Endogamous -- Most: Asian Indian / Least: Japanese
- Other Asian (Pan-Asian) -- Most: Japanese / Least: Asian Indian
- White -- Most: Japanese / Least: Vietnamese
- Black -- Most: Filipinos / Least: Chinese
- Hispanic/Latino -- Most: Filipinos / Least: Chinese
- Multiracial or Other -- Most: Japanese / Least: Koreans
Women/Wives -- Most / Least Likely to Have a(n) __ Husband:
- Endogamous -- Most: Asian Indian / Least: Filipinos/Koreans (tied)
- Other Asian (Pan-Asian) -- Most: Japanese / Least: Asian Indians
- White -- Most: Korean / Least: Asian Indian
- Black -- Most: Filipinos / Least: Vietnamese
- Hispanic/Latino -- Most: Filipinos / Least: Asian Indian
- Multiracial or Other -- Most: Filipinos / Least: Vietnamese
Recent Trends and Developments
The numbers presented above only represent a 'cross sectional' look at racial/ethnic marriage patterns involving Asian Americans. In other words, they only represent a 'snapshot' look using the latest data from 2010. Nonetheless, it is important to recognize that such marriage patterns have evolved and changed over time. In order to get a closer look at recent trends, we can compare these numbers to data from the 2006 Census.
In comparing the 2010 data to the 2006 numbers, there are a few notable trends we can observe:
- Consistently, rates of marriages involving Asian Americans and Whites have declined. Specifically, among those marriages in which both spouses are U.S.-raised, for five of the six Asian American ethnic groups, the rates of interracial marriage to a White spouse for both men and women have declined from 2006 to 2010. Among men/husbands, the largest decline involved Asian Indians and Koreans. For women/wives, the largest decline was for Filipinos and Koreans.
- The only exceptions to this trend of declining rates of White-Asian marriages were for Asian Indian women/wives (whose rate slightly increased from 2006 to 2010) and for both Vietnamese men/husbands and women/wives. For Vietnamese men, their rates of marriage to a White wife increased from 15.0% to 21.9% while for Vietnamese women, their rate for having a White husband jumped from 28.3% to 41.3%.
- Strangely, the sample population sizes for U.S.-raised married Vietnamese American men and women have declined from 2006 to 2010. For example, in 2006, there were about 40,500 and 45,200 U.S.-raised Vietnamese men and women respectively who were married. In 2010, those numbers declined to 26,795 and 34,998. Some possible explanations are that many who were married in 2006 got divorced, U.S.-raised Vietnamese men and women are delaying getting married, and/or many U.S.-raised Vietnamese have changed their ethnic identity to some other ethnic group, such as Chinese or Hmong.
- In contrast to the declining rates of Asian-White marriages, the rates for Pan-Asian/Other Asian marriages have increased notably from 2006 to 2010 (having a spouse of a different Asian ethnicity). This increase was almost universal across all six ethnic groups and for both genders (the only exception was for Filipino women). Among U.S.-raised men/husbands, Vietnamese Americans experienced the biggest increases in having a pan-Asian spouse -- from 5.8% in 2006 to 13.7% in 2010 for men and from 7.8% to12.2% for women/wives.
Now that we have a general picture of what the marriage rates are for all members of each of these six Asian American ethnic groups, on the next page we will take a more specific look at only those Asian Americans who grew up in the U.S. and are therefore most likely to have been socialized within the context of U.S. racial landscape and intergroup relations -- the U.S.-born and those who immigrated to the U.S. as children.
Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved.
Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Interracial Dating & Marriage" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/interracial.shtml> ().
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