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Interracial Dating & Marriage

This page narrows down the discussion of Asian American intermarriage to marriages in which both spouses are "U.S.-Raised": either U.S.-born (the 2nd or later generations) or who immigrated to the U.S. at age 13 or younger (the "1.5" generation). This is a very important distinction because many researchers argue that in analyzing intermarriage rates, we should focus only on those who were raised in the U.S. and socialized within the context of U.S. race relations, rather than immigrants who were already married when they came to the U.S. And as you can see, the numbers between the overall group and just the U.S.-raised can be quite different.


Marriage Patterns Among the 'U.S.-Raised'


Marriage Patterns for Six Largest
Asian American Ethnic Groups (2010)

(Updated Nov. 2011)

Asian Indians

  All Spouses USR + USR or FR USR + USR Only
Men  
Asian Indian 92.5 76.9 62.4
Other Asian 1.5 4.2 4.5
White 4.3 13.3 25.6
Black 0.3 0.9 0.7
Hispanic/Latino 0.8 2.5 3.5
Multiracial & All Others 0.6 2.1 3.4
Population Size (x1000) 701.6 62.1 32.1
 
Women  
Asian Indian 92.9 70.6 52.0
Other Asian 0.9 1.9 2.9
White 4.7 22.6 37.8
Black 0.5 1.8 2.8
Hispanic/Latino 0.4 1.4 2.1
Multiracial & All Others 0.7 1.7 2.4
Population Size (x1000) 691.6 68.3 39.2
 

Chinese

Men  
Chinese 88.8 63.9 53.6
Other Asian 4.8 12.9 14.8
White 5.2 19.2 26.5
Black 0.1 0.1 0.2
Hispanic/Latino 0.7 2.1 2.6
Multiracial & All Others 0.5 1.7 2.3
Population Size (x1000) 707.0 140.8 96.8
 
Women  
Chinese 79.9 52.4 46.1
Other Asian 3.5 9.9 10.4
White 14.5 31.9 37.7
Black 0.3 0.7 0.7
Hispanic/Latino 0.9 2.8 2.8
Multiracial & All Others 0.8 2.3 2.4
Population Size (x1000) 777.9 138.5 112.6
 

Filipinos

Men  
Filipino 85.1 54.2 42.1
Other Asian 2.6 7.1 7.9
White 7.9 24.0 31.8
Black 0.2 1.0 1.4
Hispanic/Latino 2.8 9.0 11.0
Multiracial & All Others 1.4 4.7 5.8
Population Size (x1000) 440.8 99.2 71.3
 
Women  
Filipino 61.6 36.7 29.1
Other Asian 2.6 6.2 6.4
White 27.0 37.2 42.7
Black 2.6 4.0 4.4
Hispanic/Latino 3.7 8.1 8.5
Multiracial & All Others 2.6 7.8 8.9
Population Size (x1000) 608.7 121.0 102.2
 

Japanese

  All Spouses USR + USR or FR USR + USR Only
Men  
Japanese 62.8 54.5 53.8
Other Asian 11.5 14.2 12.2
White 18.8 22.8 25.1
Blacks 0.2 0.3 0.3
Hispanic/Latino 3.3 3.8 3.6
Multiracial & All Others 3.5 4.5 4.9
Population Size (x1000) 151.1 104.7 91.2
 
Women  
Japanese 44.4 48.9 49.3
Other Asian 8.0 12.2 11.0
White 38.1 29.4 29.9
Black 2.1 0.7 0.8
Hispanic/Latino 3.2 3.7 3.9
Multiracial & All Others 4.1 5.1 5.2
Population Size (x1000) 212.6 104.3 99.7
 

Koreans

Men  
Korean 90.4 61.1 44.8
Other Asian 2.9 10.4 13.0
White 5.3 23.1 34.6
Black 0.2 0.8 1.2
Hispanic/Latino 0.9 3.7 5.3
Multiracial & All Others 0.4 0.7 1.1
Population Size (x1000) 265.4 47.8 30.2
 
Women  
Korean 68.1 35.4 24.1
Other Asian 3.6 9.2 9.8
White 24.4 48.4 57.7
Black 1.4 1.6 1.9
Hispanic/Latino 1.3 2.7 3.3
Multiracial & All Others 1.2 2.7 3.3
Population Size (x1000) 351.5 72.6 58.4
 

Vietnamese

Men  
Vietnamese 92.6 71.0 59.0
Other Asian 3.4 11.9 13.7
White 2.8 13.1 21.9
Black 0.0 0.2 0.4
Hispanic/Latino 0.5 2.6 3.3
Multiracial & All Others 0.6 1.3 1.6
Population Size (x1000) 299.7 44.9 26.8
 
Women  
Vietnamese 84.6 56.3 40.6
Other Asian 4.2 11.1 12.2
White 9.4 28.7 41.3
Black 0.2 0.5 0.5
Hispanic/Latino 0.9 2.9 4.5
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

The following table is the same one as on the previous page but the discussion on this page focuses on the "USR + USR Only" model -- those marriages in which both spouses are 1.5 generation or higher. (I'd like to again thank J.J. Huang for tabulating these numbers for me).

In analyzing intermarriage rates, many scholars argue that it is more accurate to focus on this portion of the Asian American population rather than on all Asian Americans because these Asians who were raised in the U.S. constitute the group that is most "at risk" in the statistical sense. That is, having grown up in the U.S., they are immersed in American culture and interracial dynamic, much more so than immigrants who were already married when they came to the U.S.

The results show that, compared to the "All Spouses" or "USR + USR or FR" models, the "USR +USR Only" model show that the U.S.-raised are much more likely to outmarry with either Whites or an Other Asian American (pan-Asian). This makes sense because U.S.-raised Asian Americans are much more likely to have more exposure to and interaction with members of all racial/ethnic groups before marriage than Asian immigrants who came to the U.S. already married.

Specifically, the numbers tell us that within the "USR + USR Only" model, several ethnic/gender groups are more likely to outmarry than to marry endogamously (within their own racial group): Filipino and Korean men, and Chinese, Filipino, and Korean women. In fact, within the USR + URS Only model, Filipino men and Filipino and Korean wives are more likely to be have a White spouse than an endogamous one. Further, this model shows that Korean women have a White intermarriage rate of almost 61%. That may seem unbelievable but in this particular instance, the numbers do not lie.

The summary below lists those Asian ethnic groups that are most and least likely to have each kind of spouse, within the "USR + URS Only" model:

Men/Husbands -- Most / Least Likely to Have a(n) __ Wife:

  • Endogamous -- Most: Asian Indian / Least: Filipinos
  • Other Asian (Pan-Asian) -- Most: Chinese / Least: Asian Indians
  • White -- Most: Koreans / Least: Vietnamese
  • Black -- Most: Filipinos / Least: Chinese
  • Hispanic/Latino -- Most: Filipinos / Least: Chinese
  • Multiracial or Other -- Most: Filipinos / Least: Koreans

Women/Wives -- Most / Least Likely to Have a(n) __ Husband:

  • Endogamous -- Most: Asian Indians / Least: Korean
  • Other Asian (Pan-Asian) -- Most: Vietnamese / Least: Asian Indians
  • White -- Most: Korean / Least: Japanese
  • Black -- Most: Filipino / Least: Vietnamese
  • Hispanic/Latino -- Most: Filipino / Least: Asian Indians
  • Multiracial or Other -- Most: Filipinos / Least: Vietnamese


Can I Trust These Numbers?

At first glance, these statistics may seem rather unbelievable since they tend to show very high levels of intermarriages, especially among Koreans and Filipinos. Many readers will undoubtedly argue that these numbers do not correspond to their own personal experiences and observations. My response is fourfold. First, keep in mind that these numbers are only for marriages in which both spouses are U.S.-raised (as opposed to being first generation). Admittedly, marriages where both are U.S.-raised only represent less than 20% of all marriages involving Asian Americans.

Second, other related research shows that intermarriages are much more common outside of the major urban areas where most young Asian Americans lives. In other words, interracial couples are more likely to be found outside of the major metropolitan areas. Third, of course, you should not just take my word for it. More proof that the statistics presented here are reliable and valid can be found in the following research articles that have already been published in various academic journals across several disciplines. These articles look only at the U.S.-raised (and therefore exclude first generation immigrants) and they all report similar proportions of Asian American intermarriage:

  • Blackwell, Debra L. and Daniel T. Lichter. 2004. "Homogamy among Dating, Cohabitating, and Married Couples." Sociological Quarterly 45:719-37.
  • Fu, Vincent. 2007. "How Many Melting Pots? Intermarriage, Pan Ethnicity, and the Black/Non-Black Divide In the United States." Journal of Comparative Family Studies 38:215-232.
  • Fu, Vincent Kang. 2001. "Racial Intermarriage Pairings." Demography 38:147-159.
  • Hwang, Sean-Shong, Rogelio Saenz, and Benigno E. Aguirre. 1997. "Structural and Assimilationist Explanations of Asian American Intermarriage." Journal of Marriage and the Family 59:758-772.
  • Jacobs, Jerrry A. and Teresa G. Labov. 2002. "Gender Differentials in Intermarriage among Sixteen Racial and Ethnic Groups." Sociological Forum 17:621-646.
  • Kitano, Harry H., W.T. Yeung, L. Chai, and H. Hatanaka. 1984. "Asian-American Interracial Marriage." Journal of Marriage and the Family 46:179-90.
  • Lee, Sharon M. and Monica Boyd. 2008. "Marrying Out: Comparing the Marital and Social Integration of Asians in the US and Canada." Social Science Research 38:311-329.
  • Lee, Sharon and Marilyn Fernandez. 1998. "Trends in Asian American Racial/Ethnic Intermarriage: A Comparison of 1980 and 1990 Census Data." Sociological Perspectives 41:323-42.
  • Lee, Sharon and Keiko Yamanaka. 1990. "Patterns of Asian American Intermarriage and Marital Assimilation." Journal of Comparative Family Studies 21:287-305.
  • Okamoto, Dina G. 2007. "Marrying Out: A Boundary Approach to Understanding the Marital Integration of Asian Americans." Social Science Research 36:1391-1414.
  • Qian, Zhenchao. 1997. "Breaking the Racial Barriers: Variations in Interracial Marriages between 1980 and 1990." Demography 34:263-76.
  • Qian, Zhenchao and Daniel T Lichter. 2007. "Social Boundaries and Marital Assimilation: Interpreting Trends in Racial and Ethnic Intermarriage." American Sociological Review 72:68-94.
  • Qian, Zhenchao and Daniel T. Lichter. 2001. "Measuring Marital Assimilation: Intermarriage among Natives and Immigrants." Social Science Research 30:289-312.
  • Qian, Zhenchao, Sampson Lee Blair, and Stacey Ruf. 2001. "Asian American Interracial and Interethnic Marriages: Differences by Education and Nativity." International Migration Review 35:557-587.
  • Shinagawa, Larry Hajime and Gin Yong Pang. 1996. "Asian American Panethnicity and Intermarriage." Amerasian Journal 22:127-152.
  • Yancey, George. 2002. "Who Dates Interracially: An Examination of the Characteristics of Those Who Have Dated Interracially." Journal of Comparative Family Studies 33:179-90.

Fourth, be sure to read the page that describes the Statistical Methodology and details how these statistics were calculated.

Finally, as supporting evidence, the second table on this page (below) comes from the 2000 Census as well and it shows the percentages of unmarried Asian men and women who are living with members of the opposite sex. Although the Census Bureau aggregated the different Asian ethnic groups into a single "Asian" category, the results of this table basically correspond to the intermarriage results and show that Asian women are much more likely to be living with an opposite sex partner who is White, Black, or Latino, compared to Asian men.

In short, while some may find these statistics surprising, I can assure you that they are valid, accurate, and reliable.


True Love is a Two-Way Street

Whatever the implication, high rates of outmarriages to another Asian of a different ethnicity or in particular, to Whites, has led many sociologists and psychologists to analyze why Asian Americans choose to intermarry with Whites. One theory emphasizes that marrying a White person is the ultimate form of assimilation (see the article on "Assimilation and Ethnic Identity") and signifies full acceptance by White society.

 Unmarried Asian Men Living with . . .
  Asians 63.4
  Whites 26.5
  Blacks 1.0
  Hispanics/Latinos 5.5
 Unmarried Asian Women Living with . . .
  Asians 45.2
  Whites 39.7
  Blacks 5.0
  Hispanics/Latinos 5.8
 Source: 2000 Census (Table 2)

Therefore, an Asian American may marry a White person because s/he (consciously or unconsciously) wants to be fully accepted in White society. However, to many people, this theory sounds rather condescending since it presumes that the only reason why an Asian American would marry a White would be to fulfill a need for acceptance.

The related theory of hypergamy would also suggest that Asian Americans marry Whites to increase their social status, since Whites generally occupy the highest socio-cultural position in the U.S.'s racial hierarchy. In other words, even if a working-class Asian American marries another working-class White, her social status will still improve, compared to if she married someone else in her ethnic group or even another Asian.

The other issue that comes into play here is how Asian women are frequently fetishized. Historically, it was very common for Asian women to be portrayed as docile, subservient, exotic, mysterious, and/or seductive. These images can be traced back to Chinese prostitutes who were "imported" into the U.S. back in the 1800s and through the prevalence of "war brides" (Asian women marrying U.S. military servicemen) after World War 2, and these images are constantly reinforced and perpetuated in the media.

Another theory argues that, due to the Women's Rights and feminist movements in recent decades, some White men now find White women to be too independent and strong-willed. As such, these men may consciously or unconsciously perceive Asian women to fit the more traditional docile and subservient wife role. Combined with the cultural stereotypes or fetish of Asian women, many scholars argue these can be some factors that affect why many males (particularly White males) are attracted to Asian women. In this sense, Asian women are not seen as equal partners but rather, as sexual objects to be controlled and used by the male.

Asian and White couple © Getty Images

These critics point out that in most areas of popular American culture, rarely do you see the opposite happening -- Asian males being the subjects of infatuation or sexual desire by White women. In fact, these critics point out that Asian males have been and continue to be purposely portrayed as non-sexual martial arts experts, nerds and geeks, or evil villains and that this portrayal serves to eliminate Asian males as potential rivals to White males for the affection of Asian women. These critics also note that it is the saddest irony when Asian women either allow themselves to be objectified and fetishized or when they buy into and accept these demeaning portrayals of Asian men and eliminate them as potential partners.

As one particularly stark example of the "cultural penalty" that many Asian American men face when it comes to dating and overcoming the cultural stereotypes against them, a team of economists at MIT recently analyzed the dating preferences of users of online dating sites (PDF of the study, 1.5mb). In Table 5.6 (page 49) of the study, they found that when it came to the dating preferences of White women, their first preference was to date a White man, which is not suprising nor uncommon. But their data showed that the White women in the study would also consider dating men or color, but only if he made more money than a comparable White man, as follows:

  • Latino American men: + $77,000
  • African American men: + $154,000
  • Asian American men: + $246,000

As I noted, these theories and criticisms can sound rather one-sided. However painful or grating they may be, it is necessary for us to look at how both Asian American men and women can become the targets of objectification and how this reinforces and perpetuates ethnic stereotypes against both. Fortunately, that is not always the story for many, even most interracial relationships.

What these criticisms don't mention is why Asian Americans sometimes marry within their ethnic group. Sometimes, particularly for young Asian immigrant women, they are pressured or forced into marrying within their own ethnic group by family members and cultural traditions. These critiques also don't point out that patriarchy and sexism still exists within many elements of traditional Asian culture. In other words, these outdated beliefs can be very restrictive and stifling when it comes to the range of options Asian women have in choosing a marriage partner. Most people would probably agree that viewing women as merely possessions to be controlled on the part of men, whether they're White, Asian, or whatever else, is not going to win the hearts of many women, Asian or otherwise.

Further, when the primary motivation for such cross-racial unions (involving whatever racial/ethnic combinations) include love, individual compatibility, and perhaps the desire to broaden the exposure and acceptance of Asian/Asian American culture to the rest of mainstream society, interracial dating and marriage can in fact be a very powerful force for greater acceptance and equality across racial/ethnic groups in American society.

The point is, dating and marriage decisions can be complicated but they don't have to be. It's hard enough to find a person with whom you are completely compatible. When you find that person, his/her race may be one consideration but in the end, I think most people would agree with me that love, a true appreciation of their similarities and differences, mutual respect, and genuine equality are the most important factors.


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Author Citation

Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Interracial Dating & Marriage: U.S.-Raised Asian Americans" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/interracial2.shtml> ().


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