Study Of Intermarriage Patterns Shows Race Still A Major Factor

April 08, 1998

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- A new study of ethnic and racial intermarriage in the United States finds that the old patterns of "marital homogamy" among European groups have all but disappeared.

That once prevalent pattern whereby people of German descent marry people of German descent, people of Norwegian descent marry people of Norwegian descent, etc., has been nearly entirely replaced by intermarriage.

"Within European groups, intermarriage is the norm rather than the exception, and an indicator of the complete assimilation of these ethnic groups," say researchers Gillian Stevens and Michael Tyler, a sociology professor and a graduate student, respectively, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The sociologists will announce their findings at the Population Association of America conference April 2-4 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Chicago.

In their study, the researchers found, on the other hand, that across racial lines, inter-group marriage in the United States is increasing very slowly relative to the rate of increase experienced by European immigrant groups.

In 1960, about 1 percent of all U.S. marriages were interracial. In 1990, this had increased to just under 3 percent. There have been only slight increases in the intermarriage rates among African Americans and Hispanics, and "the rates have been surprisingly stable among Asians and Asian Americans. Native Americans have shown an increase in rates of intermarriage."

The researchers attribute the slow increase in intermarriage to "structural factors," including the continuing influx of immigrants and persistent racial segregation. "However, these factors fail to explain the lack of increase in African American/non African American intermarriage," they said.

The findings lead the researchers to conclude that "If widespread intermarriage heralds the diminution of race as salient in American life, then the slight upward trend in interracial marriage in general, and in black/non-black intermarriage in particular, provides only a slim reed for concluding that racial considerations are declining in marital preferences and in American lives in general."

The study, which was conducted using U.S. Census data, covered the period from 1960 to 1990. It examined patterns of intermarriage among separate European ancestries and compared them with the patterns of intermarriage between racial and ethnic groups in the contemporary United States. Ethnic and racial intermarriage, Stevens and Tyler argue, has always been an important indicator of the assimilation of immigrant groups into U.S. mainstream culture. Tyler, who will present the findings, is scheduled to speak at 10:30 a.m. on April 4 (Saturday).

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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