Interracial families subject of three-year study

September 07, 2001

Recent census data confirms that one in 25 families is interracial (one in 10 in California) and trends show increasing acceptance of interracial marriage among the general public. Now a Dartmouth College expert is raising new questions about the multiracial children of these marriages: how do multiracial children define their racial identity, and what effect do their parents' decisions have on this choice?

This summer, Richard Wright embarks on a three-year study to examine the living patterns of the United States' rapidly growing interracial family population. Wright, Professor of Geography and Associate Dean of the Faculty for the Social Sciences at Dartmouth, will analyze how interracial families make choices about where to live and how this decision affects the racial identity of their children.

"This is really the first study of its kind," Wright said. "Researchers have previously looked into how interracial families are formed, but nobody has studied what forces shape the decision to choose one particular residential neighborhood over another and what ultimate effect that choice has on how the children of these families identify themselves."

Wright seeks to understand how race and family dynamics come together to influence where families live and with whom their children identify. Preliminary analysis and theory suggest that factors such as income, class, and the racial identity of parents work together to affect these decisions.

"Geography--the local neighborhood context--is crucial here," Wright said. "The racial makeup of a family affects where a family chooses to live, which in turn affects the race with which the children identify. But this is not the only factor. A family headed by a white and a Latino might choose to live in a white neighborhood because the household income matches that of the average in that locality. This in turn affects the way the children identify racially."

In addition to racial identity, class and socio-economic status play into the equation. A pilot study in Los Angeles found that a wealthy black/white couple are more likely to live in a white area than a poor black/white couple. It follows that black/white children of wealthy couples might be more or less likely to identify themselves as white or black depending on whether they live in a wealthy, black neighborhood or a poor, white one.
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Wright's study is fully funded by the Russell Sage Foundation, one of only two proposals to receive that distinction in the latest funding cycle. The complete title of the study is "'Marrying Out' and Fitting In: Interracial Households, Residential Segregation, and the Identity of Multiracial Children." He will collaborate with colleagues Steven Holloway at the University of Georgia and Mark Ellis at the University of Washington.

Dartmouth College

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