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Race relations

50 years after Loving v. Virginia, more than 1 in 6 new marriages are interracial

Black men twice as likely as black women to marry someone of another race

A half-century after the Supreme Court toppled laws banning interracial marriage, more than 1 in 6 newlyweds and 18 percent of black newlyweds have a spouse of another race.

A report released Thursday by the Pew Research Center documents a steady rise in interracial marriage and the change in social mores that made it possible since the Supreme Court ruled on Loving v. Virginia in 1967.

Back when the high court decided the case, marrying someone of another race often required not just love but also courage: In 1967, 16 states still outlawed interracial marriages, and the Gallup Organization found that fewer than 20 percent of Americans approved of them. But attitudes and behaviors have shifted dramatically. Now, 10 percent of married people in the U.S. have a spouse of a different race or ethnicity, up from just 3 percent in 1967.

“Looking at both actual behavior and attitudes, it is clear that both trends have been moving in the same direction for quite some time,” said Gretchen Livingston, a senior researcher at Pew who wrote the report along with Anna Brown. “I am struck that now we have reached a point where 1 in 10 of all marriages are interracial or interethnic. That is very striking.”

Interracial marriage is most common among Asian-Americans and Hispanics. Their surging populations in the U.S. are the biggest contributors to the overall rise in interracial marriage, the report said. Whites have experienced a sharp increase in intermarriage rates, even though they remain the group least likely to have a spouse of another race. Between 1980 and 2015, the share of white newlyweds who marry outside their race has grown from 4 percent to 11 percent.

About 16 percent of all intermarried couples in the U.S. include a black spouse

Race Percentage of Newlyweds
Hispanic/Multiracial 3%
Hispanic/Asian 3%
White/American Indian 3%
Hispanic/Black 5%
White/Black 11%
White/Multiracial 12%
White/Asian 15%
White/Hispanic 42%

Note: Racial and ethnic combinations with values of less than 2 percent are not shown. Whites, blacks, Asians and American Indians include only non-Hispanics. Hispanics are of any race. Asians include Pacific Islanders. Source: Pew Research Center analysis of 2014-2015 American Community Survey (IPUMS).

The sharpest increase in interracial marriage rates in recent decades has occurred among African-Americans. Since 1980, the percentage of black newlyweds who married someone of a different race or ethnicity has more than tripled from 5 percent to 18 percent. The report defines “newlyweds” as people married within the previous year.

Black men are twice as likely as black women to tie the knot with someone outside their race. Nearly 1 in 4 recently wed black men are in interracial marriages, while 12 percent of newly married black women wed someone who is not black.

Black men are twice as likely as black women to intermarry

Race and Gender Percentage of Newlyweds
White Men 12
White Women 10
Hispanic Men 26
Hispanic Women 28
Black Men 24
Black Women 12
Asian Men 21
Asian Women 36

Note: Whites, blacks and Asians include only non-Hispanics. Hispanics are of any race. Asians include Pacific Islanders. Source: Pew Research Center analysis of 2014-2015 American Community Survey (IPUMS).

There is a similar gender gap among Asian-Americans, as Asian women are far more likely than their male counterparts to intermarry. In 2015, 36 percent of newly wed Asian women had a spouse of a different race, compared with 21 percent of Asian men. Newly wed white and Hispanic men and women are equally likely to marry outside their race, the report found.

The increase in interracial marriages has been accompanied by a sharp shift in attitudes, as Americans have expressed more openness toward interracial relationships.

Even as attitudes toward interracial marriage have liberalized, more people remain opposed to mixed marriages involving African-Americans than those involving other groups. As recently as 1990, 63 percent of adults who are not black said they would at least be somewhat opposed to a relative marrying a black person. Now, that figure is 14 percent.

Just 4 percent of nonwhites object to marrying whites, while roughly 9 percent of non-Asians and non-Hispanics object to interracial marriages with members of those groups.

Overall, the report found that college graduates were slightly more likely to be in an interracial marriage than people who did not finish college.

Among African-American newlyweds, that gap was particularly narrow: 21 percent of black college graduates, 17 percent of blacks with some college and 15 percent of those with a high school diploma or less married non-blacks in 2015, the report said.

By contrast, 46 percent of newlywed Hispanic college graduates tied the knot with someone outside their ethnicity, while just 16 percent of Hispanic newlyweds with a high school diploma or less married a non-Hispanic. Among white newlyweds, there was little difference in intermarriage rates by education: 1 in 10 of those with a high school diploma or less married outside their race, as did 11 percent of those with some college and 12 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree, the report said.

Interracial marriages are more common among newlyweds in metropolitan areas than rural areas, the report said, a finding that tracked attitudes toward interracial marriages in those areas. In urban areas, 45 percent of adults say that more people of different races marrying each other is a good thing, as do 38 percent of those in suburban areas and 24 percent of those in rural areas, the report said.

Pew researchers cautioned that although more Americans are entering interracial marriages and accepting them, it does not mean that the nation is moving toward a “post-racial” reality. Interracial couples and their children often are seen by the world not as multiracial but as part of the race they most look like. And that shapes how they navigate society.

A 2015 Pew survey found that mixed-race people tend not to “exist in a world where they are equally part of both races,” said Juliana Horowitz, associate director of social trends research for Pew.

Those who look black, for example, said they often felt discrimination ranging from trouble getting loans to not feeling equally embraced by both sides of their family, she said.

“Even as there is more acceptance of interracial marriage, there remain different perceptions and experiences in people’s lives,” she said. “Race in this country is not a simple story.”

Michael A. Fletcher is a senior writer at The Undefeated. He is a native New Yorker and longtime Baltimorean who enjoys live music and theater.