Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Puzzle in Racial Intermarriage

Racial intermarriage is rising. The more educated people are the more likely they are to marry across racial lines. Blacks and White are the least likely to marry out of their group, but the numbers of those who do grow year by year. Hispanics (treated as the equivalent of a racial group) and Asian Americans are much more likely to marry out. Whites overwhelmingly marry whites (well above 90%), in part because there are so many more whites than all other groups combined that the great majority of potential partners for white men and women are also white. African Americans are also overwhelmingly (90%+) likely to marry within the group. Hispanics and Asian Americans, by contrast, show much more variation in intermarriage by education.

Moreover, women usually marry men who are more educated than they are. Intermarried couples involving a white partner (the most-studied kind of pairing) usually involves a white woman and a non-white man. In those couples, she typically marries a man more educated than she is.

A student recently brought to class an interesting study from a decade ago by Zhenchao Qian (in Demography, May 1997). His focus was on the overall pattern of racial intermarriage that I describe above, and how that changed from 1980 to 1990 (it got more so). I was struck, though, by this interesting anomaly. For Hispanics, intermarriage goes up significantly as education increases (following the usual pattern). For Asian Americans, though, intermarriage goes down as education increases. This pattern holds for men and women, though to different degrees.

Thus, for Hispanics the intermarriage rates in 1990 were:
Men, less than high school: 24%; college-plus: 36%
Women, less than high school: 22%; college-plus: 38%

For Asian Americans, though, the opposite pattern holds.
Men, less than high school: 100% (very small group; h.s. grads = 79%); college-plus: 48%
Women, less than high school: 86%; college-plus: 67%

Zhenchao Qian does not analyze this anomaly much. And we should not miss the important fact that most Asian American women at all educational levels marry out, as do a majority of Asian American men at the college level and below.

I think what is going on here is that most highly educated people are in a minority in their racial group. They have a more limited pool of similar mates than others in their race do, so are somewhat more likely to look outside the group. Among Asian Americans, though, being highly educated is the norm. Most of the other Asian Americans that highly educated Asian Americans meet are also likely to be highly educated. Sharing both characteristics makes marriage more likely, as well as easier, on the whole.


halifax said...

Well, I bet that you didn't think that you would get that kind of response from yesterday's post, did you?

Gruntled said...

Nope. It reminds me of what happens when I write about polygamy. I meet all kinds of new friends.