More Americans Are Marrying Outside Their Race

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A report from the Pew Hispanic Center found that one in seven new U.S. marriages is interracial or interethnic. Marta Tienda, a sociologist at Princeton University, talks to Renee Montagne about the high rate of intermarriage among Hispanics in the U.S., and what that means for the way the country is changing.


America's multi-racial population is soaring. In the last decade, the number of children who belonged to more than one race jumped almost 50 percent. The overwhelming majority of Americans still describe themselves as one race only, but the 2010 census says many millions are intermarrying people from other ethnic or racial groups, known also as out-marrying. Marta Tienda is a professor of sociology at Princeton University who specializes in population research.

Good morning.

Professor MARTA TIENDA (Princeton University, sociology): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: There has historically been a cultural stigma against intermarriage between races and ethnicities. But a recent report from the Pew Hispanic Center found that one in seven new U.S. marriages is interracial or interethnic. What does that say about how our views have changed?

Prof. TIENDA: Well, first about our views, there's no question that in attitude surveys the reported social distance that individuals indicate has declined. So, would you be willing to sit next to someone on a bus? Would you be willing to have somebody move into your neighborhood of a different race or ethnicity? There is an increase in tolerance and understanding as the diversification of the population increases. The Pew report looks at new marriages. Intermarriage was considerably much on the rise.

MIONTAGNE: You have looked at intermarriage closely among the Hispanic population. How much does class have to do with it?

Prof. TIENDA: When individuals pick a partner they have several criteria, and one of them is education. Education serves as a proxy for wealth or well-being, or economic status. Partners meet different individuals that they might not have met at their own neighborhoods or localities, so it increases the spread of social interaction patterns. One of the key factors here, though, is nativity, where individuals were born. Were they born in this country or were they born abroad?

MONTAGNE: And what is the difference?

Prof. TIENDA: People born abroad are much more likely to marry within their own group. So they're less likely to engage in intermarriages. But that also differs by whether they're in their first marriage or current marriages. It turns out that those marriages that involve members of different race or ethnics groups are more likely to dissolve.

MONTAGNE: Well, just finally, gender patterns vary widely in intermarriage. Many more black men out-marry than black women. Among Asians the gender pattern runs the other way. But there are no gender differences among whites and Hispanics in intermarriage rate. Why not?

Prof. TIENDA: Well, one of the reasons is that Hispanicity is a much more blurry boundary. Eighty percent of the white intermarriages that occur are with Hispanics. And the majority of Hispanics are white. Over time, as the Hispanic migration - Latin America migration to the U.S. has increased the Hispanic population, then Hispanicity has been more problematized as a racial and ethnic boundary. But it still is - it's much more permeable in every possible way, compared with the Asian boundary and the black boundaries. So racial boundaries, oftentimes, cannot be turned on and off.

MONTAGNE: Marta Tienda co-wrote the book "Hispanics and the Future of America." She's a professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton. Thanks very much for joining us.

Prof. TIENDA: Thank you, it's been my pleasure.

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