I got interested in the topic of intermarriage—what was once called “miscegenation”—after reading a brilliant article on the subject by Nathan Glazer in The Public Interest back in 1995. (The magazine’s complete archives are now freely available on-line thanks to National Affairs.) Glazer pointed out that marriage between people of different ethnicities, especially blacks and whites, was the last frontier in racial integration.
After we become ready to work in politics together, to earn our living together, to go to school together, to live together in the same communities, it is not surprising that this increasing togetherness should lead for many to intermarriage. Intermarriage is so crucial a final step because it does more than mark the attraction between two individuals—it marks the highest degree of social acceptance.
To me, this is an exceptionally important and underappreciated idea: that true racial integration can only happen when people are willing to integrate those of other ethnicities into their families.
Unsurprisingly, intermarriage is a signal of how intractable black segregation has been. In his 1995 piece, Glazer cited data that, while 50 percent of American Jews marry outside of their ethnicity, and 30 percent or more do so among Asians and Hispanics, blacks had not: as of the 1980 census, the intermarriage rate for black women was 1.3 percent; the next lowest figure for women was Puerto Rican women, at 21.3 percent.
This, in many ways, was the true symbolic promise of Obama’s presidency: not merely that Obama was the first African-American President, but that he was the son of a white mother and an African father, someone who, in his very existence, was a symbol of racial integration. And yet, there has been little progress on the intermarriage front from 1980: in 2006, the intermarriage rate for black women was 3.7%, and was 8.4% for black men.
In a 1997 piece in National Review, Steve Sailer took a pessimistic take on intermarriage, noting that black men intermarry at much higher rates than black women, and Asian women at much higher rates than Asian men. He contended that these discrepancies cause a number of inter-ethnic tensions that the mainstream media has not grasped:
Black women’s resentment of intermarriage is now a staple of daytime talk shows, hit movies like Waiting to Exhale, and magazine articles. Black novelist Bebe Moore Campbell described her and her tablemates’ reactions upon seeing a black actor enter a restaurant with a blonde: “In unison, we moaned, we groaned, we rolled our eyes heavenward…Then we all shook our heads as we lamented for the 10,000th time the perfidy of black men, and cursed trespassing white women who dared to ‘take our men.’” Like most guys, though, Asian men are reticent about admitting any frustrations in the mating game. But anger over intermarriage is visible on Internet on-line discussion groups for young Asians. The men, featuring an even-greater-than-normal-for-the-Internet concentration of cranky bachelors, accuse the women of racism for dating white guys. For example, “This [dating] disparity is a manifestation of a silent conspiracy by the racist white society and self-hating Asian [nasty word for “women”] to effect the genocide of Asian Americans.” The women retort that the men are racist and sexist for getting sore about it. All they can agree upon is that Media Stereotypes and/or Low Self-Esteem must somehow be at fault.
(More of Sailer’s work on the topic can be found here.)
This brings us to new studies by Daniel Lichter and Julie Carmalt of Cornell and Zhenchao Qian of Ohio State, highlighted in today’s Wall Street Journal, that suggest that intermarriage rates are stagnating or even declining among Hispanics and Asians. Intermarriage among second-generation Hispanic women declined to 16% in 2000 from 22% in the 1990s; among Asian women, the percentage married to white men stayed at about 40% between 1980 and 2008.
“The massive influx of new immigrants from Latin America and Asia has not only fueled the opportunity to marry one’s co-ethnics,” hypothesizes Lichter, “but also revitalized ancestral and cultural identity.” While that could be, a 40% intermarriage rate for Asian women is still quite substantial, where the influx of new immigrants is lower than it is for Hispanics.
Is there a more benign explanation for these disparities than Sailer contends? Are the trends identified by Lichter, Carmalt, and Qian distorted by recent immigration patterns? All in all, this is a subject to pay close attention to.