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The Start of Postracial America

Interracial and interethnic partnering rates reach new highs
  • May 06 2012

It wasn’t that long ago that interracial or interethnic marriages were so far out of the American norm that there were even laws against them in some areas. How times are changing.

In the 2010 Census, 10 percent of households (5.4 million couples) were headed by married couples of different races or different Hispanic origin, a 28 percent jump since 2000.

When one looks at unmarried couples living together, the figures rise significantly. Opposite-sex unmarried couples were about twice as likely to have partners of a different race of Hispanic origin (accounting for 18 percent of these households). Among households with same-sex partners, about 21 percent had interracial/interethnic partners.

The most common types of these relationships are clearly couples that include one Hispanic spouse and one non-Hispanic spouse. They accounted for 45 percent of intermarried households in 2010.

Geographically, states in the western and southwestern parts of the country were the most likely to have couples of a different race or ethnicity. These areas also tend to have the highest Hispanic populations. Those states with the highest rates tend to have specific racial make-ups. For instance, Hawaii had the highest rate, most likely because of the high number of native Hawaiians and Asians. Alaska and Oklahoma also had high rates, reflecting the high proportion of American Indian and Alaska Native populations. These state variations tend to be consistent for unmarried couples as well.

There were relatively low percentages of interracial and interethnic marriages in certain geographic clusters. One emerges in a range of states extending from the Gulf Coast states of Mississippi and Alabama through Appalachia to Ohio and Pennsylvania, and another emerges among the New England states of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. States in the South had a history of marriage laws that prohibited marriage between Whites and Blacks that were not repealed until 1967.

Meanwhile, Americans’ attitudes toward interracial marriage have been shifting significantly and the rate of intermarriage is likely to continue to rise. A Pew Research Center analysis from last February found that about 15 percent of all new marriages in 2010 in the U.S. were between spouses of a different race or ethnicity from one another.


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