Racial patterns of dating and marriage

Looking beyond newlyweds, 6. Some racial groups are more likely to intermarry than others. The overall numbers mask significant gender gaps within some racial groups.

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Among blacks, men are much more likely than women to marry someone of a different race. Fully a quarter of black men who got married in married someone who was not black. For Asians, the gender pattern goes in the opposite direction: Asian women are much more likely than Asian men to marry someone of a different race. American Indians have the highest interracial marriage rate among all single-race groups. While intermarriage is associated with higher education levels for Hispanics and blacks, this is not the case among Asian newlyweds.

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This pattern reflects dramatic changes since Asian newlyweds with some college are somewhat less likely to be immigrants, and this may contribute to the higher rates of intermarriage for this group. There are sizable gender gaps in intermarriage across all education levels among recently married Asians, with the biggest proportional gap occurring among those with a high school diploma or less. Among white newlyweds, the likelihood of intermarrying is fairly similar regardless of education level. The lower rate of intermarriage among older newlyweds in is largely attributable to a lower rate among women.

Among recently married men, however, intermarriage did not vary substantially by age.

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Intermarriage varies little by age for white and Hispanic newlyweds, but more striking patterns emerge among black and Asian newlyweds. Among Asian newlyweds, a different pattern emerges. A closer look at intermarriage among Asian newlyweds reveals that the overall age pattern of intermarriage — with the highest rates among those in their 40s — is driven largely by the dramatic age differences in intermarriage among newly married Asian women.

Though the overall rate of intermarriage does not differ markedly by age among white newlyweds, a gender gap emerges at older ages. A similar gender gap in intermarriage emerges at older ages for Hispanic newlyweds. Among black newlyweds, men are consistently more likely than women to intermarry at all ages. There are likely many reasons that intermarriage is more common in metro areas than in more rural areas.

Attitudinal differences may play a role. Another factor is the difference in the racial and ethnic composition of each type of area. At the same time, metro areas have larger shares of Hispanics and Asians, who have very high rates of intermarriage. The link between place of residence and intermarriage varies dramatically for different racial and ethnic groups. The increased racial and ethnic diversity of metro areas means that the supply of potential spouses, too, will likely be more diverse. This fact may contribute to the higher rates of intermarriage for white metro area newlyweds, since the marriage market includes a relatively larger share of people who are nonwhite.

Indeed, recently married whites are the only major group for which intermarriage is higher in metro areas. The same holds true among Hispanics. That intermarriage patterns vary by gender becomes apparent when looking at a more detailed profile of intermarried couples that identifies the race or ethnicity of the husband separately from the race or ethnicity of the wife. These explanations are rooted in classic demographic arguments about the affordability of marriage and about imbalances in the numbers of men and women available for marriage.

Among men aged 16—24 the racial disparity was even greater, with the unemployment rate for black men three times that of white men. Overall, black men are seven times more likely than white men to be incarcerated. Between and , employed blacks saw real increases in wages relative to whites, partly due to increases in their educational attainment and partly because returns to education also increased.

Not all black men were reaping the benefits of increasing opportunity that came via civil rights legislation. Other explanations for the black-white marriage gap focus on additional constraints on the availability of partners for black women. For example, women tend to marry partners who have accumulated at least as much schooling as they have.

But the education gap between men and women is larger for blacks, making this constraint particularly important for black women. Moreover, rates of intermarriage among blacks differ substantially by gender. Thus the specialization model suggests that marriage rates should be lower for blacks. Although family scholars are quick to point out that black marriages have historically been less characterized by specialization, considerable evidence suggests that the expectation that men will provide for their families economically is strong across groups.

Marriage rates fell, while the female-to-male wage ratio remained similar across time. Consequently, the sources of racial inequality likely vary by social class. If rising unemployment and incarceration among black men fully explained the racial gap in marriage, we would expect racial differences in marriage among people with the same level of education to be small; we would also expect such differences to be concentrated among economically disadvantaged blacks.

After all, black men without any college education were affected most by both trends. For example, among college-graduate women in , 71 percent of blacks had ever married, compared to 88 percent of whites see table 3. Moreover, while we see differences by education in the proportion of black women in their early 40s who have ever married, there are no clear educational differences among white women.

We see a similar pattern in the proportion of men who have ever married, although data from show some evidence that white men with a high school degree or less are moving away from marriage. Here we see signs that white women with a high school degree or less are beginning to retreat from marriage. In fact, marriage rates for college-educated white women in their late 20s and early 30s are higher than those for white women with less education at any age.

Their higher marriage rates persist through the peak marrying ages, until their mids. Rates are calculated as the number of marriages per 1, unmarried women. In , the likelihood that ever-married white women were currently married in their early 40s was much lower among the least educated than among the most educated This reflects growing socioeconomic differences in divorce risk, which have also been documented elsewhere.

Back in , there was no clear relationship between educational level and the likelihood that ever-married white women would be currently married at midlife see table 4. The story is quite different for black women. Though table 4 again shows that stable marriage is lower overall among ever-married black women than among ever-married white women, within each educational group, marital instability increased earlier and more dramatically among black women with a high school degree or less.

Even in , ever-married black women with low levels of education were less likely than the relatively more educated to be married at midlife. To summarize, increases in divorce preceded declines in marriage, beginning first among the most disadvantaged blacks. Whites and blacks of all classes have experienced delays in marriage, but declines in the proportion who have ever married at age 40—44 also appeared first for blacks with low levels of education.

By , we began to see an educational divergence in family patterns for whites.

First, the college-educated saw declines in divorce, while those without college maintained high levels of divorce. More recently, whites with the lowest levels of education are beginning to experience delays in marriage relative to college-educated women, and an increasing proportion are likely to never marry.

Black-white differences in marriage appear at all levels of education, suggesting that something more than class status is at play. Among black women, and more recently among white women, lower levels of education have become associated with higher levels of divorce and declines in marriage. This increasing connection between education and the formation of stable families suggests that the structural forces that generate racial differences in marriage and marital stability might vary across different educational groups. Because unemployment and incarceration are highest among black men who are disadvantaged to begin with, we would expect these factors to suppress marriage rates most strongly among poor and working-class black women.

Another possibility is that both middle-class black men and middle-class black women have more trouble finding spouses because their social worlds consist mostly of people who are not likely to connect them to potential mates. Marriages between black people and people of other races continue to be rare. Finally, many studies have documented important racial differences in the economic returns to schooling.

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As young adults, black men have more trouble transitioning into stable full-time employment than white men do, and this racial difference is particularly pronounced among men with lower levels of education. In early adulthood, even college-educated black men earn less than white men, however. But a difficult transition to stable employment is an even greater barrier to marriage for black men than it is for white men.

For example, home ownership is less likely to lead to wealth among blacks than among whites, because of high levels of residential segregation and a general reluctance among whites to live near blacks. They are also less likely to be able to rely on their parents for support during rough times. Research shows that differences in wealth can account for some of the racial gap in marriage, especially among men.

In sum, differences in employment, earnings, and wealth might account for a sizeable portion of the contemporary racial gap in marriage. Another puzzle is that Hispanic marriage patterns more closely resemble those of whites than those of blacks, despite the fact that Hispanic and black Americans face similar levels of economic disadvantage. Compared to whites, black women and especially men are less likely to say they want to marry, but so are Hispanic women.

Exposure to economic disadvantage in the United States, then, combined with the widespread individualistic ethos here, eventually trumps whatever pro-marriage disposition Hispanics might have had. To understand the dramatic declines in marriage among blacks, we must consider broad changes in the labor force as well as changing ideas about gender and family relationships.

These changes made employment and earnings, especially those of women, more important for forming stable families. Changing ideas about family affected both whites and blacks, but they affected black families earlier and more strongly because blacks were and continue to be more economically vulnerable. Since , as economic restructuring has eroded opportunities for less-educated whites, they too are seeing dramatic changes in family life. Over the past century, families in the United States and most of Europe have undergone sweeping changes across all social and demographic groups.

The age at marriage rose, nonmarital cohabitation became common, and divorce rates skyrocketed. Some demographers refer to these broad changes in family life as the Second Demographic Transition. The original Demographic Transition was the shift from high birth and death rates to low birth and death rates experienced first by Western Europe and eventually by all countries. Because these changes have occurred in both good economic times and bad, and have affected all socioeconomic groups, many believe that changing ideas about the family have helped drive them.

For example, during the s and s divorce and premarital sex both became more widely accepted.

Since , marriage and divorce patterns have become increasingly stratified by class. For example, in the late s, the percentage of marriages that dissolved within 10 years was not that different among women with a college degree 29 percent than among women with just a high school diploma 35 percent , a difference of only 6 percentage points. For marriages beginning in the early s, this gap had grown to over 20 percentage points. Historically, college-educated women were less likely to marry. Wage disparities by education have grown substantially since , mostly due to the growing demand for college-educated workers.

In sum, in the early part of the 20th century, urbanization and other shifts in the economy occurred alongside gradual but modest increases in divorce, especially among blacks. In the years immediately following World War II, unanticipated economic prosperity boosted marriage rates, but only temporarily. Broader cultural trends that emphasized individual choice and gender equality contributed to a growing divorce rate.

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By the s, the proportion of blacks who ever married had started to decline. Divorce among whites began rising later, but divorce rates for both whites and blacks accelerated substantially in the s. Starting in , as the gap between the wages of more- and less-educated people started to widen, the educational gradient in divorce began to grow as well. Today, divorce rates are substantially higher for the less-educated than for those with a college degree.

Most recently, it looks as if the proportion of less-educated white women who ever marry has begun to fall. Although college-educated women delay marriage, most will eventually get and stay married. This divide between more- and less-educated white women helps us understand black-white differences, because it makes clear that over time, marriage has become increasingly linked to employment and earnings, especially for women. A number of points emerge from our discussion.

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First, racial differences in U. On average, black women are less likely to marry and to remain married than are white women. Second, although racial gaps in marriage persist across the educational distribution, they tend to be largest among people with the least education. Moreover, for both black and white women, marriage appears to have begun to fall first among those with no more than a high school degree.

Third, for both black and white women, marital instability rose before marriage formation fell. Finally, for both groups, educational gradients in marital instability emerged before educational gradients in marriage formation.

These patterns have implications for change and variability in families that transcend racial differences in marriage. No existing explanation alone can fully account for racial gaps in marriage patterns. But we are likely setting the bar too high if we expect any single theory to account for change and variability in processes as complex as marriage formation and dissolution. A broader lesson from studying racial differences in marriage is that if we seek to explain changing family patterns, we need to examine social class.

Although no single explanation can account for all the racial gaps we see in marriage, individual theories offer useful albeit partial explanations for marriage gaps in specific socioeconomic strata. Most of the recent research on the racial marriage gap focuses on relatively disadvantaged populations and on women. Yet we could learn much about racial variability in marriage, and about family change more broadly, if we looked at marriage patterns among relatively well-off populations and among men.