Interracial marriages in US rise to all-time high, Pew study finds

theGRIO REPORT - According to the Pew report, in 2010 about 15 percent of new marriages in the U.S. were between partners of a different race or ethnic group...

Racial and ethnic intermarriage are on the increase in America and growing in acceptance. And a new study has the details.

The study released today by the Pew Research Center is called The Rise of Intermarriage: Profiles, Rates Vary by Race and Gender. And the results — based on polls taken between 2008 and 2010 — are eye opening.

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And public acceptance of intermarriage is at an all-time high. Forty-three percent of Americans think it is good for society, while 11 percent say it is a bad thing and 44 percent say that these marriages make no difference. In addition, over one-third of people say that a relative is married to someone of a different race, and nearly two-thirds say it would be fine if a family decided to marry someone of a different race or ethnicity.

In 1986, the nation was far more divided, with nearly equal percentages of Americans believing that mixed marriages were unacceptable for anyone (28 percent), for others but not themselves (37 percent) and acceptable for everyone (33 percent).

Members of minority groups, liberals, young people, those with a college education, and residents of the West and Northeast generally have a more positive attitude towards intermarriage.

On one level, so-called “mixed marriages” are just like marriages between spouses of the same group. For example, the combined earnings of couples who “married out” ($56,711) are a little higher, but not that different from the earnings of those who “married in” ($55,000). Further, mixed and non-mixed couples each have about a 21 percent chance of being college educated, and the age difference between partners is about the same.

At the same time, there are big differences worth noting. Mixed couples are less likely than their non-mixed counterparts to be both native born. While almost seven out of ten mixed couples (68.5 percent) are both native-born U.S. citizens, 81 percent of non-mixed couples who fall in the same category.

Looking at geographical differences, interracial couples are more likely to reside in the Western region of the U.S., and less likely to live in the Midwest, which could speak to the varying levels of diversity in these parts of the country.

Moreover, not all intermarriages are the same, which suggests that self-selection is at play.When it comes to gender, there are large differences in intermarriage. About 24 percent of black male newlyweds married outside their race in 2010, compared with only 9 percent of black female newlyweds. In contrast, about 36 percent of Asian female newlyweds married outside their race, compared with just 17 percent of Asian male newlyweds. Meanwhile, the intermarriage rates among whites and Hispanics do not differ by gender.

Among mixed married couples, money also plays a role. White/Asian couples have the highest combined earnings (nearly $71,000), as opposed to $58,000 for white/Hispanic couples, and $53,000 for white/black couples. Interestingly, white/Asian couples earn more than all-white or all-Asian couples.

Also in the Pew study, white male newlyweds who married Asian, Hispanic or black spouses had higher combined earnings than white male newlyweds with a white spouse. As for white female newlyweds, those with a Hispanic or black husband had somewhat lower combined earnings than those who “married in,” while those who married an Asian husband had considerably higher combined earnings.

Meanwhile, white couples earn more than white/Hispanic couples, who in turn make more than Hispanic couples. And the earnings of white/black couples fall between those of white couples and black couples.

There are differences in education among interracial couples as well. White newlyweds who married Asians are better educated (over half have a college degree) than whites who married whites, blacks or Hispanics (about a third). Further, about 60 percent of Asians who marry whites are college educated, while newlywed blacks and Hispanics with a white partner are more educated than those who married within their group.

The Pew study shows that much has changed with intermarriage over the years, but race, ethnicity and gender still matter. This report comes 45 years after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia, which struck down the laws in 16 states that still banned interracial marriages. And this week, HBO aired a documentary, The Loving Story, chronicling the life of the Lovings, the Virginia interracial couple who made civil rights history.

Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove