Interracial Marriage: Trends since Loving v. Virginia

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This year marks the 40th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 landmark Supreme Court case that declared all laws prohibiting interracial marriage unconstitutional. To mark the anniversary, the Council on Contemporary Families, comprising family researchers, mental health and social work practitioners and clinicians, published a paper entitled “The Steady Rise of Non-traditional Romantic Unions: The Case of Inter-racial and Intercultural Marriage.” Written by Michael J. Rosenfeld, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at Stanford University, it focuses on the rise in the United States of marriages between whites and Asians, non-Hispanic whites and Hispanics and between whites and African-Americans.

Before and After
Prior to 1970, the overwhelming majority of all couples were same-race married couples. Interracial marriages were extremely rare. In fact, until 1967, many states had laws against interracial marriage. In Virginia, for example, all non-white groups, including Blacks, Native Americans and Asians, were prohibited from marrying whites. Even in states that never had laws against racial intermarriage, such as Illinois and New York, such marriages were rare before the end of the 1960s.

Despite Loving v. Virginia, interracial marriages continued to be very uncommon well into the 1970s. In 1970, less than 2 percent of married couples in the U.S. were interracial. By 2005, the number of such marriages had risen almost fourfold, with interracial couples representing 7.5 percent of all married couples. This percentage may seem small, Rosenfeld argues, but it is a dramatic increase over several decades and appears poised to accelerate in the future.

Immigration Impact
Some of the rise in racial intermarriage since 1970 is due to immigration, which has increased the country’s racial diversity since 1965, Rosenfeld says. Because they are not as residentially segregated as Blacks historically have been, Hispanics and Asians, the predominant groups among the new immigrants, have greater opportunities to socialize with members of other racial groups. This has contributed to the rise in intermarriage between Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites and between Asians and whites.

The rise in Black-white marriages cannot be due to immigration, Rosenfeld contends. One cause is improvement in race relations. Despite continued residential segregation and enduring prejudices, the post–Civil Rights era has led to more socialization between Blacks and whites and to more intermarriage.

The Age Factor
The rising age of marriage also is a factor in the increase in interracial marriages. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2005 “American Community Survey,” half of U.S.-born women age 26.5 and half of U.S.-born men age 28.2 have never been married, both statistics considerably higher than in any other historical period. As young adults postpone marriage, they have greater exposure to different kinds of potential partners. Later age at marriage also makes it more difficult for parents to veto or even influence their children’s choice of mates. Among people married in the same calendar year, later age at marriage is associated with higher rates of interracial marriage and second marriages are more likely to be interracial than first marriages.

Most Unlikely Combination
Although the number of Black-white marriages has grown from 55,000 in 1960 to 440,000 in 2005, Black-white marriage remains the most unlikely racial combination in the United States, given the sizes of the Black and white populations, Rosenfeld says. Hispanics only slightly outnumber Blacks among American adults, but the number of Hispanic marriages to non-Hispanic whites (1.75 million) was four times larger than the number of Black-white marriages in 2005. There were fewer than half as many Asians as Blacks in the United States in 2005, but the number of Asian-white marriages (755,000) was substantially larger than the number of Black-white marriages. In the marriage market, as in the residential housing market, Blacks continue to be the most socially isolated group in the country.

In 1972, five years after Loving v. Virginia, 39 percent of Americans still favored laws against racial intermarriage. By 2002, the number had dropped to 10 percent.