Interracial Marriage on the Rise Such Relationships Are Less Common in Pennsylvania

Article excerpt

For Nyarayi and Jeff Wickert, opposites attract.

A few years ago, on their first date at a South Side bar, Mrs. Wickert learned they were "complete polar opposites."

She was a former punk rocker, he was a fraternity brother; she was a cat lover, he was allergic. Still, their fondness for one another grew.

"Somehow, our relationship's awesome and it's so strange," she said.

But the most apparent outward difference -- race -- mattered little. Mrs. Wickert is biracial, herself the product of an interracial marriage. Mr. Wickert is white.

The pair decided to elope last year on June 12, dubbed Loving Day, the anniversary of the 1967 Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, which struck down laws barring people of different races from marrying.

A report from Pew Research Center released Thursday showed the prevalence of interracial marriages is at an all-time high, a rise that has been accompanied by greater acceptance of multiracial pairings.

The report, based on the center's own nationwide telephone surveys and data from the U.S. Census Bureau, showed that nearly one in six marriages that occurred in 2010 was between people of different races, more than double the ratio in 1980.

Michael J. Rosenfeld, an associate professor of sociology at Stanford University who has studied interracial relationships, said the rise in interracial marriage is both a harbinger and an indicator for improvement in race relations.

"It generally says something about race relations because the kind of strict segregation and de facto segregation [of the past] ... was really abetted by the ability to keep those other people out of our family," he said.

Interracial marriages are less common in Pennsylvania than the national average. Just over 9 percent of the marriages that occurred in Pennsylvania between 2008 and 2010 were interracial, compared with 15 percent of marriages nationwide during the same time, which may be reflective of demographics, said Wendy Wang of the Pew Research Center, one of the study's authors. Predictably, researchers saw more interracial marriages in areas with more minorities.

Surveys showed 63 percent of people said they "would be fine" if a family member married outside his or her race, while the remaining respondents took issue with a family member marrying within at least one racial category. This is a meteoric rise since a 1986 study, when just one-third of Americans said it was "acceptable" for someone to marry a person of any racial group.

Ms. Wang said the rise of prevalence of intermarriage and the growth in the acceptance of it are linked, but researchers are unsure which comes first.

"These two go hand-in hand. We don't know which influenced which," she said. "We definitely see this link there and they seem to feed each other."

Reflective of the data, interracial married couples in the area said they've seen a greater acceptance of their relationships over time.

Ms. Wickert, of Downtown, said her own mother, who is white, was disowned when she married her father, who came to the United States from Zimbabwe. When her newlywed parents went looking to buy a home in the Pittsburgh suburbs, they were threatened by neighbors, she said.

It's made her keenly appreciative of the progress that has been made since then. …