Marital Happiness and Inter-Racial Marriage: A Study in a Multi-Ethnic Community in Hawaii

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XUANNING FU, JESSIKA TORA and HEATHER KENDALL, Social Sciences Division Brigham Young University-Hawaii, Laie, HI 96762, USA

Marital happiness and inter-racial marriage: A study in a multi-ethnic community in Hawaii

Inter-racial marriages are often reported as less stable and less happy than intra-racial marriages, but the effect of race and culture is difficult to separate. This paper examines self-reported marital happiness among a sample of married couples in a multi-racial, multi-cultural but homoreligious community. Findings suggest that even after controlling religion and many other demographic variables, inter-racially married individuals report lower happiness than those in intraracial unions, especially women. When couples are used as unit of analysis and husband and wife's responses are controlled for each other, wives' happiness is significantly affected by interracial marriage. Husbands' happiness is not related to their type of marriage.

Marital happiness depends on many factors, and homogeneity of race and culture between the couple is surely among them. Over the past three decades, inter-racial marriages have increased rapidly, from 310,000 to more than 1.1 million, and their proportion among all marriages grew from 0.7% in 1970 to over 2.2% in the mid- 1990s (Blau and Duncan 1967; Tucker and Mitchell-Kernan 1990; Kalmijn 1991; Qian 1997; Fu and Heaton 1997). In the meantime, the rate of divorce among all marriages in the cohorts of the 1980s and the 1990s reached between 50% and 67% (Martin and Bumpass 1989). Intermarriage and divorce have been both extensively studied, but marital happiness among inter-married couples is seldom reported in the literature. In this article, we raise a research question whether marital stability and happiness are related to the racial and cultural background of married couples, and will examine self-reported marital happiness among a sample from a multi-ethnic community in Hawaii. The differential effect of race and culture on marital happiness will be given special emphasis in our study.


Scattered studies of marital happiness among inter-racial couples seem to suggest that they face higher levels of marital challenge than those who married within their racial groups, primarily due to lack of cultural understanding, racial pressure, and lack of familial support (Gaines 1997; Martin and Bumpass 1989). Race and culture are thus combined to affect marital stability and satisfaction.

The term "race" has been used very loosely in a number of senses (Yetman 1991). The definition of a group as a race is often a combination of genetic differences between groups and society's perceptions that such differences exist and that they are important (Berreman 1991). In this article we use the term race in its broad definition as in the U.S. Census, so that it can be clearly separated from "culture", a learned orientation of "way of life". In many cases, however, inter-racial relationships are at the same time inter-cultural. Culture can be defined as the ideas by which individuals order material experience and assign value to its elements (Handwerker 1986), and it is a mental phenomenon created and changed by people in their attempt to make comprehensible a material reality. Hoult (1974) identifies culture as a way of life or social heritage that includes values, norms, institutions, and artifacts that are passed from generation to generation. Its definition is thus very broad, and may also include a common origin or ancestry, history, tradition, attitudes and behaviors (Shibutani and Kwan 1965; Yetman 1991; Bellah et al 1985:152-155; Schaefer 1994; McLemore 1994). In a simplified sense, culture is a shared way of life for a certain group of people, reflected in their religious practices, modes of dresses, political and economic activities, types of food they eat, the way they eat them, etc. …