Academic journal article Family Relations

"But Will It Last?": Marital Instability among Interracial and Same-Race Couples*

Academic journal article Family Relations

"But Will It Last?": Marital Instability among Interracial and Same-Race Couples*

Article excerpt


The literature on interracial families has examined social stigmas attached to interracial relationships but has not thoroughly documented whether crossing racial boundaries increases the risk of divorce. Using the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth (Cycle VI), we compare the likelihood of divorce for interracial couples to that of same-race couples. Comparisons across marriage cohorts reveal that, overall, interracial couples have higher rates of divorce, particularly for those marrying during the late-1980s. We also find race and gender variation. Compared to White/White couples, White female/Black male, and White female/Asian male marriages were more prone to divorce; meanwhile, those involving non-White females and White males and Hispanics and non-Hispanic persons had similar or lower risks of divorce.

Key Words: divorce, family, interracial marriages, marital dissolution, race.

Recent increases in the rate of interracial marriage point to increased social acceptance of these relationships (Joyner & Kao, 2005; Lee & Edmonston, 2005). As of 2000, nearly 6% of all married couples were interracial compared to fewer than 1% in 1970. However, a growing literature describing the challenges faced by interracial couples (e.g., Chito Childs, 2005; Dalmage, 2000; Killian, 2003; Lewis & Yancey, 1995; Root, 2001) suggests that crossing racial lines still violates enduring norms of who should and should not marry whom (Killian). Demographic evidence further supports this hypothesis. For example, Bramlett and Mosher (2002) found that 41% of interracial couples divorced by the 10th year of marriage compared to only 31% of same-race couples. Their findings imply that, although entering an interracial marriage tends to carry less social stigma, these relationships are less likely to remain intact.

We investigated the relative marital stability of interracial and same-race marriages. Although interracial union formation has garnered a large degree of scholarly interest (Joyner & Kao, 2005; Lee & Bean, 2004; Qian, 1997), only a few studies have explored whether these relationships are more vulnerable to divorce (Felmlee, Sprecher, & Bassin, 1990; Heaton, 2002; Kreider, 2000; Monahan, 1970; Price-Bonham & Balswick, 1980). Prior research may have oversimplified this comparison by not attending to the specific racial-ethnic characteristics of couples. The rise in interracial marriages by Asians and Hispanics has diversified the picture of the "typical interracial couple" that had previously been dominated by the experiences of Black/White couples (Lee & Edmonston, 2005). We address this gap by investigating the risk of marital disruption of interracial couples distinguished along the lines of race and gender (e.g., Black male/White female vs. Black female/White male) using Cycle VI of the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG). The aim of the current investigation was to empirically test whether an increased risk of interracial divorce can be found across all types of interracial couples.


Of all the ways individuals can form families across ascribed social boundaries, crossing racial lines is the most controversial within contemporary American society. Race stratifies physical, mental, and economic well-being (Oliver & Shapiro, 1995; Williams & Collins, 1995) and is a primary component of individual and family identity (Porter & Washington, 1993; Zack, 1993). Families that cross racial lines have historically challenged the structure of racial hierarchies by demonstrating the possibilities of moving across and between racial lines in family formation and individual identity (Root, 2001). Keeping racial boundaries intact has historically been achieved through institutional means, such as laws banning cross-racial mixing (Davis, 1991; Moran, 2001). Although such laws are now unconstitutional (see Loving v. Commonwealth of Virginia, 1967), interracial romance that crosses the Black/White divide is often still stigmatized as an inherently dysfunctional relationship, motivated by racial stereotypes of sexual virility or even psychological pathology (Foeman & Nance, 1999). …

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