Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Structural and Assimilationist Explanations of Asian American Intermarriage

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Structural and Assimilationist Explanations of Asian American Intermarriage

Article excerpt

This study represents our efforts to synthesize two intermarriage perspectives-one explaining intermarriage at the micro level using individual attributes, the other explaining it at the macro level using aggregated community characteristics. The 5% Public Use Microdata Samples from the 1980 U.S. Census were used to link individual and community data. The empirical assessment of the linked model showed great promise, indicating that the explanatory power of our model was significantly improved when one set of factors was supplemented by the other. Our findings supported the cultural assimilation hypothesis but contradicted the structural assimilation arguments. Contextual factors such as group size and sex ratio also exerted strong structural constraints on marital choices. This study is one of the first to provide information about the determinants of intermarriage for six different Asian subgroups residing in the continental U.S.

Key Words: Asian Americans, assimilation, intergroup relations, intermarriage, structural theory.

SEAN-SHONG HWANG University of Alabama


Intermarriage has been widely accepted as a key indication of assimilation (Alba & Golden, 1986; Gordon, 1964; Lieberson & Waters, 1990; Saenz, Hwang, Aguirre, & Anderson, 1995). Researchers who are concerned with Asian American assimilation, however, have given only minimal attention to Asian intermarriage. With the exception of a few studies that have dealt specifically with this issue (Aguirre, Saenz, & Hwang, 1995; Hwang, Saenz, & Aguirre, 1994, 1995; Kitano, Yeung, Chai, & Hatanaka, 1984; Lee & Yamanaka,1990; Sung, 1990; Wong, 1989), most studies of Asian Americans have focused on issues related to the attainment of socioeconomic status.

A study of Asian intermarriage is a logical extension of the previous work on Asian Americans that focused on their status attainment. According to Gordon's model (1964), intermarriage represents the culmination of the assimilation process that often subsumes acculturation and the attainment of socioeconomic status. Although the theoretical model has successfully predicted intermarriage involving different ethnic groups of European origin in the United States (Alba & Golden, 1986; Lieberson & Waters, 1990; Pagnini & Morgan, 1990), the extent to which it is applicable to phenotypically distinct Asian groups is uncertain (Kitano et al., 1984; Wong, 1989; Woodrum, 1981). Thus, despite Asian Americans' wellpublicized socioeconomic success stories (Barringer et al., 1993; Hirschman & Wong, 1981, 1984), studies of Asian intermarriage (e.g., Hwang et al., 1994, 1995; Wong, 1989) have not been able to demonstrate the unequivocal positive association between socioeconomic status and out-marriage predicted by the assimilation model.

Neither do the existing studies of Asian intermarriage provide a complete and balanced picture of Asian intermarriage in the U.S. This is due to their often limited coverage, both in terms of population and geography (Lee & Yamanaka, 1990). Most extant studies have focused on Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese in selected cities in California, Hawaii, and New York. Intermarriage patterns in other parts of the U.S. for these and other Asian groups-such as Asian Indians, Filipinos, and Vietnamese-are little known. Further, most of these studies have subscribed to the assimilation perspective and overlooked structural explanations of intergroup relations (Blau, 1977). This is the case, despite empirical evidence that shows a clear association between intermarriage and community attributes such as group size, sex ratio, and segregation (e.g., Blau, Beeker, & Fitzpatrick, 1984; Blau, Blum, & Schwartz, 1982; Blau & Schwartz, 1984). In one recent study (Hwang et al., 1994), we attempted to integrate micro- and macro-level explanations, but the generalizability of our findings is limited by the use of a California sample. …

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