Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Marital Dissolution among Interracial Couples

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Marital Dissolution among Interracial Couples

Article excerpt

Increases in interracial marriage have been interpreted as reflecting reduced social distance among racial and ethnic groups, but little is known about the stability of interracial marriages. Using six panels of Survey of Income and Program Participation (N = 23,139 married couples), we found that interracial marriages are less stable than endogamous marriages, but these findings did not hold up consistently. After controlling for couple characteristics, the risk of divorce or separation among interracial couples was similar to the more-divorce-prone origin group. Although marital dissolution was found to be strongly associated with race or ethnicity, the results failed to provide evidence that interracial marriage per se is associated with an elevated risk of marital dissolution.

Key Words: culture, dissolution, ethnicity, interracial, marriage, race, stability.

Interracial marriage has long been a topic of inter- est and controversy in American history and has received a great deal of attention in the family research literature (Fu, 2006; Kalmijn, 1991; Tucker & Mitchell-Keman, 1990; Yancey, 2007). The antimiscegenation laws in the United States, enacted mainly to prevent Black-White interracial marriages, were struck down in a 1967 Supreme Court decision (Sollors, 2000). Since then interracial marriage has increased dramatically from less than 1% in 1970 among all married couples to more than 5% in 2000. Children living in such families have quadrupled to more than 3 million between 1970 and 2000 (Lee & Edmonston, 2005). Such changes have been interpreted as signifying the fading of racial boundaries in U.S. society (Qian & Lichter, 2007) and as indicating immigrant structural assimilation (Alba & Golden, 1986; Gordon, 1964).

Enthusiasm about increases in the prevalence of interracial marriages, however, may be dampened if such marriages are highly likely to break up. Partially because interracial marriage remains a relatively new phenomenon, few studies have assessed the stability of interracial marriages or offered theoretical guidance on this issue. Existing work tends to be dated and focused primarily on Black- White marriages. As a result, little is known about relative stability of such marriages in contemporary American society (Joyner & Kao, 2005). Because the U.S. population has grown increasingly diverse, it is important to update prior research to include interracial marriages involving Asians and Hispanics, especially given that they are more likely to intermarry (with non-Hispanic Whites) than are Blacks (Qian, 1997). Also, interracial marriages involving America's newest minority groups may operate differently than those involving Blacks because of the high levels of racism in the United States directed specifically toward Blacks, which is likely to stress Black-White marriages. In the present study, we analyze the stability of interracial marriages involving Blacks, Asians, and Hispanics over the period 1990 to 2001 by analyzing data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP).


Existing work on marital dissolution among interracial couples focused primarily on divorce within Black- White marriages (Monahan, 1970; Rankin & Maneker, 1987) or specialized populations such as Hawaiians (Fu, 2006; Jones, 1996). Although one study of couples in Iowa found Black-White marriages to be more stable than Black-Black marriages (Monahan), other studies concluded that interracial marriages were less stable in Hawaii (Fu; Jones, 1996) and in the Netherlands (Kalmijn, de Graaf, & Janssen, 2005). Moreover, prior research suggested that the stability of interracial marriages differed by gender. On the basis of a California sample, Rankin and Maneker found that Black men-White women marriages had shorter durations compared to other types of pairings.

Primarily two theoretical frameworks have guided research on the instability of interracial marriages. …

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