Intermarriage, Ethnic Identity, and Perceived Social Standing among Asian Women in the United States

Article excerpt

This study investigates the consequences of Asian women's intermarriage-whether it is associated with higher social standing and lower ethnic identity, using data on Asian women (N = 589) from the National Latino and Asian American Survey (NLAAS). The socioeconomic status of partners of women who intermarried and partners of women who married men of the same ethnicity are compared. The potential associations between intermarriage and two subjective measures-ethnic identity and perceived social standing-are explored. The study rejects the hypothesis based on the conventional belief that Asian women in the United States find "better" partners with higher socioeconomic status from other racial or ethnic groups. The findings support the view that marital assimilation leads to identificational assimilation and demonstrate that intermarriage is not associated with higher perceived social standing. The results suggest that educational and occupational endogamy plays a larger role in Asian women's intermarriage than social exchange.

Key Words: cultural/racial/ethnic, marriage, survey research.

Historical stereotypes and Western media portrayals of Asian women often fall into two categories: the submissive, obethent, and servile "lotus blossom babies," "China dolls," and "geisha girls" or the aggressive, cunning "dragon ladies" and opportunistic, materialistic "gold diggers' ' who rely on their feminine wiles (E. N. Chow, 1987; Hofstede, 1996; Prasso, 2005). The submissive image is believed to contribute to the popularity of Asian women in the multiracial marriage market in the United States. Nemoto (2009) maintained that the stereotypes of Asian women and intermarriage were produced by the discourse on military brides and mail-order brides, the "model ethnic minority' ' myth, and globally circulated images of Asians and Whites. The oriental stereotypes of Asian women are often internalized by partners in Asian women -White men relationships and affect their decision to marry. In her popular e-book, Secrets of Asian Women, Tai (2009) revealed that many contemporary American men pursued Asian American women, particularly East Asian women (including those who had recently immigrated), because they wanted to return to a noncompetitive, obethent life partner after a difficult day in the workplace. The "submissive Asian woman" stereotype is also evoked in the commercial matchmaking market for transnational marriages in Asian countries: Asian women are represented as faithful wives, self-sacrificing mothers, and sensuous lovers. Matchmaking agencies and Web brokers maintain that Western men are attracted to Asian women because they have "oriental characteristics": they are submissive, caring, and family centered.

Social standing is an important factor in determining the choice of a life partner. This may be particularly true among women, who show a greater tendency to "marry up" (Hitsch, Hortaçsu, & Ariely, 2006; Schoen & Wooldredge, 1989). Promises of higher socioeconomic status and a better quality of life are, therefore, used to attract Asian women in advertisements for interracial and transnational marriages. Marrying a husband in the United States is portrayed as a means to a glorious life of wealth, spacious housing, luxurious cars, clean air, and a pampered lifestyle that is not even imaginable in most Asian countries. Some commercial international education agencies promote themselves by maintaining that the U.S. marriage market is more promising for single, educated Asian women: The probability of finding a partner with high socioeconomic status who appreciates Asian women is much higher in the United States than, for instance, in China, where living standards, on average, are relatively low and a patriarchal culture is still dominant (Pimentel, 2000).

To what extent are these conventional beliefs about Asian women and intermarriage true? In this study, the term "Asian women" refers to both Asian immigrants and U. …