Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Changing Intergroup Boundaries in Brazilian Marriages: 1991-2008

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Changing Intergroup Boundaries in Brazilian Marriages: 1991-2008

Article excerpt

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The prevalence of marital homogamy provides insight into the social organization of group boundaries. For example, educational homogamy reflects the importance of social class (Schwartz and Mare, 2005), and racial homogamy is a key indicator of race relations (Qian and Lichter, 2007). It follows that changing rates of intergroup marriage are indicative of shifts in the strength of social boundaries between groups. Marriage implies strong attachment in the most intimate of settings such that increasing intergroup marriage indicates a weakening of social barriers to interaction. The weakening of barriers may also extend to kin, friends and other social networks. Conversely, if social characteristics become more salient in interpersonal relationships, then rates of intermarriage will decline. In turn, increased visibility of couples in heterogeneous relationships can be a force for social change in the social acceptance of these types of relationships, and this change is further reinforced when new cohorts are reared in homes with greater degrees of homogeneity or heterogeneity.

Education, race, and religion form different contexts where people form relationships that could lead to marriage. Religious beliefs and behavioral codes shape preferences based on moral judgments and racial preferences are shaped by social constructions of race. Educational and religious institutions also provide a context where potential partners meet. Race affects marriage markets to the degree that neighborhoods, recreational activities and institutions such as education and religion are segregated. Thus, it follows that changes in the racial, religious, or educational context of a society would strongly influence rates of intermarriage. In fact, a large body of research documents multiple mechanisms through which religious, educational, and racial context influences intermarriage rates around the world (Goode, 1970; Mare, 1991; Kalmijn, 1991a, 1991b, 1998; Thornton, 2005; Qian and Lichter, 2007; Esteve and McCaa, 2007; Fu and Heaton, 2008; Rosenfeld, 2008; Jacobson and Heaton, 2008). However, despite the extensive research showing that religion, education, and race each structure interpersonal interaction, the relative importance of these characteristics is not well understood. To date, some research has examined the joint distributions of marriage by education and race, but few have been able to study the joint distributions of all three. Further, none of these studies have examined changes in racial, educational, and religious assortative mating simultaneously.

The purpose of this research is to explore changes in the relative importance of religion, race and education in mate selection in a society undergoing dramatic changes in race relations, educational expansion, and religious diversity. More specifically, this research addresses four sets of questions about the nature of intergroup marriage in Brazil. Each set of questions involves both a description of the general tendency and the pattern of change. First, how does the overall likelihoods of homogamy compare across education, race and religion? Second, do sub-categories of education, race and religion vary in the likelihood of homogamy? Third, are there specific patterns of heterogamy that are more common? Finally, is education associated with racial and religious homogamy? This paper addresses these questions by comparing national probability samples for the periods 1991 to 2000, and 2001 to 2008. Answers to these questions will not only provide information about the relevance of these three characteristics in mate selection, but also give clues about how broad social change influences the formation of intimate relationships. Thus it offers a more comprehensive analysis of changing patterns of intermarriage by considering education, race, and religion.


Theories of change in homogamy include changes in social structure that reduce the importance of ascribed vs. …

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