All in the (Mixed-Race) Family: A US Trend ; Data Show a Significant Rise in Mixed-Race Families Due to Interracial Marriages and Multiracial Adoptions

By Mary Wiltenburg and Amanda Paulson writers of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, August 28, 2003 | Go to article overview

All in the (Mixed-Race) Family: A US Trend ; Data Show a Significant Rise in Mixed-Race Families Due to Interracial Marriages and Multiracial Adoptions


Mary Wiltenburg and Amanda Paulson writers of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Five years ago, Ann Tollefson says, her family was stared at. Nobody was openly hostile, but often enough they'd point to her children - adopted from China, India, and Vietnam - and ask, "How much did they cost?"

Today it's a different story. There are more mixed-race families in America than ever before - even in Mrs. Tollefson's St. Louis suburb.

New 2000 Census data show that more than 1 in 6 adopted kids is of a different race from their parents. And according to new analysis by William Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution in Washington, about 1 in 15 marriages in the US is interracial - up from 1 in 23 in 1990.

America "has always, obviously, had people of color," says adoption expert Adam Pertman. "The bigger notion is that America is ... starting to accept that it is a nation of color. We see that now not just within cities, but within the family."

Tollefson sees it in her parish. Hers was the only mixed-race family there when she and her husband first adopted in 1995. Today, three other families have adopted kids from China, and several more from Guatemala. It makes a difference, she says: Her kids are happy, but they seem to relax just a little more when they're around other mixed-race families.

"They warm up faster. They're not as clingy. They try new things more when they're around people who look like us," she says.

And she notices a difference, too, in the way people look at her family: "People are much more accepting today.... You know the ripple thing, a drop in the water and the rings go out? It's hard to find somebody who hasn't been touched by international adoption."

According to the first-ever profile of America's adopted children, released in a Census report Friday, 1.6 million US children under 18 are in adoptive families. Of those, 17 percent of adoptees make their families multiracial, and 13 percent were born abroad.

Mr. Pertman, director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, estimates that the number of US adoptions from abroad has tripled in the past decade.

"When you look at the number of people adopting from Asia, from Latin America - more than half are adopting from countries where the kids aren't going to look anything like their parents," he says. "That's starting to make a difference in the way people think of families, of inheritance, of nurture versus nature, you name it."

More people are marrying people who don't look anything like them, as well. But Mr. Frey, who analyzed detailed microsamples of census data, found that the numbers varied highly from state to state. In New Mexico, for instance, 16 percent of all marriages were interracial, whereas in Mississippi it's 2 percent.

"There are two ways of looking at this," Frey says. "One is, it's gone real fast. And two: It's pretty concentrated in just a few states.... It's still a pretty small share of all marriages, especially those involving whites. …

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