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Interracial Marriage Has Reached An All-Time High, But Attitudes Toward It Are Still Evolving

The Pew Research Center recently reported that the rate of interracial marriage has reached an all-time high in the United States,1 with 8.4% of all marriages being between members of different races. If we look only at new marriages (i.e., couples who were married in the three years before these data were collected), the proportion that is interracial nearly doubles to 15%. For comparison purposes, the number was just 3.2% in 1980! Thus, interracial marriage has seen marked growth in the past three decades. Despite these changes, a large number of Americans still seem to have a problem with interracial couples, and this bias has negative effects on the people who are in these relationships.

Interracial marriage has been a controversial subject in the United States for a long time. In fact, less than a half century ago, almost one-third of the states had laws banning marriage between people of different races. These laws were struck down in a landmark Supreme Court case in 1967 (Loving v. Virginia). In the wake of that ruling, attitudes toward intermarriage were largely negative, with just 29% of Americans expressing approval.2 Since then, attitudes have slowly but surely improved. In 1991, more Americans approved (48%) than disapproved (42%) of interracial marriage for the very first time,3 and today, the approval rate has crept up to its highest levels on record. In the Pew Research Center’s latest survey, 63% of respondents said they “would be fine” with a family member marrying someone of a different race or ethnicity;1 however, that still leaves a large minority of modern Americans who are either indifferent to or disapproving of interracial relationships.

Prejudice against intermarriage is more obvious in some parts of the country than others, and for members of interracial couples, this bias can be difficult to ignore. Indeed, interracial couples report feeling as though their family, friends, and society at large are more disapproving of their relationships than do same-race couples.4 Research indicates that couples who experience such a lack of social approval and acceptance for their relationships typically do not fare as well. Specifically, the more disapproval individuals perceive with respect to their relationships, the more likely they are to break-up in the future.5 Thus, interracial couples who live in unsupportive environments often find it more challenging to stay together. 

In short, the rate of interracial marriage has risen dramatically in recent years, but support for these relationships still has a way to go. However, as attitudes become more favorable, interracial relationships are likely to strengthen and continue to increase in number. 

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1Wang, W. (2012). The rise of intermarriage: Rates, characteristics vary by race and gender. Retrieved from: http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2012/02/16/the-rise-of-intermarriage/?src=prc-headline

2American society becoming tolerant toward interracial, interfaith marriages. (1972, November). Gallup Opinion Index, 89, 11-13.

3Gallup, G., Jr., & Newport, F. (1991). For the first time, more Americans approve of interracial marriage than disapprove. The Gallup Poll Monthly, 311, 60-61.

4Lehmiller, J. J., & Agnew, C. R. (2006). Marginalized relationships: The impact of social disapproval on romantic relationship commitment. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32, 40-51.

5Lehmiller, J. J., & Agnew, C. R. (2007). Perceived marginalization and the prediction of romantic relationship stability. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69, 1036-1049.

Dr. Justin Lehmiller - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Lehmiller's research program focuses on how secrecy and stigmatization impact relationship quality and physical and psychological health. He also conducts research on commitment, sexuality, and safer-sex practices.

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Reader Comments (1)

Very cute picture:)

April 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJen
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