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The Public and Private Sides of Ethnicity

Whether it's dating or marrying someone of a different race, interracial relationships are not a new phenomenon among Asian Americans. When the first Filipino and Chinese workers came to the U.S. in the 1700 and 1800s, they were almost exclusively men. A few of them eventually married women in the U.S. who were not Asian. However, many people soon saw Asian intermarriage with Whites as a threat to American society. Therefore, anti-miscegenation laws were passed that prohibited Asians from marrying Whites.

(Updated Nov. 2011)

"USR + USR or FR" = Spouse 1 is U.S.-Raised while Spouse 2 can be U.S.-Raised or Foreign-Raised

History shows that these anti-miscegenation laws were very common in the U.S. They were first passed in the 1600s to prevent freed Black slaves from marrying Whites and the biracial children of White slave owners and African slaves from inheriting property. It was not until 1967, during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Loving v. Virginia case that such laws were unconstitutional. At that time, 38 states in the U.S. had formal laws on their books that prohibited non-Whites from marrying Whites. As suc, one could argue that it's only been in recent years that interracial marriages have become common in American society.

Of course, anti-miscegenation laws were part of a larger anti-Asian movement that eventually led to the Page Law of 1875 that effectively almost eliminated Chinese women from immigrating ot the U.S., the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, and other restrictive regulations. These laws actually made the situation worse because Asian men were no longer able to bring their wives over to the U.S. So in a way, those who wanted to become married had no other choice but to socialize with non-Asians.

After World War II however, the gender dynamics of this interracial process flip-flopped. U.S. servicemen who fought and were stationed overseas in Asian countries began coming home with Asian "war brides." Data show that from 1945 into the 1970s, thousands of young women from China, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and later Viet Nam came to the U.S. as war brides each year. Further, after the passage of the 1965 Immigration Act, many of these Asian war brides eventually helped to expand the Asian American community by sponsoring their family and other relatives to immigrate to the U.S.

These days, Asian Americans in interracial relationships are very common. One of the best research articles on this topic is a study conducted by Shinagawa and Pang entitled "Asian American Panethnicity and Intermarriage," reprinted in the highly recommended Asian Americans: Experiences and Perspectives. Similar in structure to their study, my colleague J.J. Huang and I have analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau to construct the following table on marriage patterns among Asian Americans.

Using data from the 2010 Census (updated Nov. 2011), the table shows the percentage of the six largest Asian ethnic groups who are married either endogamously (within their ethnic group), to another Asian (outside their ethnic group), or to someone who is White, Black, Hispanic/Latino, or someone who is Mixed-Race/Multiracial, by husbands and wives. The other major component of the table is that it presents different numbers depending on which statistical model is used.

That is, the specific numbers for each ethnic group vary depending on how you measure "intermarriage." The different models are:

  • All Spouses: This model include all marriages that involve at least one Asian American. The benefit of this approach is that you get a complete picture of all marriages involving Asian Americans. The drawback is that since most married Asian Americans are immigrants, many of them got married in their home countries before immigrating to the U.S. -- i.e., they came to the U.S. already married.
  • USR + USR or FR: USR stands for "U.S.-Raised," or those who are either born in the U.S. (the 2nd generation or higher) or came to the U.S. at age 13 or younger (the '1.5 generation'), while FR stands for "Foreign-Raised," the 1st generation (those who came to the U.S. at age 14 or older). In this model, the 'subject' spouse (either the man or the woman) is USR, but his/her spouse can be either USR or FR. This model narrows down the sample somewhat by trying to exclude those who were already married when they arrived in the U.S.
  • USR + USR Only: This model includes only marriages in which both spouses are U.S.-raised. This has the advantage of including only those who were raised and socialized within American society and its racial dynamics. It is this U.S.-raised population that best represents young Asian Americans, since they are the ones who have the most exposure to prevailing American cultural images and media. The drawback of this model is that by focusing exclusively on the U.S.-raised (who only represent about one quarter of all marriages involving Asian Americans), it may overemphasize and "over-highlight" instances of outmarriage among Asian Americans.

I present these three models to give you, the reader, the opportunity to decide for yourself which model best represents the "true" picture of marriage among Asian Americans. You should understand that each model has its strengths and weaknesses and as you can see, each produces some very different numbers. If you would like to read about the exact procedure J.J. Huang and I used to calculate these numbers, visit the Statistical Methodology page.

These are certainly a lot of numbers to consider and as I mentioned above, each model presents a different proportion. Nonetheless, what these stats tell us is that generally speaking, across all three models (calculated by using the admittedly unscientific method of averaging the proportions across all three models to emphasize the last two models), these are the Asian ethnic groups are most or least likely to have each kind of spouse:

The numbers presented above only represent a 'cross sectional' look at racial/ethnic marriage patterns involving Asian Americans. In other words, they only represent a 'snapshot' look using the latest data from 2010. Nonetheless, it is important to recognize that such marriage patterns have evolved and changed over time. In order to get a closer look at recent trends, we can compare these numbers to data from the 2006 Census.