“Marrying Out”

One in seven marriages in America now includes people of mixed backgrounds. Who’s REALLY your type?

By Debra Kent

onique is African American and Native American, with a dash of Creole. Brian, who’s Caucasian, is as white as Wonder Bread. But despite their visible differences, they still shared a lot in common — including a passion for food, Sunday football and watching Modern Family. This New Jersey
Online dating and social media seem to bridge cultural chasms.
couple found each other on, fell wildly in love, tied the knot and started a family. Back when Barack Obama’s parents took their vows, this was the stuff of scandal. Today, one in seven new marriages in the United States is between people of different races or ethnicities, according to a recent analysis of Census data by the Pew Research Center.

These stats hold special meaning for online daters, who are casting wider nets in their search for the perfect match. People open to marrying outside their race or ethnicity “have a bigger pool to choose from, and it’s good to have more options,” says Brian G. from Hoboken, NJ, the first of 10 siblings to marry someone who doesn’t share the same ethnic background as his family. He admits that his mother was hesitant at first, but softened as soon as she met her future daughter-in-law. In fact, most Americans are cool with the idea of a family member “marrying out” — a phrase that now sounds almost moldy to modern ears. In fact, 6 out of 10 people interviewed for the Pew study said “it would be fine” with them if a family member announced plans to marry someone from any of three major races and/or ethnic groups other than their own.

What’s behind this trend? Collapsing cultural taboos against intermarriage and major waves of immigration over several decades from Asia and Latin America are some of the major drivers. Then there’s the Internet effect; online dating and social media seem to bridge cultural chasms by emphasizing the importance of people’s thoughts, feelings and experiences over their physical appearance. “Technology has shrunk the world,” says Natalie Bencivenga, relationship expert and cofounder of “We no longer seem so alien to each other.”

Not surprisingly, the trend skews by region, showing lower numbers in southern and northeastern states, with higher numbers out west. Geographic differences notwithstanding, it’s still big news considering that, back in 1961 when Obama’s parents hooked up, the frequency of black and white mixed couples getting married were less than one in a thousand overall marriages.
Couples learn to accept and appreciate each other’s traditions.

“Couples seem to see their differences more as assets than liabilities,” explains relationship expert Joyce Morley-Ball, Ed.D. “They’re looking for emotional, psychological, spiritual, economic and social similarities instead of focusing on the negative stereotypes often attributed to racial differences.” Above all, Dr. Morley-Ball says, love trumps race.

Other interesting tidbits from the Pew study:
  • Among all the newlyweds interviewed in 2008, 31% of Asians, 26% of Hispanics, 16% of African Americans and 9% of Caucasians married someone different from their own race or ethnicity.
  • Between 1980 and 2008, intermarriages among newlyweds in the U.S. more than doubled. Rates more than doubled among Caucasians and nearly tripled among African Americans.
  • A record 14.6% of all new marriages registered in the U.S. in 2008 were between two people of differing different races or ethnicities. This includes marriages between Hispanics (which are an ethnic group, not a race) and non-Hispanics, plus marriages between people of different races, whether they were Caucasian, African American, Asian, Native American or people who self-identify as multiracial or “some other” race.
  • There are a few striking gender differences. For instance, about 22% of all African American male newlyweds in 2008 married outside their race, compared with only 9% of African American females. Among Asians, the gender pattern is more dramatic, but reversed — 40% of Asian female newlyweds tied the knot with non-Asian men, compared with just 20% of Asian males marrying non-Asians.
  • More than a third of adults say that one of their family members is currently in an interracial marriage. African Americans say this at higher rates than Caucasians do, the numbers include a larger percentage of younger adults than older adults, and more of them live in western states versus other areas of the country.
“The U.S. is getting to be more and more of a multicultural country. If you have biracial children, they will have plenty of company in most schools and neighborhoods,” says psychotherapist Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage. Obviously, it would be naïve to think all cross-cultural relationships are destined for smooth sailing. “Small towns, where segregation secretly lingers, make life — and schooling for your offspring — more difficult,” says Dorree Lynn, Ph.D., psychologist and coauthor of Sex for Grownups. “There may be taunts and bullying. In-laws and family on both sides of the color spectrum may have difficulty accepting an ‘outsider.’ That sometimes results in family feuds and tension.” And if 6 in 10 respondents from the Pew study say they’re fine with a family member marrying outside their original race or ethnicity, it still means 4 in 10 respondents aren’t thrilled with the idea.

“If you haven’t done it before, it can be an adventure and a challenge,” says Tessina. “Couples learn to accept and appreciate each other’s traditions, foods, and also the more subtle emotional style of each others’ families. For instance, one family may think being loving is exactly what the other family finds terribly intrusive. One might value sharing and intimacy, while the other may value respect and privacy.” Lynn agrees, adding that “blending these styles isn’t easy, but the rewards are great,” and that mixed couples can boost their odds of long-term success by taking the following steps:
  • Be prepared for the possibility of unintended slights from those who may disapprove. Don’t take them personally.
  • If moving in together is on the horizon, try to choose a location that welcomes and accepts interracial and interethnic couples.
  • Consider any potential issues that you may face before you wed, hone your communication skills, and get counseling if you need it. Says Lynn, “Marriage requires effort, whatever shade of the rainbow you happen to be!”
Writer Debra Kent is the author of the Diary of V book series.
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