Study finds more US couples crossing inter-racial line

Census shows most prefer to live together rather than commit to marriage

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 September, 2013, 4:48am


When Berto Solis and Nancy Thuvanuti met, nobody thought they would last, he remembers.

She was a New Jersey girl with Thai and Irish roots, a fashionista streak and a family full of university graduates. He was "rough around the edges", a Mexican American who was first in his family to go to college and was still trying to find himself.

"Everyone was like, 'Her? Him?'," Solis said, now six years later. "But whenever we just let ourselves be, we said, 'I don't know what they're talking about. We have more in common than they do'."

More Americans are forming serious relationships across lines of race and ethnicity, moving in with or marrying people who check a different box on their census form.

Married or unmarried, inter-racial couples were more than twice as common last year than in 2000, US Census Bureau figures show.

Yet not all kinds of relationships are as likely to cross those lines.

Racially and ethnically mixed couples are much more common among Americans who are living together, unmarried, than those who have tied the knot, a Census Bureau analysis released last week shows.

Last year, 9 per cent of unmarried couples living together came from different races, compared to roughly 4 per cent of married couples.

The same gap exists for Latinos, who are not counted as a race by the Census Bureau, living with or marrying people who aren't Latino.

Earlier studies have shown that even among younger couples, Americans are more likely to cross racial lines when they live together than when they marry.

Scholars are still puzzling over why, musing that inter-racial couples may face added barriers to marrying, or may be less impatient to do so.

Some researchers believe the numbers are tied to continued challenges for inter-racial and inter-ethnic couples in gaining acceptance from friends and family.

Marriage can bring family into the picture, and stir up their disapproval, in ways that rooming together does not.

Living together, "you don't need to get a blessing from either side of the family", said Zhenchao Qian, a sociology professor at Ohio State University. "Moving to the next stage is sometimes more difficult."

Many older Americans, especially whites, are still uneasy about inter-racial marriage, a Pew Research Centre study released three years ago showed. Only about half of white respondents aged 50 to 64 said they would be happy with one of their relatives marrying someone of any other race or ethnicity.

Some couples were stunned when their families objected to them marrying, having never heard their parents speak ill of other races, Stanford University sociologist Michael Rosenfeld found.

But for those parents, it was a different matter when it came to their own children.

Other families may fear losing their culture to inter-marriage.