Interracial Marriage and Divorce: The Study

When the topic of interracial dating and marriage is examined, often cited are statistics on the relative frequency of certain marriages, especially compared to others. But what about the durability of these unions? Are interracial marriages more likely to end in divorce than are same-race marriages?

Earlier studies have concluded that, overall, interracial marriages have less duration than same-race marriages. Some of the studies concluded, however, that factors such as educational level (as educational level goes up, the likelihood divorce goes down) and the age at marriage (marriages occurring earlier in life are more likely to end in divorce) had more bearing on the stability of these marriages than the racial differences of the individuals; members of interracial pairings are more likely to have traits correlated with a higher probability of divorce. However, these studies failed to account for gender in connection with the race of each individual in interracial marriages. A recent study published by the National Council on Family Relations (NCFR) explored this aspect in interracial couples in the United States.

Using data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth, the study analyzed almost 6,000 men and women between the ages of 15-44 who had ever been married, over a period of ten years. Their study found that:

  • Marriages involving a black husband and white wife were twice as likely to divorce as marriages involving a white husband and white wife. When adjusted for background aspects such as age at marriage and educational level, differences between black male/white female marriages and white male/white female marriages virtually disappeared in some cases. This suggests that, contrary to prior findings, the higher rate of interracial divorce between black male/white female marriages is not due to background factors.
  • Asian male/white female marriages were 59 percent more likely to end in divorce than white male/white female marriages.
  • Marriages involving a white husband and black wife were substantially less likely to end in divorce than marriages involving a white husband and white wife; the former pairing’s divorce rate was 44 percent less than the latter.
  • Couples composed of a white husband and Asian wife were 4 percent more likely to end in divorce than marriages involving a white husband and white wife.
  • Hispanic white/non-Hispanic white and Asian/white marriages were more liable to divorce than those of in-married Hispanic whites and Asians.
  • Marriages including a black husband and white wife were more prone to divorce than those composed of black husbands and black wives. Black male/white female couples also had the highest likelihood of divorce of all white/non-white marriages.
  • While interracial marriage correlates to a higher rate of divorce, this parallel applies mainly to marriages involving a non-white male and white female.

This study seems to both contradict and confirm popular beliefs about  gender, race and marriage. What do you think of the results? Do you agree or disagree with the findings? What factors could be influencing the striking gender differences in divorce rates of interracial couples?

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46 thoughts on “Interracial Marriage and Divorce: The Study

  1. I am puzzled at why they didn’t account gender differences right from the start… I mean, those are marriages we’re talking about. Sure gender plays a role in it?

    But there’s one thing I’ve notices in all the discussions about race: people often don’t know how to add gender into these discussions. Some try to forgot about it alltogether, and others treat every race/gender combination as an essentially separate group. Some try to take a middle ground, so they observe connections each group has with other groups. They often believe a group is completely connected with another group based on one criteria (race or gender), but has nothing to do with the other one. What I’m saying is, some people choose to see women (or men) as basically the same, regardless of race, while others do the opposite: they treat all whites (or blacks) as the same, regardless of gender.

    Needless to say, it’s not the best way to look at things, because the situation is never that simple. You can’t measure the percentage of race influence as the opposite to gender influence, or to expect it to work the same for all (or the most) individuals.

    So basically, that’s what I’m thinking when presented with these results about interracial vs intraracial marriages. Indeed, what does it mean that interracial ones are more likely to end up in divorce? The stats you presented, Alee, acknowledge the problem and present a better understanding of the data, based on race and gender… But it’s still not clear what the data mean, I think.

    Let’s say marriages involving a white woman and a white man are most likely to end in divorce. Fine. But, it’s completely unclear why. Same goes for stability of black woman/white man pairings. Why are they more stable than the other pairings, even the intraracial ones?

    I might have some ideas about it, but the problem is, your guess is as good as mine. You can’t quantify these things, I think. That’s the problem I have with statistics. (Or maybe I just hate statistics).

  2. Mira,

    “I am puzzled at why they didn’t account gender differences right from the start… I mean, those are marriages we’re talking about. Sure gender plays a role in it?”

    Most of the studies were just on interracial marriages vs. intraracial so they were mainly interested in divorce rates of interracial marriages as a whole, irrespective of gender.

    “But there’s one thing I’ve notices in all the discussions about race: people often don’t know how to add gender into these discussions. Some try to forgot about it alltogether, and others treat every race/gender combination as an essentially separate group.”

    I admit I do the latter: treat every race/gender combination as an essentially separate group. But I recognize the ways that each is connected to other groups based on gender or perceived race.

    “Indeed, what does it mean that interracial ones are more likely to end up in divorce?…But it’s still not clear what the data mean, I think.”

    It means that, for whatever reason (I believe the reasons might be different for every pairing, in general), the divorce rates of interracial marriages are higher than those for intraracial marriages. However, that is in the aggregate, and basically only applies to interracial marriages involving white women. Interracial marriages involving white men either have only a slightly higher rate of divorce, or a lower rate of divorce, on average.

    “Let’s say marriages involving a white woman and a white man are most likely to end in divorce.”

    They’re not.

    “Same goes for stability of black woman/white man pairings. Why are they more stable than the other pairings, even the intraracial ones?”

    That’s the 10 million dollar question!

    I have some ideas on that, but I’ll wait for others’ responses before I add my personal thoughts.

  3. They’re not.

    lol It was a typo. I meant: white women and NON-white men.

    I don’t know much about different racial groups to have an answer to this. The only thing I can think of is that there’s something about white women that makes them more likely to divorce than other races of women. But then we must ask why their marriages with white men are more stable than to non-white ones?

    Or maybe it’s not about white women, but non-white men (less likely, because non-white men are more diverse group than white women).

    I am not sure.

  4. Which results, specifically, are confusing to you all? And what do you all think of the findings — agree or disagree?

    I was a little surprised at some of the results, but some were not surprising at all.

  5. I wasn’t surprised by the BW/WM findings, since I’ve heard that before. The White wife paradox was interesting, however, since it kind of flies in the face of the stereotype of White women as gentle/non-domineering, and thus, more palatable to men. What did this study do that others didn’t wrt controlling for background factors? That would seem to be a key element in any study like this. I skimmed the discussion section though, and that was pretty interesting.

  6. Everything is new to me. There are no interracial couples here, and nobody knows anything about them, nobody does any research on them.

    But then again, I am one of those people who don’t acknowledge clear groups when it comes to racial/gender cattegories, so I don’t know what “a white woman”, or an “Asian man” really mean.

    So none of the results were surprising… Hmmm, maybe it was surprising to learn there is a significan gender difference when it comes to a non-white partner.

  7. Jasmin,

    “The White wife paradox was interesting, however, since it kind of flies in the face of the stereotype of White women as gentle/non-domineering, and thus, more palatable to men.”

    It’s interesting because I’ve only heard non-white men reinforce this stereotype. Most white men I know wouldn’t even think to say something like this (even though some buy into that of Asian women being so). It seems every group of men thinks the submissive grass is greener on the other side.

    “What did this study do that others didn’t wrt controlling for background factors? That would seem to be a key element in any study like this.”

    If I recall correctly, they included whether the person’s parents’ were still married when they were 14 (divorced or separated), and their level of education (less than high school, high school, some college, etc).

    Mira,

    “Hmmm, maybe it was surprising to learn there is a significan gender difference when it comes to a non-white partner.”

    I guess I didn’t really find that surprising as each gender/race combination has its own stereotype in the U.S. (in addition to the overall stereotype based on race.)

  8. I know they say divorce is at an all time high because females are less dependent on men financially. That might especially apply to white women, and why their divorce rate is high when marrying other races.

    And I guess the main theory for why WM/BW marriages last the longest, is because since there aren’t norms supporting this coupling, and in some cases it’s taboo, that it’s more likely to be out of true love. 🙂

    Although I guess that doesn’t apply to asian men with white women, even though it’s a rare coupling.

  9. Well, it does seem that those who need to fight for their love, face stigma and what not will be more serious about their relationship.

  10. AJ,

    “I know they say divorce is at an all time high because females are less dependent on men financially. That might especially apply to white women, and why their divorce rate is high when marrying other races.”

    I don’t think so, because at least when it comes to white women/black men marriages, the women are more often of a lower socioeconomic background (according to the study).

  11. i kind of see AJ’s point here, except that i would say that all women feel less obligated to stay in marriages that are not working as a result of their ability to care for themselves financially. in other words, the increase in the divorce rate across the board is due, in part, to women not being financially dependent on their husbands. this, in my opinion, would also apply to women lower socioeconomically; since, even in that case, the men were also the major earners.
    i realize this doesn’t really respond to the statistics you are referencing in your post. i have a little burn-out concerning who marries who most & who divorces most. and i also was already familiar with these statistics.

  12. temple,

    Yes, these statistics have been referenced here and there, so I just wanted to do a post on the direct source.

    I agree that divorce has risen across the board since women have made gains career-wise. I thought AJ was referencing white women’s financial status relative to other groups of women as a possible reason why their divorce rates are higher. But it’s interesting to note the trends in divorce for interracial pairings by gender.

  13. temple, no, it’s completely fine! You can respond to comments as well, if you wish. In fact, do respond to comments. 🙂

  14. The statistics are indeed a mind-opener for those who will read this one.. But i do believe that if you are involved with IR marriage etc., what keeps your relationship is the strong decision that both parties have to stay firm no matter what really do matter.

  15. I am a African American women and my fiance is Bulgarian. So what does that make us? I know I am in a interracial relationship, but he doesn’t look white, he has light brown skin.

  16. Hi Shia,

    It’s still black/white interracial. Bulgarians are considered white and consider themselves white, even though they tend to look a little different from traditional white Americans.

    I used to date a Bulgarian guy — is yours a party animal too? 🙂

  17. Yes, he is LOL. He is very handsome, but I love him so much. He does consider himself white. One day in his African American History class he said he consider himself white and some of the white students go offended. It really hurt him. But I believe he still considers himself white. Thanks for your answer.

  18. Shia,

    Ha, I knew it. Those Balkans love to party. I don’t know what happened with Mira (or maybe she’s a closet party animal). 😀

    How sad about the other students getting offended at him considering himself white. I bet if he ever becomes famous, they’ll be quick to claim him as one of their own. 😉

  19. Bulgarians are white. Contrary to what Americans seem to believe, it’s possible to be white but not WASP. Ok, I know Americans know this, but I’m not sure if they truly understand it.

    Bulgarians see themselves as whites, and are seen as white in Europe. In this sense, they are white. What Americans think is not really essential to their racial identity.

    But in Bulgaria, just like the rest of the Balkans, race isn’t the most important thing: ethnicity is what’s more important. All people (all ethnic groups) here are white; but that doesn’t mean they necessarily like each other (quite the contrary). So the fact somebody’s Bulgarian, or Serbian, or Romanian, or Albanian is more important here than the fact they’re all whites.

    Alee,

    I don’t know what happened with Mira (or maybe she’s a closet party animal). 😀

    I was a party animal when I was 17. But I got bored of it by the time I was 19. I don’t consider it fun anymore.

  20. Yes they are white and they look white. I work with one and he looks as white as the Swedes I work with. At least in my eyes.

  21. Nkosazana and Mira,

    Of course race is a social construct, so America has constructed it to suit itself. 🙂

    Mira,

    “I was a party animal when I was 17. But I got bored of it”

    Oh, okay. So you’re a retired party animal. 😉

  22. As a white man beginning a relationship with a black woman, it fills me with hope that the numbers are on our side!

    Personally I believe that any two people that are SERIOUS about each other, will grow stronger together with whatever adversity may come their way. That the very things that threaten to tear them apart will make their relationship that much stronger.

    Should be noted that as far as I remember we are all one race, human race, and all bleed red. As long as people only see differences, or are unwilling to celebrate those differences nothing will change. (Sorry that sounds like a sound bite I know) We are still a young race, so if we don’t blow ourselves up our descendents will wonder at our folly over such a non-issue (in their eyes).

  23. Hi Terry 🙂

    Congratulations on your relationship. You seem like a good guy. I agree that serious couples learn and grow from adversity.

  24. I find these facts interesting. I looked them up because I feel my wife and I broke all the molds First, she is white and I am Latino. She is 15 years my junior, I have my Masters and she decided to go back to school and is a sophomore year in college. She comes from a well to do family and I had to work for everything I (we) have and on several occasions I’ve politely declined any offers from her family. We have been married almost 30 years and we raised two sons. And despite the ups and downs, the “D” word has never come up.
    What we do have in common is a deep love and respect for each other. I consider her my jewel and in my last breaths I want to see her face at my bedside. She has enormous respect for me and is a devoted wife as I am devoted to her. We see other couples who are envious of and keep asking “our secret”, which I only say love each other, have a high tolerance level. You’re never too old to have a date night (a dinner and a move at least twice a month). Never discourage each other from anything they want to do and be supportive and last but not least, have your sense of humor readily available.

  25. i am 17 years old and i know i have a lot to learn in the world and about it too, but believe in my experience, if you both that a grounded understanding, deep love and Huge respect for each other then race does not matter, i am sudanese and my partner is french and we are going strong in our relationship, he is 4 years older but he loves the fact that i’m black, and i love that about him.

    and with Terry i agree i am sure glad the numbers are on our side.

    😀

  26. *I believe in my experience
    * if you both have a grounded understanding
    * and i agree with Terry

    >.> sorry for the grammar ( it is late in the night and i’m off to bed)

    (@^_^@)

  27. In regards to Bulgarians, I’ve learned there is a ethnicity of “Roma” who are aslo Bulgarian. They have tan skin, and I think they consider themselves Roma or Gypsy. They don’t say their White, and the White Bulgarians usually have overt racism and prejudice against the Romas.

  28. Roma/Gypsies are hated all around Eastern Europe. Heck, they aren’t more loved on other parts of Europe or the world, but they are most numerous in Eastern Europe (particularly on the Balkans). They are hated and discriminated against. They make a significant minority in all Balkan and EE countries, but they are rarely seen as citizens in full sense of the word. One of the trouble is that they don’t have their own country to protect them (they’ve tried something with India, because this is where they originally came from, but India wasn’t interested in claiming them).

    Technically, they ARE white. They are Caucasian, and in school here, you learn there are 4 races of people: white, black, Asian (still called “yellow” here) and Native American (still called “red”) <- though these names were back in the early 90s when I was in school. So, they belong to the same race as, say, Norwegians. Some people do see them as whites.

    However, that doesn't help their status, because, white or not, they are Roma. They are not ethnic Bulgarians, (Serbs, Romanians, Croats, etc.) They are hated not because they aren't white; they are hated because they are Roma. So it's not as much a race hate as much as it's an ethnic hate. This is how things go in this part of the world. Race per se means nothing (biggest enemies of other Balkan peoples are other Balkan peoples, who are white). So you are hated for belonging to a wrong ethnicity.

    You can spend your whole life here and never truly meet a Roma person, at least not in some normal circumstances (friendship, school friends, co-workers). You meet only beggars and garbage men. Or musicians. I'm not kidding. I have no idea where Roma people actually live in my country, those who have normal homes. All you see are poor people living in paper houses under bridges and stuff. Most of them never go to school, even though elementary school (1-8 grade) is mandatory. They are treated like garbage by most people, even those who consider themselves open minded and anti-ethnic hate.

    I still remember an anecdote in one of the schools. There was a half-black child (child of a Serbian woman and a black man who came here as a student under the Non-Aligned nations movement). The child was teased because the other kids thought he was a Gypsy. Then, one day, his angry (white) mother came to school, almost screaming: "he's not a Gypsy, he's black!!!!" I can't see that happening in US, for example. Rumor has it the teasing stopped after that.

  29. There are more WW/WM pairings than there are BW/WM so it is basic math that more divorce rates will be reported for those couples that are more. Same goes for WW/BM, their divorce rates are again more because WW/BM are more common than BW\WM. You have to look at the number of couples too, which is just as important.

  30. Black men and White women are seen as prizes in society, whether black men want to acknowledge it or not. Theirs is a more narcissistic pairing (when a white woman is involved) because it is likely less to do with “love” and more with “infatuation” and “winning” for the non-White male.

    For a Black woman and White man to commit to each other, they have to reflect. It is a union of greater consequence socially and a union not to be taken lightly. Black women have been taken through the ringer PR-wise, and have taken the brunt of race inequality and venomous Black male patriarchy. White men have to consider compromising their privilege to be with a Black woman. Each party is less likely to walk into a union recklessly.

  31. The fact that black men and white Women are the most likely to divorce must tell you something. It’s not because they’re more common that the reciprocate (WM/BW), It’s because of the BLACK MAN. If a White Man wants/marries a Black Women, logically he must really love and cherish her Because he could easily have one of his own. With black men, its more on a superficial basis for them marrying white Women, and there is no substance. Mostly of what you’ve seen in the entertainment industry.

  32. Hi Robyn,

    Are you the same Robyn that used to comment here? I’m guessing not since the name is spelled differently, but thought I’d ask anyway.

  33. I’m an AA woman who has been married to a white (Danish) man for nearly 5 years. I also come from a family where my mom married a white American man (whom I consider to be my dad), and they’ve been together since 1978. I have a younger, mixed-race sister.
    The interesting thing about my mom, being the youngest of 7 kids (6 older brothers), is that her marriage is still on. Four of her brothers have been married before to black women, and all of them got divorced. Two of them got divorced TWICE.
    So I’m not surprised at the findings at all. I do agree that some of the mitigating factors like education level and age are important when looking at the survival of a marriage. (Though I have a higher education level than my husband, I didn’t get married until I was 36, I didn’t have children of my own going in, and my husband is still the breadwinner. My husband has been married before (to a white woman) and has 3 kids with her.)

    But I think this study says far more about white women than it does about Black men. I live in Denmark, and there are few interracial marriages here. But when you see them, it’s usually between a white man and a non-white woman.
    I think white women on both sides of the Atlantic are EXACTLY the kind of women that everyone seems to assume that black women are: domineering, arrogant, “non-obedient” (lacking a better phrase), and just not visually attractive. I feel that we black women are far more vulnerable emotionally to factors beyond our control (the Euro-centric power structure plus Black male patriarchy), and white women just don’t face the same kind of crap that all non-white women face in their entire lives. (That’s why I really don’t describe myself as a “feminist” though I do share a lot of the ideals of feminism.)

    I don’t mean for this to come across as harsh but I think a lot of white people buy into their own press release of being the “most desirable being on the planet”, and white women in particular swallow this hook, line and sinker. So a lot of them get this attitude that they can treat any man they come across (especially white men) like sh*t. So it’s not a surprise that a lot of these extreme-right wing white men hate “(white) feminism” with a hot passion. It’s an interesting conundrum that the white racists put themselves in: They simultaneously claim that white womanhood is the epitome of a stable society and racial purity, and yet a lot of these same racist men want to subdue (or even kill!) these same white women the minute they start asserting themselves in the world.

    I think most people overlook the fact that the white woman every single white man will first encounter in their lives is their mother, and I think that’s the woman that will set the tone on how white men view other women when they become adults. My stepson is 19, and he’s at an age where the girls are checking him out. I can tell just from the 6 years I spent with my stepson is that his future gf or wife will very likely be a non-white woman, since the first white women he ever encountered was literally crazy.

    I do admire the black men who try to make it work with white women because of all the cultural baggage black men carry. But I also feel that some of the black men who do this have been “emasculated” to a point where they feel that they have to go after the white women to show that they can have them, and they only remember they’re “black” when white society at large reject them (read: O.J. Simpson, Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods…).

    But I hope this study is something of a positive message for both blacks and whites since we seem to have the widest distrust gap with the other: Racial reconciliation CAN happen. Something like reconciliation isn’t going to come from government programs or whatever – it has to come from within ourselves. As someone said earlier: we all belong to the human race, after all.

  34. I wouldn’t want my white daughter to marry a black man, not with that divorce rate. Also I don’t like the higher rates of spousal abuse and infidelity. I don’t want to have to raise my daughters kids.

  35. Mike, statistics are just that, so if you’re ever put in that situation it would be better to take it as an individual case. It’s nice to be aware of the numbers, but don’t allow them to dictate your life. Everyone is different and your daughter could find a great black man who treats her well.

  36. I’m not judging, but I think (black men/ white women) marriage end up in divorce much more than other marriages, because in general white women think they are better than a black man, or maybe because the black man is not educated as his white wife. Though I don’t believe skin color effects a relationship if the love is true. Most important thing in choosing a partner is the manners and ethics. Of course the looks are important too, and every person has his own taste.

  37. @ Don : “There are more WW/WM pairings than there are BW/WM so it is basic math that more divorce rates will be reported for those couples that are more. Same goes for WW/BM, their divorce rates are again more because WW/BM are more common than BW\WM. You have to look at the number of couples too, which is just as important.”

    Statistics don’t work that way, it’s about PERCENTAGE of numbers, the proportions.

    Example :
    If there are 50 BW/WM unions and 25 divorces, that’s 50% of divorces.
    If there are 100 WM/WW unions and 50 divorces, that’s STILL 50% of divorces. Althought the number of marriages and divorces are higher the percentage is the same. STATISTICS calculate the percentage (i.e. proportion).

    So when they tell you there are less BW/WM divorces, it’s because proportionally they have more successful marriages. In other words, It’s not about mere numbers, it’s about the proportions of success based on respective numbers of marriage of each groups.

  38. @ Taila : “I think white women on both sides of the Atlantic are EXACTLY the kind of women that everyone seems to assume that black women are: domineering, arrogant, “non-obedient” (lacking a better phrase), and just not visually attractive.”

    Couldn’t have said it better. I believe they are the most belligerent and least marriage material ones. Because of their sense of entitlement. That’s not everyone but that’s the tendency. They can’t stay married to black, asian and other minority men, there is no coincidence. Believe it or not some of these women date and marry minority men to be “worshipped”. But I guess after a while they can’t stand the challenges of being with a minority man and having minority kids, many of them abandon those children after divorce.

  39. I’m white English my husband is black ghanian I have 3 children and 5 grandchildren I have been married 38 years now my husband has retired and gone back to his country built a big house moved his son and grandaughter in and doesn’t bother about any of us

  40. As a white woman married to an Asian man I believe I can add to why white women experience so much more divorce when they marry outside their race. It boils down to plain racism.

    My husband’s mother and sister frequently make backhanded comments how white women can’t cook or clean or the fact that my husband’s father said to him that white women age early so he should reconsider being with me or other white women.

    To further convince me that this is not just something isolated to my husband’s family I frequently experience racism with other Asians. Since my last name is Chinese, Asians often ask if I am Asian or at least part Asian once I explain to them that I am completely white and just married to a man from Chinese decent they immediately become hostile. This usually happens with Asian women which I find interesting since Asian women have been marrying white men for ages.

    So as you can see based off of my experience I believe that it is racism that is causing so much strain in white wife/ non-white husband marriages just insert whatever brand of racism the husband is coming from.

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