Trends in Interracial Dating

The Los Angeles Times reports some interesting, if unsurprising, numbers:

A Cultural Exchange — of Vows

Twentysomething brides and grooms are typically more accepting of interracial relationships than their parents. When the Pew Research Center in Washington began polling Americans about their attitudes toward interracial dating in 1987, only 48% of the public approved. By 2003, the most recent year the question was asked, acceptance had increased to 77%.

The greatest acceptance was among the youngest polled: 91% of Generation Y participants said in 2003 they approved of interracial dating, compared with 85% of Gen Xers, 77% of boomers and 49% of the World War II generation.

Since I myself am in an interracial marriage, I tend to find such trends quite encouraging. I imagine that many others do, as well.

But, of course, we have to be cautious about drawing the wrong conclusions from the numbers. Simply because people approve of such relationships does not necessarily mean that they seek to become involved in them. Perhaps the most enlightening section of Freakonomics deals with the often wide gap between stated preferences and revealed preferences. Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner highlight a paper about online dating entitled “What Makes You Click,” which shows that approximately half of white women and more than three-quarters of white men declare no ethnic preference in searching for a date. Yet around 97% of these women and 90% of these men send email queries to members of the same ethnicity.

To be sure, it’s difficult to say definitively whether people lie about interracial dating or whether other preferences just happen to lead to this breakdown. The study’s authors — Gunter Hitsch, Ali Hortacsu, and Dan Ariely — do not delve this far (seemingly because of sample-size issues). But I think that we should view the Times statistics with some skepticism. In general, polls are susceptible to lies. When they touch on race, and respondents have incentives to portray open-mindedness, the methodological problem heightens.

FILED UNDER: Race and Politics, , ,
Robert Garcia Tagorda
About Robert Garcia Tagorda
Robert blogged prolifically at OTB from November 2004 to August 2005, when career demands took him in a different direction. He graduated summa cum laude from Claremont McKenna College with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and earned his Master in Public Policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.


  1. Freedebate says:

    I also think there is a marked difference in opinion (whethere expressed or not) regarding which two races are involved. My perception (not based on any specific evidence) is that a relationship between a caucasian and a hispanic or asian would be more acceptable to many than a caucasian and african-american. Also, the prohibitions of reace can be much stronger between minorities than between caucasians and minorities. I think it would be more acceptable to relatives involved for a caucasian – african-american relationship than, lets say, a Asian – african-american.

  2. Yes, I believe that there’s some social-science research corroborating those hypotheses.

  3. Fersboo says:

    As an amateur people watcher, I took the opportunity this week when two tickets to the Seal concert at Wolf Trap landed in my lap to take a good look of the crowd. As most Seal fans know, he recently married Heidi Klum and I found a correlation with his fan-base present. (I was more interested in the various hippie types and the wide range of ages). Although I have married within my race, I spent my most of my single life dating those of other races, blacks, Indians, Hispanics, east Indians, & Orientals. I found that the relationships did not differ tremendously. I never found much in the way of discrimination or negativeness; not much more than for dating women who were not considered overly pretty or the general ribbing many get for being PW’d.

  4. ThePumpkinLady says:

    I surmise that people might be much more approving of interracial dating in the abstract than actually want to date interracially themselves. If someone feels that obstacles such as familial disapproval, cultural and gender-role differences, and especially for white women, loss of white privilege, will make a relationship fraught with difficulty they may not want to risk it.

    Most people probably do feel that interracial dating is a fine idea. Just that for them personally the price they pay may be too dear. Rather like wanting to sail around the world but not being able to quit one’s day job.

  5. Just Me says:

    I think the acceptance of it is a step in the right direction-first people have to feel comfortable with the concept before they are going to be involved in it themselves.

    While I am not in an interacial marriage, I was open to the idea of dating other races (just worked out that the man I married is the same race). But I remember having a conversation about it with my father-who was born before WWII, and wasn’t too keen on the concept. I asked him what he would rather have for a son in law-a really fine young black man, or a drunken slob who was white. When he thought about it in those terms, he realized that race wasn’t all that important.

    I say give it another generation, and interacial dating/marriages will probably be very common, as the generations most uncomfortable with it die off.

  6. I, for one, was really happy when we here in Alabama finally voted to repeal our laws against interracial marriage a few years back. Sure, the laws had already been invalidated by the Supreme Court, but it was good to finally have that black mark off our record.

    Oh, and I’m not in a mixed race relationship but my best friend has been in an interracial marriage for 12 years. I’ve got no problems with it at all, and never have.

  7. Jim Durbin says:

    I’ve been watching a trend in interracial marriage of white men in their 30’s marrying black women in their 20’s.
    Culturally, it’s a great fit. Black women tend to be more traditional, religious, and expectant that a man be able to provide for a family on his own. The white guy in his thirties has the income, but after a decade of dating or a failed marriage is often looking for someone who wants a male provider, not a competitor. Throw in the mix the smaller pool of unatttached eligible black men in their 20’s and 30’s with a college degree and you have a recipe for tens of thousands of “Guess Who” relationships.
    With a rising black middle class and the prevalence of interracial children, the daughters of suburban black families can marry for love without the stigma of race betrayal that was characteristic as late as the 80’s and 90’s. Outside of the inner city, the black family is recognized as just another American family trying to provide for their own rather than getting blasted for “trying to be white” from one side and “being uppity” from the other side.

    Guess Who, despite the presence of Ashton Kutcher, was a breakthrough film. It could not have been made even a decade ago. It dealt with the issue of race far better than the original Sidne Poitier film, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, which was heavy on the moralizing and avoided dealing with underlying tension.

    Now if we could just handle the conservative/liberal marriages. Well, I’m not ready to accept those just yet.

  8. inamix says:

    my 2 cents. I have been in a mixed marriage with the same man for many years. I would like to say that there are some challenges but nothing next to being married to someone you dont love. I think people of the same race or culture are more likely to have more background in common (generally). Also, I think when people dont fall in love but decide to “settle” , they will go for the convenient same-race pick.
    Those of us who have married outside the race are more likely to have married the one they couldnt live without. While same-race couples often are that way, they also include some of the “settlers”. I think this may explain some of the discrepency.

  9. racemixingiswrong says:

    Ashton Kutcher is a race traitor. Interracial anything is wrong. Today’s society is far too accepting of the multicultural garbage that they teach in schools. They are brainwashing the young people into thinking a certain way without letting them decide. Anyone who interracially dates is turning their back on their race. Why would you want to marry down? Are you trying to spite society? Do you think you are too good for members of your own race? Are you trying to rebel against the establishment. Oh, and I don’t like my posts being deleted just because you don’t agree with them. What about my rights? What about the first amendment? It goes both ways. After all, I am just voicing my opinion just like the rest of you, only it doesn’t happen to fit the “trend”. I would also like to add that I am not just trying to get a rise out of people or playing devil’s advocate simply for shock value or anything like that. I really do believe this way. And the best part? I go to college and I don’t agree with these lovey-dovey trends. What does that tell you about the future of this country?