There was a time, not that long ago, when interracial marriage in the U.S. was a completely illegal no-no. Well, flash forward to a half-century or so later, and the picture looks completely different. Intermarriage between races has been steadily on the rise and has now, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center, reached an all-time high—a development which could eventually fundamentally alter the way we freak out about each other's skin colors.
As of 2010, a record 8.4 percent of all current U.S. marriages were interracial. Back in 1980, that number was just 3.2 percent. Part of the reason for the increase is that the large number of Asian and Hispanic immigrants who've flooded in, expanding the choices people have in spouses. If you break the data—which is based on the 2010 census and additional surveys—down by race, there are some interesting patterns. Hispanics and Asians remain the most like to marry someone of another race. Black people, who've traditionally been the most segregated, are now far more likely to marry whites than they were before. Interracial marriages tend to be more common in the West, which makes sense given the region's large Asian and Hispanic populations. In the western states (including Hawaii), nearly 1 in 5 marriages are mixed race—compared with 1 in 12 nationally. By contrast, Vermont had only a four percent rate of intermarriage.
Of course, when people of different races marry that often leads to having gorgeous mixed race children, and thus interracial coupling has created a growing demographic group of multiracial Americans. As of 2010, they number about nine million strong, which is about 8 percent of the minority population as a whole.
So what do all these numbers mean in practical terms. Well, certainly the times they are a-changin'. As interracial coupling has increased, so too has acceptance of it. The Pew data shows that about 83 percent of people say it is "all right for blacks and whites to date each other." In 1987, that number was only 48 percent. Interestingly, there's a little disparity between the number who think interracial dating is fine and the number of people who say it "would be fine" if one of their family members married outside their race. Only 63 percent of people surveyed were cool with that. But whether people accept it immediately or not, the ever-increasing rate of interracial marriage is definitely affecting how the races relate to one another. According to Daniel Lichter, a sociology professor at Cornell,
The rise in interracial marriage indicates that race relations have improved over the past quarter century. Mixed-race children have blurred America's color line. They often interact with others on either side of the racial divide and frequently serve as brokers between friends and family members of different racial backgrounds. But America still has a long way to go.
That's very true, but if you take the very long view, says Paul Taylor, director of Pew's Social & Demographic Trends project, things are moving along at a pretty good clip:
In the past century, intermarriage has evolved from being illegal, to be a taboo and then to be merely unusual. And with each passing year, it becomes less unusual. That says a lot about the state of race relations. Behaviors have changed and attitudes have changed.
Indeed they have. Certainly there are places where people will resist this change until their dying day, but that's just it: they'll be dead eventually. And in their place will be generations of people who view interracial marriage as normal and also have less strict ideas about the divisions between races. Considering how far we've come, even since the 1980s, it's possible to envision that 40 or 50 years from now, when minorities are projected to become the majority of the U.S. population, things will be so blurry that we'll barely even see the lines between races anymore. Plus, the planet will probably be getting so thoroughly baked by global warming that we'll all have crispy sunburnt skin and nobody will be able to tell what color we were originally.
Image via Lucian Coman/Shutterstock.