UNITED STATES, May 11, 2009 (Gori Girl): Want to settle the debate on how much interracial marriage there is in the US? I know I’m tired of hearing the occasional uninformed comment on how South Asians just don’t marry people outside their ethnicity, and isn’t it downright odd that my supposedly proud-of-his-Indian-heritage husband would do so?

Well, the statistics on interracial marriages in America are now here, courtesy the US Census, so we can put this baby to rest. Actually, the statistics have always been “here” since the 2000 Census information was released, but I’m not such a numbers nerd that I felt like crunching the raw data myself with SAS or STATA. Luckily for me, a pair of sociologists have already done the dirty work, and their results have been made available at Dr. C.N. Le’s Asian Nation website. I’m going to only present the South Asian related statistics here, but Dr. Le has the same sort of information available on all Asian ethnicities, and you can tease out information about other ethnicities as well.

The data on interracial marriages is broken down first into the sexes – so we can see how intermarriage varies by gender , and then into the three following groups, each of which gives us a snapshot of the whole picture:

1. Marriages of ALL South Asian individuals, whether the person is an immigrant to the US or not. This data is great in one way, as it let’s you know what types of marriages the entire South Asian population have, but it’s also troublesome. The problem is that a lot of married people immigrate to the US, and they’ll be counted in this group too. That means the data captures not only the type of marriages taking place in the US, but also how prevalent interracial marriages are in India & neighboring countries (hint: it’s quite, quite low). Why does that matter? Well, it’s the difference between marriages happening in America and married people living in America – if you want to know more about former, you won’t learn it here. The information about this group of all desis, however, will let you know how likely it is that the random brown person you grab off the street in the US is married to someone of a different ethnicity.

2. Marriages of South Asians where the South Asian individual in the marriage was raised in the US. To be considered “raised in the US” for this study, you must have been born & raised here, or have immigrated to the US no later than age 13. If you immigrated to the the US after 13, then your childhood was primarily spent elsewhere, and you’re considered foreign-raised. This second group serves as a sort-of proxy for marriages that take place in the US, since only the spouse may be foreign-raised, not the individual in question (remember, we’re taking the sexes separately, so for the guys, belonging to this category would mean the guy was US-raised and the woman was either US-raised or foreign-raised. This set up allows us to avoid counting couples composed of two foreign-raised individuals – which are the couples who likely immigrated here already married.

3. Marriages of South Asians where both the South Asian individual and the spouse are US-raised. This third group is pretty straightforward, and is quite interesting in terms of seeing how Indian immigrants’ children are intermixing with the rest of America.

Clear trends can be seen here, with couples composed of a male South Asian raised in the US achieving greater percentages of interracial marriage than the group of desis as a whole. About 8.1% of all South Asian guys (group 1) marry someone of a different race (is that higher than you suspected? It is for me!), but among American-raised desi guys marrying American-raised women (group 3) 43.4% of them are marrying interracially – quite a lot! Note, however, that of all US-raised South Asian dude (group 2), only 26.7% of them married interracially. It’s only those that chose to marry other US-raised individuals that married outside of their ethnicity to such a large degree.
Now for the girls:

The intermarriage rates here are a little lower compared to the guys for the whole population (6.4%), but, surprisingly higher for the group 3 girls, with 45.7% marrying someone of a different ethnicity. The majority of the difference for group 3 between genders seems to come from marriages between South Asians and whites, as “only” 31% of South Asian men in group 3 marry white women, but 36.3% of South Asian women in group 3 marry white guys. It’s a bit curious though, that as we look at US-raised desis as a whole (i.e. group 2), we don’t see the same difference in the marrying of white folk – 18.5% of US-raised Indian guys married white woman & 18.9% of US-raised Indian gals married white men. Overall, 24.3% of US-raised desi women married out of their ethnicity, which is lower than it is for group 2 guys.

Now, you might be saying, “Wait a second – there’s no way these numbers are correct – I know a lot of South Asians, and very few of them are married interracially.” And, of course, you’d be correct. The higher percentages of interracial marriage only occur among US-raised South Asians. And only about 1 in 10 of all the married desi individuals living in the US is US-raised. There’s about 630 thousand married Indian guys, of which only 54 thousand are US-raised. It’s similar with the females, with 580 thousand married Indian gals in the US, of whom only 60 thousand are US-raised.

A few disclaimers:

This data is drawn from the US Census, and, like all censuses, it isn’t perfect. That being said, it’s a hella a lot better than the vast majority of sociological data out there, especially when compared to similar-sized data sets.
The data does not discriminate between citizens and non-citizens – just all people living in the US at the time of the 2000 census. So, for example, if Aditya and I had been married at that time, he would have shown up in this data, even though he’s just a green card holder.
These percentages are based off of different sized groups, so don’t go adding and subtracting percentages willy-nilly. If you want a number calculated, just ask.
I think the number most surprising to me was the percentage of foreign-raised South Asians who marry interracially. It’s 6.3% for men and 6.0% for women. Really, I wouldn’t have expected it to be that high – and this data is from 2000, so it’s a bit outdated.