We have completed maintenance on DiscoverMagazine.com and action may be required on your account. Learn More

Interracial divorce, the matrix of sex & race

Gene Expression
By Razib Khan
Mar 6, 2010 2:15 PMMay 16, 2023 4:14 PM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

It has been known for years that interracial marriages have higher than expected divorce rates. But I did not know that the rates varied quite a bit contingent on the combination of race & sex. Gori Girl* has a post up, Interracial Divorce in the U.S. - Statistics and How Much They Matter:

- Marriages that do not cross a race barrier, but do have different ethnicities (i.e. white/Hispanic white) have a rate of divorce just a little higher than white/white marriages. - Interracial marriages that have one white person and one person of another race mostly only show higher divorce rates when the white spouse is a female (i.e. white guy + other race girl don't show particularly high divorce rates compared to same-race couples). - Black husband/white wife marriages are twice as likely to divorce as white/white marriages, and Asian husband/white wife marriages are about 60% more likely to divorce as white/white marriages. Which, I suppose is an unfortunate statistic for Aditya and me (and one I didn't expect at all)! - White husband/black wife were nearly 50% less likely to divorce than white/white couples, and white husband/Asian wife couples had pretty much the same divorce rate as white/white couples - Compared to Hispanic/Hispanic couples, Hispanic white/white couples showed a higher likelihood of divorce (not surprising). Likewise, Asian/white couples were more likely to divorce than Asian/Asian couples. However, black/white couples only show a higher rate of divorce compared to black/black couples if the white person in the relationship is a woman. - The researchers were unable to evaluate other sorts of interracial marriages, such as black/Asian, because of the low number of such couples in the sample data.

The higher divorce rates for white female/non-white male dyads somewhat surprised me, but perhaps I shouldn't have been. There seems a robust body of social science that white women in the United States are particularly race conscious. I stumbled onto a paper which emphasized this point, and its subtle nuances, recently. I didn't blog it because the sex difference in racial mating preference is such a robust finding that it doesn't seem noteworthy (though perhaps racialist message boards should focus a bit more on male rather than female "race traitors," as it is the XY who are more open to sullying the purity of the volk). In any case, the paper is Gendered racial exclusion among white internet daters. Here's the figure which stood out to me:

The big finding is this: among white women who stated a racial preference on Yahoo Personals, 73%, 64% of these selected that they wished to date white men only. In contrast, among white men who stated a racial preference, 60%, only 29% of these stated that they would like to date white women only. In other words: men who expressed racial preferences were excluding particular types of women, while women who expressed racial preferences were doing so to include only men of their own race. This seems to comport with previous work which suggests that once you control for perceived physical attractiveness men do not discriminate much in dating, while women continue to discriminate even if they assess out-group males to be physically attractive (e.g., one would conclude from this that the white male aversion to dating black women has to do with assessments of physical appearance, as much of the discriminatory effect disappears once you control for assessed attractiveness). This makes some sense, men generally weight physical appearance higher than women in the calculus which determines their preferences. What can you infer by combining the findings of the two surveys? I'll leave it up to readers. I am struck though by the low divorce rates in the pairings of white males with black women. This is a combination against general social expectation. There are a fair number white men who prefer to date and marry black women, Robert De Niro and Roger Ebert are two prominent instances. One might guess that these men go through a "social filter" whereby their pairings have to be strongly favored for them to be continue onto marriage. But how to explain the high divorce rates of white women who marry Asian American men? The same logic should apply. I suspect that a general model may not be helpful here, and that particular cultural and social dynamics may differ across all the pairs (e.g., I assume Gori Girl expected higher divorce rates for Hispanics who marry whites than those who in-marry because Hispanic Catholic culture frowns against divorce). In contrast to this complexity, there are now a large number of studies which suggest that women have a stronger endogamous preference than men. This holds true in elite Ivy League samples, and more general population samples. Though the magnitude may vary by race (white women are invariably extremely race conscious, black women seem to be more varied according to study demographics, and in some cases Asian women are not racially discriminatory against white males, though they do not prefer them) the male-female gap seems to persist robustly. I'll withhold from offering an evolutionary psychological explanation lest "miko" unleash his wrath :-) Note: Of course, until we get some non-American studies perhaps these are simply telling us something about American culture. Though I believe that the Columbia speed dating study including international students.... * "Gori" is a term South Asian term for a European female. More specifically, it seems a Hindi-Punjabi term which has spread in the Diaspora. I hadn't heard the term until I was an adult because I never watched Hindi movies, and my family speaks Bengali, and we do not use this term (at least in the dialect of Bengali which we speak). Though I think "Gori Girl" is married to a Bengali man, so I don't know.

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.