Richard P. Loving and his wife, Mildred, pose in this Jan. 26, 1965, file photograph. Residents of Caroline County, Va., the Lovings married in Washington, D.C., in 1958. Upon their return to Virginia, the interracial couple was convicted under the state’s law that banned mixed marriages. They eventually won a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June 1967 that overturned laws prohibiting interracial unions. (AP Photo)
Richard P. Loving and his wife, Mildred, pose in this Jan. 26,…
Fifty years after the U.S. Supreme Court tossed out all remaining laws banning interracial marriage, roughly 17 percent of newlyweds across the country are getting hitched to someone of a different race or ethnicity, up from 3 percent in 1967, according to a Pew Research Center study released Thursday.
But the study found wide societal disparities in who is entering into interracial marriage and how they feel about such unions — differences that cut along generational, geographical, racial and partisan lines.
The study drew data from Pew surveys, the U.S. Census and the research group NORC at the University of Chicago.
Overall, 10 percent of all married couples — 11 million people — were in interracial marriages as of 2015, with the most common pairing a Hispanic husband and a white wife, researchers found. But the newlyweds, defined as people in their first year of marriage, continue to drive that number up.
Both changes in social norms and raw demographics have contributed to the increase, with Asians and Hispanics — the two groups most likely to marry someone of another race — making up a greater part of the U.S. population in recent decades, according to the report.
Meanwhile, public opinion has steadily shifted toward acceptance, with the most dramatic change seen in the number of non-blacks who say they would oppose a close relative marrying a black person. In 2016, 14 percent of whites, Hispanics and Asians polled said they would oppose such a marriage, down from 63 percent in 1990.
Rates of interracial marriage vary in many ways — by race, age, gender, geography, political affiliation and education level. And the differences can be stark.
Among newlyweds, for example, African American men are twice as likely to marry someone of a different race than African American women — 24 percent to 12 percent. While the overall intermarriage rates have increased for blacks of each gender, the gap between genders is “long-standing,” the Pew researchers said.
This gender disparity is reversed for Asians, with 21 percent of recently married men in interracial unions, compared to 36 percent of women. Why such differences exist, however, is not entirely understood.
“There’s no clear answer in my view,” said Jennifer Lee, a sociology professor at UC Irvine and an expert in immigration and race. “What I suspect is happening are Western ideals about what feminity is and what masculinity is.”
Lee said the greater rates of interracial marriage for Hispanics and Asians are arguably easier to untangle.
“We’re more likely to view Asian and Hispanic and white as intercultural marriages — they see themselves crossing a cultural barrier more so than a racial barrier,” she said. But a marriage between a black person and a white person crosses a racial color line, “a much more difficult line to cross.”
The study found the rates of interracial marriage and the acceptance of it can rise and fall with factors like geography and political inclination. In urban areas, for example, 18 percent of newlyweds married someone of a different race in recent years, compared to 11 percent outside of cities.
Meanwhile, in a survey conducted in early March, 49 percent of Democrats or those leaning Democrat said interracial marriage was generally good for society, compared to 28 percent of Republicans or those leaning Republican. Six percent of those on the Democratic side said it was generally bad for society, compared to 12 percent on the Republican side.
Information on same-sex married couples is included in the report, based on available data from 2013 and later.
Despite the greater number of interracial marriages — and increasing social acceptance — perspective is important, Lee said.
“I think it’s easy to look at trends and think attitudes are improving about race relations,” she said. “Attitudes have shifted and the data has shifted, but interracial marriage is not universal and it’s still not the norm.”
The Pew study marked a half-century since the landmark Supreme Court ruling, Loving vs. Virginia, that invalidated anti-miscegenation laws that remained in more than a dozen states. The case vindicated Mildred Loving, who was black, and her white husband, Richard Loving, after the state of Virginia objected to their 1958 wedding, arrested them and sentenced them to a year in prison.