Intermarriage among Blacks in America

The newly released report Marrying Out tracks the boundary crossings in terms of interracial marriages that are happening among the races in the United States. The timing of the report is propitious; for the past year or so, we have been investigating another aspect of this boundary crossing in America – that is, intermarriages among blacks. Using Census data from 2000, we identify, for the first time, the proportion and the dominant forms of interethnic marriage between black Americans, who are native to America, and blacks who come from the Caribbean and Africa.

The report Marrying Out reveals the historical significance of interracial marriage as an indication of race relations in this great land of ours. But equally significant, we think, is the extent to which immigrant blacks are marrying native black Americans. In general, researchers presume that cultural differences among blacks are so profound and conflict so pervasive that black immigrants (mainly Caribbean and African) are more likely to distance themselves than identify with African Americans. Even as the American black population becomes more diverse through immigration, especially in large metropolitan areas, it is taken for granted that, as immigrants, Caribbean and African blacks wish to increase their chances of social mobility by avoiding marriage with African Americans (Jackson 2007, Beyond social distancing: Intermarriage and ethnic boundaries among black Americans in Boston pp. 217 – 254).

We focused our attention on black ethnic intermarriages: marriages among blacks with different ethnic ancestry (also described as black intraracial marriages) because we realized, after reviewing the literature, that there was no information on black interethnic marriages. Despite much recent scholarly attention, we did not find definitive answers to (basic) questions such as: What proportion of black marriages is interethnic? What are the dominant types of interethnic marriage among blacks? Who marries whom among blacks? How educated are these intermarried couples? What do they earn? How long has America been home to the immigrant spouses? Where in America do these couples live? We used data from the 5% Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) of the 2000 U.S. Census that link the attributes of individuals in a given household to the attributes of the head of household. (The designation “head of household” is usually the person, or one of the people, in whose name the home is owned, bought, or rented. The head of household is usually the one who provides primary support for the household.) Our goal was to capture black interethnic married couple households.


Based on Census 2000 data, we obtained a sub-population of 102,887 black intraracial non-Hispanic married couples from America, the Caribbean and Africa. This number represents about 3% of all marriages involving non-Hispanic blacks (as shown in table 1).

Undoubtedly, the estimate we report here has grown over the past 10 years given current migration and mobility patterns. Although we cannot be certain about the extent of growth, our baseline 2000 data gives a threshold for measuring the boundary crossing that is occurring among blacks. But, compared to interracial marriages (see Marrying Out report), should the rate of black interethnic (black intraracial) marriages be higher, at least about the same as the rate of black interracial marriages?

Among black interethnic marriages, there are more unions involving Caribbean husbands and American wives (41%) followed by American husbands with Caribbean wives (34%). This represents three-quarters of all black interethnic marriages. The higher rate of interethnic marriage with Caribbean partners is consistent with their population size and their history of migration to the United States. Caribbean blacks have been migrating to the United States since the early 1900s; and American and Caribbean blacks share a long period of interaction when compared to recent African immigrants. And the probability of intermarriage with native-born counterparts increases the longer the migrant resides in the host country. The rarest form of intraracial coupling is the one involving Caribbean husbands and African wives.

We also found that: (1) By proportion, more Caribbean husbands are older (≥ 55 years) when compared to American husbands and African husbands in interethnic married households (shown in table 2). (2) By proportion, more intermarried Africans have college degrees (tables 2 and 3). (3) Proportionately more American husbands and African husbands earn high incomes (≥ $75,000) than Caribbean husbands (table 2). (4) More Caribbean spouses have been in the United States longer when compared to African spouses (tables 2 & 3). (5) The households of African husbands and Caribbean wives seem to be prosperous – more of these couples have college degrees and more of them earn high incomes. Their profile suggests that among black interethnic married couples, this type may be the proverbial ‘power couple.’ Black interethnic married couple households are mainly in New York/New Jersey, Florida, Georgia, Maryland/Virginia/DC, Texas, and California. They are, to a lesser extent, also in Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota/Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Our results and the results of the Marrying Out report contradict the conclusions of two studies; one study by Model and Fisher (2002: Unions between blacks and whites: England and the US compared. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 25, pp 728–754) contended that: “when blacks out-marry, they are far less likely to choose white partners than black partners of a different ethnicity”. Another study by Batson, Qian, & Lichter (2006, Interracial and intraracial patterns of mate selection among America’s diverse black population. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68, 658 – 672) reported that “a disproportionate share of Blacks, regardless of national origin, are likely to cohabit with other groups than to out-marry.”

Regine O. Jackson (Assistant Professor, Emory University) and
Yoku Shaw-Taylor (Research Scientist)