Expert Commentary

Intermarriage and U.S. Hispanics: New research

Hispanics born in the United States often marry non-Hispanics, new research suggests. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Hispanics who immigrate do not intermarry.


Hispanics born in the United States often marry non-Hispanics, new research suggests. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Hispanics who immigrate do not intermarry.

The issue:  Hispanics have, for many years, been the fastest growing population in the U.S., thanks largely to high fertility rates and an influx of immigrants from Mexico and Central and South America. While Hispanic population growth appears to be leveling off, Hispanics still account for much of the nation’s overall growth, according to an August 2017 report from the Pew Research Center. Between 2016 and 2017, the U.S. population rose by more than 2.2 million people and 51 percent of those new people were Hispanic.

The federal government considers someone to be Hispanic if he or she is “a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.” It’s a broad label applied to a diverse group of individuals who may or may not speak Spanish. U.S. Census figures indicate there were 56.6 million Hispanics in the U.S. in July 2015, a number projected to swell to 119 million in 2060.

An academic study worth reading: “Divergent Pathways to Assimilation? Local Marriage Markets and Intermarriage among U.S. Hispanics,” published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, 2017.

About the study: A team of scholars led by Zhenchao Qian, a sociology professor and research associate at Brown University’s Population Studies and Training Center, sought to better understand changes in America’s Hispanic population by comparing the marriage patterns of Hispanics who are born in the U.S. to those who immigrate.

The scholars examined data from the 2009-2014 annual rounds of the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, focusing on individuals who had gotten married within the previous year and live in one of 98 metropolitan areas with populations of 100,000 or more. Qian and his colleagues looked at mate selection trends and how factors such as education, income and neighborhood diversity might influence them.

Key takeaways:

  • More than 60 percent of all Hispanics identified as white. Only 2 percent identified as black. Many darker-skinned Hispanics reported belonging to an “other” race or to multiple racial groups.
  • Intermarriage is common among U.S.-born Hispanics. Thirty-five percent marry someone who isn’t Hispanic. About 12 percent of Hispanic men and 15 percent of Hispanic women born in the U.S. married a Hispanic person who was born outside the U.S.
  • Foreign-born Hispanics are much less likely to marry a non-Hispanic. More than half of foreign-born Hispanics have a foreign-born Hispanic spouse, which is an indication that the pool of possible partners is smaller for immigrants. Another 17 percent of foreign-born, Hispanic men and 13 percent of foreign-born, Hispanic women married U.S.-born Hispanics.
  • Hispanic men with higher education levels were more likely to intermarry. Those who had completed college were more than seven times more likely to marry a non-Hispanic white person than a Hispanic man without a high school education.
  • The larger the difference in median incomes between Hispanic people and non-Hispanic white people in a given community, the more likely Hispanic men were to marry Hispanic women.
  • Hispanic women who married at older ages were much more likely to intermarry, indicating that older Hispanic women “cast a wider net.” Hispanic women with jobs also were more likely to marry a non-Hispanic.

Other resources:

  • A 2017 report from the Pew Research Center indicates that interracial marriage is common in Honolulu, Hawaii, and the Las Vegas area but rare in cities such as Asheville, North Carolina, and Jackson, Mississippi.
  • The U.S. Census Bureau tracks population trends and data on Hispanics living in the U.S.
  • The U.S. Department of Homeland Security provides data on “lawful permanent residents,” or foreign nationals who have been granted permission to live in the U.S. indefinitely. You can find data broken down by country of birth and the state in which permanent residents live.

Related research:

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