Consequences of Racial Intermarriage for Children’s Social Integration

Consequences of Racial Intermarriage for Children’s Social Integration

Sociological Perspectives
Volume 53, Number 2
(Summer 2010)
Pages 271–286
DOI: 10.1525/sop.2010.53.2.271

Matthijs Kalmijn, Professor of Sociology
Tilburg University, The Netherlands

Much has been written on ethnic and racial intermarriage, but little research is available on the social consequences of intermarriage. Are the children of mixed marriages more strongly connected to the majority, or are they incorporated in the ethnic or racial minority group? To answer this question, this article uses a minority survey from the Netherlands with data collected from both parents and children. The focus is on Antilleans and Surinamese and children of marriages in which both spouses are black are compared to children of marriages in which one spouse is white and one spouse is black. The analyses provide strong support for the integrative effects of intermarriage on children. These effects are not conditional on the socioeconomic status of the parents. Moreover, the effect on children can be explained in terms of the more diverse meeting opportunities that parents in a mixed marriage provide to their children.

Intermarriage has long been considered a core indicator of the integration of ethnic and racial minorities in society (Kalmijn 1998; Qian and Lichter 2007; Schermerhorn 1970). The most important reason for this is that when members of ethnic and racial groups marry with other groups, this is a sign that these groups accept each other as equals. Intermarriage is also considered important, however, for its potential consequences. Intermarriage may reduce group identities and prejudice in future generations because the children of mixed marriages are less likely to identify themselves with a single group (Saenz, Hwang, and Anderson 1995; Xie and Goyette 1997). In addition, the children of mixed marriages are believed to interact more frequently across group boundaries and they tend to choose a marriage partner from the majority more often (Okun 2004). Finally, high rates of intermarriage make it more difficult to define who is belonging to an ethnic or racial group and this by itself could also weaken the salience of ethnic and racial boundaries in society (Davis 1991). In short, ethnic and racial intermarriages are not only considered a reflection of integration in society, they may also contribute to integration.

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