- Associated Press - Thursday, February 16, 2012

Interracial marriages in the U.S. have climbed to 4.8 million - a record 1 in 12 - as a steady flow of new Asian and Hispanic immigrants expands the pool of prospective spouses. Blacks are now substantially more likely to marry whites.

A Pew Research Center study, released Thursday, details an America where interracial unions and mixed-race children are challenging typical notions of race.

“The rise in interracial marriage indicates that race relations have improved over the past quarter-century,” said Daniel Lichter, a sociology professor at Cornell University. “Mixed-race children have blurred America’s color line. They often interact with others on either side of the racial divide and frequently serve as brokers between friends and family members of different racial backgrounds.”

In all, more than 15 percent of new marriages in 2010 were interracial.

The figures come from previous censuses as well as the 2008-2010 American Community Survey, which reaches 3 million households annually. The figures for “white” refer to those whites who are not of Hispanic ethnicity. For purposes of defining interracial marriages though, Hispanic is counted as a race by many in the demographic field.

The study finds that 8.4 percent of all current U.S. marriages are interracial, up from 3.2 percent in 1980. Hispanics and Asians remained the likeliest to marry outside their race, and the increasing number of interracial marriages mostly reflects those groups’ larger share of the general population.

States in the West where Asian and Hispanic immigrants are more numerous, including Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico and California, were among the most likely to have couples who “marry out” - more than 1 in 5. The West was followed by the South, Northeast and Midwest.

The numbers also coincide with Pew survey data showing greater public acceptance of mixed marriage, coming nearly a half-century after the Supreme Court in 1967 barred race-based restrictions on marriage.

About 83 percent of Americans say it is “all right for blacks and whites to date each other,” up from 48 percent in 1987. As a whole, about 63 percent of those surveyed say it “would be fine” if a family member were to marry outside their own race.

Because of increasing interracial marriages, multiracial Americans are a small but fast-expanding demographic group, making up about 9 million, or 8 percent of the minority population. Together with blacks, Hispanics and Asians, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates they collectively will represent a majority of the U.S. population by mid-century.

According to the Pew report, more than 25 percent of Hispanics and Asians who married in 2010 had a spouse of a different race. That’s compared with 17.1 percent of blacks and 9.4 percent of whites.

Of the 275,500 new interracial marriages in 2010, 43 percent were white-Hispanic couples, 14.4 percent were white-Asian, 11.9 percent were white-black, and the remainder were other combinations.

Still, the share of Asians who intermarried has actually declined recently - from 30.5 percent in 2008 to 27.7 percent in 2010. In contrast, blacks who married outside their race increased in share from 15.5 percent to 17.1 percent, due in part to a rising black middle class that has more interaction with other races. Intermarriage among whites rose in share slightly, while among Hispanics the rate was flat, at roughly 25.7 percent.

“In the past century, intermarriage has evolved from being illegal, to be a taboo and then to be merely unusual. And with each passing year, it becomes less unusual,” said Paul Taylor, director of Pew’s Social & Demographic Trends project. “That says a lot about the state of race relations. Behaviors have changed and attitudes have changed.”