Twenty-One Figures That Capture Interracial Marriage in America

Interracial marriage and births are rising steadily, at a time when broader attitudes toward matrimony are shifting.
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Interracial marriage and births are rising steadily, at a time when broader attitudes toward matrimony are shifting.
Richard and Mildred Loving.

Richard and Mildred Loving.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling that legalized interracial marriage in every state. The aptly named Loving v. Virginia brought to a close a near-decade of court battles for Richard and Mildred Loving, a white man and black woman who married in Washington, D.C., only to be told in Virginia that their union was illegal, even offensive.

In the decades since, America on the whole has become more diverse, and mixed-raced relationships have grown strikingly more commonplace. The original Associated Press report on Loving described the triumph of "a 33-year-old white construction worker, and his part-Negro, part-Indian wife, Mildred, 27." Now, mixed-race couples feature prominently in television and movies, appearing without much comment on more than a dozen major network and streaming TV shows in the last few years.

But the data also paints a complicated picture: As is common in patterns of prejudice, research suggests that people tend to say they're more comfortable with mixed-race couples than they actually are. Marriage as an institution is also changing, and more young people are at least claiming to place value living with a partner over marrying that partner. Here is a snapshot of rising interracial coupling in the United States today, intersecting with other changes in the ways Americans are pairing:

  • 25: Years a circuit court judge mandated that Mildred and Richard Loving could not live together in Virginia, in the 1958 decision that eventually propelled the couple to the Supreme Court.
  • 5: Racial categories acknowledged by the judge in his 1958 decision, which declared: "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents."
  • 15: Supreme Court rulings that acknowledge marriage as a fundamental right, according to the American Foundation for Legal Rights, and including the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision requiring marriage licensing and recognition for same-sex couples.
  • 17: The percent of American newlyweds in 2015 with a spouse of a different race or ethnicity, a more than five-fold increase from 1967's 3 percent rate.
  • 29: The percent of Asian Americans who intermarried in 2015, making them the most likely demographic to marry outside their race. Hispanic newlyweds had the second highest rate, at 27 percent. Black and white Americans showed the greatest increase in intermarriage since 1980, but whites remain the least likely group to marry outside their race.
  • $70,952: The median combined annual earnings of white and Asian intermarried couples between 2008 and 2010, the highest average of any pairing at the time, including all-white and all-Asian couples.
  • One-in-seven: American newborns identified as multiethnic in 2015, more than tripling the rate charted in 1980. The Census Bureau predicts the multiracial population as a whole will triple by 2060, driven by increases in mixed-race couples and their children.
  • 1.3 million: Americans identifying as white and American Indian in 2013, the most populous multiracial group as of that year.
  • 2013: The year the Census Bureau officially dropped the word "Negro" from its range of racial identifications. The institution included the term in its 2010 census reportedly to accommodate the preferred self-identification of some older black Americans, primarily in the South.
  • One-eighth: The smallest fraction of "black blood" used to categorize black Americans in the official census. A person believed to have one-eighth or any less black ancestry was labeled an "octoroon" as of the 1850 survey.
  • 200: Images of heterosexual couples—half interracial couples of black and white individuals, half same-race couples—used in a study published this year, which found that increased activity in a brain region associated with disgust predicted higher disapproval of mixed-race relationships.
  • $56,666,667: The box-office earnings for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, the landmark 1967 film about a white woman introducing her black boyfriend to her parents. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? was released less than six months after the Loving ruling.
  • 1968: The year marking the first interracial kiss on TV, between Lieutenant Uhura, portrayed by Nichelle Nichols, and Captain Kirk, played by William Shatner, on Star Trek.
  • >6,400: Thumbs-ups received on a YouTube upload of a Cheerios commercial featuring a white mother, black father, and their biracial daughter two days after the video was posted. It received more than 700 thumbs-down reactions. General Mills eventually suspended YouTube comments and pulled the commercial for the website, but used the same family in later commercials.
  • >2,000: The number of stories submitted to the New York Times answering their call for personal accounts of interracial relationships to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Loving decision.
  • 39: The percent of Americans who described intermarriage as "good" for society in a Pew survey released this year, compared to 24 percent in 2010.
  • Three-to-one: The ratio of the negative impact of divorce compared to the positive impact of marriage on well-being, according to a study published this year. The study also found that marital status has the strongest effects on life satisfaction and comparatively weak effects on mental and physical health.
  • 16.9: The rate of divorce per 1,000 married woman over the age of 15 in 2015, which chalked up to the lowest divorce rate in 35 years, according to data from Bowling Green State University.
  • 2009: The year the U.S. marriage rate hit a historic low of 0.68 percent of the population that year, compared to a spike up to 1.46 percent following World War II. Between 2000 and 2010, the proportion of unmarried couple households in the country increased by 41.4 percent.
  • 9-0: The Supreme Court vote on Loving in 1967.
  • 5-4: The Supreme Court's vote on the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision defending same-sex marriage equality.

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