Interracial Marriage and the Rural-Urban Divide in the US

Most Americans are aware that there is a big difference between city living and living in rural areas across the country. We hear it every day on the news and in politics. The two groups have strong differing opinions on most topics, and they are not shy about sharing them. When it comes to interracial marriage, this gap is even wider.

Interracial Marriage is More Common Than Ever

More than fifty years ago the ban on interracial marriage was lifted after the Supreme Court Case Loving v. Virginia that barred states from prohibiting people of different races or ethnicities to get married.

According to a study in 2017 by Pew Research Center, interracial marriage is more common than ever before but only in some regions of the country. Currently, 10% of Americans are married to a person of a different race. In cities, that figure jumps to 18%, but in rural areas of the country, it drops to 3%.

The states where interracial marriage is most popular are Hawaii (42%), Nevada (31%), and California (30%). The areas where interracial marriage is at its lowest are rural southern states like Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and North, and South Carolina.

The overall increase in interracial marriage is due to changing attitudes and acceptance among Americans. In more progressive areas like California, mixed couples do not worry about aggression or racism as much as couples who live in the deep South. The country as a whole is becoming more tolerant of changing ideas and blended families but in certain areas, change is slow to come and some people are resistant to the differences.

Old Grudges Die Hard

The Pew Research report shows that white Americans are the smallest group to intermarry with other ethnicities while African Americans are the largest group. Hispanic and Asian people also have no problem with interracial marriage between different races. From the data collected it is clear that white Americans drive the interracial marriage divide especially in southern areas of the country.

45% of urban citizens believe that interracial marriage is “a good thing for society.” This figure drops to 38% in suburban areas and plummets to 24% in rural areas of the country.

Old beliefs and racial grudges still exist pretty solidly in the southern part of the country, which is theorized as a possible reason for much of this disparity. Another reason for the wide gap in interracial marriage is the demographic makeup of cities versus rural areas. 83% of people just married who live in rural areas are white, compared to only 62% in cities. Hispanic and Asian newlyweds live in cities more often than in suburban or rural areas. 26% live in a city, and only 10% are non-metro. Hispanics and Asians are also much more likely to marry outside their ethnic group. Both races are often a minority in the area they live in, where the marriage pool is thinner.

It is a numbers game. If you are an ethnic minority living in an area where there aren’t a lot of partner options, you are also more likely to marry outside your race.

Examples of Diversity

Honolulu is an interesting case where 42% of all couples are interracial. The population split there is 42% Asian, 20% are white, and another 9% are Hispanic. This city consists of a diverse group of ethnicities with no one race being a majority. Interracial marriage is widely accepted and petty much the norm in this popular Hawaiian city.

This same pattern rings true for Las Vegas and Santa Barbara where the marriage market is very diverse, and therefore more interracial marriages exist. In those areas, demographic diversity is indeed a factor when considering the high number of interracial marriages.

Asheville, NC is 85% white and has the lowest rate of interracial marriage (3%) in the country indicating that the diversity of the demographics is what drives the gap. However, if you look at Jackson Mississippi where blacks and whites are almost equal in demographics, the interracial marriage rate is still only 3%. It becomes more complex and curious about what drives those figures and if social mores and pressures are still present that shape the marriage patterns of today.

Not Everything Is Split

Although urban areas and rural are split into many topics like social and political issues, there is also a lot that they do agree on. The Pew Research Center found that both equally suffer from the opioid epidemic, both urban and rural citizens agree that rural areas should be receiving more federal funding, everyone agrees that they all disagree and both urban and rural groups feel that they are misunderstood and stigmatized by the norms and behaviors of some, but not all who live there.