Last week, I noted that immigration enthusiast Joel Kotkin [Email him] has claimed that roughly 30 percent of second-generation Hispanics wed people from other ethnic groups, so assimilation is working and we are headed for a multiracial nirvana. I said I would investigate Kotkin's claim.
Like all immigration enthusiast factoids, it turns out to be misleading where not actually untrue.
The truth: the overall rate of Hispanic/non-Hispanic intermarriage rate has declined, from 15 percent of married Hispanics in 1980 to 14 percent in 2000. (Table 1.) The absolute number of Hispanic intermarriages doubled in this period, but the rate fell because the Hispanic population has been boosted by mass immigration. Many immigrants arrive already married, and single immigrants are less likely to marry outside their ethnic group. [Population Reference Bureau]
Intermarriage rates for second-generation (U.S.-born) Hispanic husbands and wives are indeed 29 percent and 31 percent respectively—or about three-times that of foreign-born non-citizen Hispanics. (Table 2.)
But this apparent tendency of second-generation Hispanics to (as Kotkin puts it) "mix it up" with non-Hispanics reflects, at least in part, ambiguities in the Census Bureau's race and ethnic classifications.
The Census allows people to select their race and ethnicity as well as those of their children. In 2000 more than one-third (37 percent) of the children in inter-Hispanic marriages were not classified as Hispanic. In 1970 58 percent of such children were not reported as Hispanic.
Most if not all these children are in some sense of Hispanic heritage. But their marriage to a Hispanic would be counted as intermarriage.
To the extent that the non-Hispanic population consists of people with Hispanic origins, Hispanic intermarriage rates will overstate the true rate of assimilation.
Differences in Hispanic intermarriage rates by country of origin are significant. Here they are for 2000:
Mexican intermarriage rates increased from 10 percent to 14 percent between 1970 and 1990 but declined to 12 percent in 2000.
By contrast, intermarriage rates for Puerto Ricans and Cubans increased throughout the 30 year period.
The problem: Mexicans increasingly dominate the Hispanic population. But the evidence is that they are slowest to assimilate.
The Census category "Other Hispanics", which includes primarily arrivals from Central and South America, were the most likely to be married to non-Hispanics in both 1970 and 1980.
But again, as "Other Hispanic" immigration rates increased in the eighties and nineties, their intermarriage rate fell—from 25 percent in 1980 to 17 percent in 2000.
The correlation between education and intermarriage further illustrates the obstacles to cross-cultural assimilation. (Table 3.)
Here are intermarriage rates for Hispanics by educational level of the husband in 2000:
Unfortunately, as I've recently reported, skills and educational levels among Hispanic immigrants are deteriorating, and this deterioration persists into the second and third generations
If unchecked, these trends will presumably reduce intermarriage rates further.
Kotkin's multiracial nirvana may be some distance off.
But that won't stop him proclaiming it.
Edwin S. Rubenstein (email him) is President of ESR Research Economic Consultants in Indianapolis.