Interracial Divorce and Asian-White Couples: It’s Not What You Think

In the world of English-language WeChat official accounts, if there’s one topic guaranteed to get coverage, it’s interracial marriage – and divorce.

The other day, someone shared an article* with me about this very issue, which asserted that such marriages were “tricky”. The article backed up its premise of marital instability with a certain “cute, handy chart” from a Thought Catalog piece, which drew on data from the 2008 study “But Will It Last?”: Marital Instability Among Interracial and Same‐Race Couples referenced in a Wikipedia article about interracial marriage in the US.

In particular, the statistics on Asian Male/White Female (AMWF) couples appeared rather alarming. Based on data from the 2008 study, AMWF marriages had a 59 percent greater chance of ending in divorce.

Whoa.

Granted, this wasn’t as high as the divorce rate for marriages between Black men and White women, deemed 200 percent more likely to split. But it also didn’t compare favorably with White Male/Asian Female (WMAF) marriages, with only a 4 percent likelihood of divorce.

So was the data illustrated in the “cute, handy chart” right about interracial marriages of Asian men and White women? Are our relationships really that vulnerable to divorce?

The short answer is, not necessarily.

Driven by curiosity, I headed over to the very Wikipedia article the Thought Catalog piece referenced to look at the section on marital instability among interracial and same-race couples.

Yes, there was the data from the 2008 study.

But — and this is a BIG but — there was also data from the 2009 study Marital Dissolution Among Interracial Couples which painted a completely different picture of the situation in Asian-White marriages compared with White-White marriages.

In this 2009 study, Asian-White marriages were the least likely interracial pairing to result in divorce, with even lower divorce rates than White-White marriages.

Or, as the authors of the 2009 study put it, “Mixed marriages involving Blacks were the least stable followed by Hispanics, whereas mixed marriages involving Asians were even more stable than endogamous White marriages.”

I was stunned.

The new data from the 2009 study in the Wikipedia page.

Why did the author of the Thought Catalog article and subsequent “cute, handy chart” ignore the 2009 data?

Well, it’s true the data wasn’t in Wikipedia when he was working on his article. (See screenshots of the page for Feb 13, 2014 and July 14, 2014 as proof.) But seeing as the 2009 study was already published and available in 2014, you can’t blame this on a Wikipedia omission alone.

And while we could sit around and ponder why the author of the Thought Catalog failed to do his due diligence on the subject of interracial divorce, I feel that his “cute, handy charts” (which probably should be renamed “cute, misleading charts”) are symbolic of our human tendency to want black and white answers, even when the reality isn’t so clear cut and conclusive.

It’s worth noting this from the 2015 study Same-Race and Interracial Asian-White Couples: Relational and Social Contexts and Relationship Outcomes, which references both the 2008 study by Bratter and King, and the 2009 study by Zhang and Van Hook (emphasis added):

Research on the outcomes of interracial relationships is inconclusive, with some evidence showing that Asian-White relationships are at less risk for relationship dissolution. Some research on interracial romantic relationships has found that interracial relationships involving Whites and Asians do not necessarily have worse outcomes than their same-race counterparts (Gaines & Agnew, 2003; Gaines et ah, 1999; Troy et al., 2006), challenging the long held notion of relationship dysfunction among interracial couples (Bratter & Eschbach, 2006; Bratter & King, 2008; Eeckhaut, Lievens, Van de Putte, & Lusyne, 2011; Heaton, 2002; Zhang & Van Hook, 2009).

In other words, you shouldn’t necessarily jump to conclusions about interracial divorce rates — or worse, enshrine them in potentially deceptive charts — including when it comes to Asian-White couples.

If you asked me what graphical illustration I’d use to represent the outcomes of interracial marriages, I’d say this is more on target:

When it comes to interracial marriages and divorce, we need more people asking the right questions — and less people coming to simplistic conclusions.

What do you think?

P.S.: The data above come from studies on interracial couples in the US. Still, for anyone wondering about interracial marriages and divorce in China, there doesn’t appear to be enough evidence to conclude, as people often do, that divorce is necessarily more likely.

For example, consider this quote from the 2013 study The Rise of Chinese-Foreign Marriage in Mainland China (1979-2010) (emphasis added):

As Figure 3 below shows, the number of divorces registered between mainland Chinese citizens and foreign nationals rose from around 80 couples in 1979 to over 1,000 couples in 2000. That figure increased to over 3,000 couples in 2003, before skyrocketing to nearly 9,500 couples in 2008. It then decreased to around 5,700 couples in 2010.

This decline is consistent with the fall in the number of Chinese-foreign marriages registered in mainland China starting in the early 2000s. The PRC’s Ministry of Civil Affairs began to disaggregate Chinese-foreign divorce statistics in 2005, by including separate figures for those involving ‘waiguoren’. Unsurprisingly, given the higher proportion of other categories of Chinese-foreign marriage until recently, most divorces relate to the ‘Chinese’ categories of Chinese-foreign marriage.

In other words, the divorce rate appears consistent with the rate of Chinese-foreign marriages registered in China, and the authors believe that many of these divorces are still between people of the same race and ethnicity.

* I’ve intentionally chosen not to link to the WeChat article I referenced, but if you absolutely must see it for yourself, search for the official account for HiTouch艾达旗 and check their articles in the past few weeks.

Guest Post: I Got Divorced in China, and What Happened in My Marriage Is More Common Than You Realize

When you blog about love, family and relationships in China for as long as I do, you get to know lots of couples. But while there are love stories, there are also breakups and divorce in China.

Alex is someone I’ve known for years. She shared her love story here back in 2013. But her marriage with a Chinese man unraveled, ending in divorce. Her tale of divorce in China has become an everyday story she tells to the taxi drivers of Qingdao. It’s an act of courage to share stories like this and I’m grateful Alex wrote this piece.

Do you have a story, whether divorce in China or love or otherwise, that you’d like to share here on the blog? Have a look at the submit a post page and contact me today with your ideas.
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The taxi driver says, “I’m here! Where are you?”

I reply, “I’m nearly there! Wait one moment, what color is your car?” Moments later, I say to him, “Hi! This is the car I ordered, correct?”

Since 2010 I’ve realized that getting from point A to point B in China has always been a fairly simple task. When the cost of a car sets you back a couple dollars, and they are in high supply, the only time I ever worry about getting around would be during those peak traffic times. And in that case I will rarely leave the house.

Chinese taxi drivers certainly have a reputation for being curious – if anything they should be merited for their ability to test all foreigners in China on their Chinese-speaking abilities. If you can pass the first few questions of the journey, well that merits you have a certain level of experience in China.

When it comes to getting a taxi, it is all about creating a conversation. To communicate is to be human, and to tell a story is to be someone willing to share a piece of your life with an overworked, and often bored, taxi driver. This always seems to be the best opportunity for these conversations., I will never see you again, and you probably won’t see me again, so time for that beautiful exchange.

Qingdao is a city I have called home since my early twenties — a city of 8 million, with sea, mountains and locals that are beyond welcoming. To reiterate a story that I often share with those stranger taxi drivers reveals another side of those international love stories. Because not all love stories, not all magical moments are real life. And not everything we see is as it is.

I met my now ex-husband in 2010, and funnily enough a Chinese fortune-teller actually reminded me about this over a business lunch just yesterday! He was spot on that I had indeed met a love. The story of how I met my ex-husband has nearly been erased from my mind, but I cherish and hold on to the beginning where it seemed to be about love — true love, love that crosses thousands of miles — and that is what brought on my destiny.

Today I have to be brutally honest when I tell those taxi drivers that within the beautiful city of Qingdao, out of all those friendly, smiling, helpful Shandong faces there are in fact a few bad eggs.

Adultery, divorce, rumors, gossip, cheating, lying and manipulation. This side of marriage in China is more prevalent than ever – but would you ever know the truth? Of course not. It is buried so deep in “keeping face” and maintaining a reputation that what goes on after the wedding ceremony is rarely discussed. My own experience as a 22-year-old university graduate, madly in love and naïve as hell, is a simple representation.

What I have seen in only the past three months goes to show that this exists in many, many relationships. The Chinese version of “undiscussed” open relationships, staying together for the money, the kids, the face.

I wouldn’t and couldn’t endure it.

It began by discovering images on iCloud – you sneaky bastard! From that point on I became a professional private investigator. Once that “小三” (xiaosan) mistress was discovered I was basically looking to find out everything. Looking back now it was really pointless. This mistress culture is a part of many marriages in China. Perhaps this is the reason why two people can stay together for so long. Perhaps long-term monogamy is unrealistic.

What I really want to say is not a sad sob story of how I had to escape a manipulative, power-hungry businessman or how I left the company we built, that cute poodle puppy, apartment and the mini cooper car lifestyle. The life we had together from the outside looked ideal. We were set to have some great looking kids, and be able to exchange country residencies. We were on our way to building a successful company, and overall I loved this man. It was stupid love but it was true. After this entire experience I feel that marriage is about so much more than love or lust. It should be viewed as a partnership, a collaboration, and built from a foundation of reason and logic.

How I went from a married, power-couple team of wedding planners and designer to a single, nomadic dating coach in London – well, that process and series of events still surprises me. So much of what has happened, I look back on it and think, Wow, where did the time go? How did all of this happen?

So, what do these kindhearted, slightly coarse, smile-wrinkle taxi drivers have to do with it? They hear my story of divorce in China every day, because how else can I say the reason why my Chinese is spoken with some local dialect tones? How can I answer what kept me in Qingdao for over five years? I like to be open and share my story as I think so much of the reality is behind closed doors.

You would not believe the number of businessmen who find it completely normal to not inform me until the second date that they have a family and wife, but would still like to pursue me. Even today I attend dinner meetings and drinking spells with men like this, offering up this kind of proposal. After what I went through with my ex-husband, it’s odd to be on the other side of things, so to speak.

And yet, I continue to date Chinese men. I would still marry a Chinese man, but with so much more caution, and with more high-level requests as to what he will provide. I would ask for what I deserve upfront and first. I would want a house in my name, a nice car, and a wedding paid for by him, just like many Chinese women. That is the lesson I learned.

Will I find love once again in China? I couldn’t tell you because I’m not a fortune-teller. But I remain cautiously optimistic about the future. And every day, as I hail another taxi, it gets a little easier to tell the story of my divorce in China and embrace the possibilities for my future.

You can follow Alex on Instagram.
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Speaking of China is always on the lookout for outstanding guest posts! If you have something you’d like us to feature, visit the submit a post page for details — and then submit yours today.

Marrying Someone from Your Culture Is No Guarantee of Happiness

The other night, I received a frantic message from one of my closest friends back home. “I’m getting divorced,” she typed to me in an online chat.

It was the culmination of years of troubles brewing between her and her husband. They had fought over their beliefs. She was fed up with how almost all the domestic and child-rearing responsibilities were on her shoulders, despite the fact that she too had a full-time job. She also had it with her husband, who was turning out to be another child to manage instead of a source of support. Therapy had failed to resolve a single thing.

Did I mention she and her soon-to-be-ex-husband are both white Americans, with similar cultural backgrounds?

I wasn’t surprised she filed for divorce. So many of our recent conversations had revolved around the growing rift between her and her husband. There was always a tension lurking in the background, the feeling that things were slowly unraveling between the two of them with every confession of how he just didn’t get it…and probably never would.

So much is written about the vulnerability of intercultural and international couples, that we’re supposedly more likely to divorce. While new studies suggest this just isn’t true, a lot of people still believe you’re better off marrying someone from your own culture/country.

Or rather, that marrying someone from your culture/country will guarantee happiness and stability.

My friend’s story, however, doesn’t fit that narrative.

International and intercultural marriages can be fraught with unique challenges, such as navigating cultural differences or social norms you’re unaccustomed to. But that doesn’t necessarily doom us to divorce.

If anything, I’ve discovered so many intercultural/international couples, blissfully in love, to know the truth of the matter. That love can happen anywhere in the world, across borders and cultures. And that happiness – and a happily ever after – is always possible, no matter who you marry.