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.