One of the fastest growing racial groups in the country isn’t a single racial group–it’s people from multiracial backgrounds, the children of interracial unions. A new study has found however, that young women are much more likely to call themselves multiracial than young men are.
Since 1967, when the Supreme Court declared state laws against interracial marriage unconstitutional in Loving vs.Virginia, the rate of interracial marriages in the United States has climbed from below one percent to 10% of all new marriages today.
And by 2050, as those numbers continue to rise, social scientists estimate that one out of every five Americans will be mixed-race.
How will this growing population choose to identify themselves? Will they embrace one parent’s background more than the other? Will they create a blend of the two? Or will they create something completely new?
To find out, Lauren Davenport, professor of political science at Stanford, sifted data from tens of thousands of incoming college freshmen with multi-racial backgrounds across the country.
She discovered that gender played a big role in whether children of interracial parents identified themselves as multiracial. Among children of black-white unions, 76% of the female freshmen defined themselves as multi-racial. Only 64% of male freshmen from the same background did.
A similar pattern held true for children of Latino-white unions, with 40% of females defining themselves as multi-racial, but only 32% of guys, and for children of Asian-white unions, with 56% of females, and only 50% of males.
Why? Davenport speculates in her study that in general it may be easier for biracial women to cross between societies, because they are stereotyped as “a mysterious, intriguing racial ‘other,’’ while biracial men may be more likely to be perceived simply as ‘people of color.’ Davenport’s argument: “the different ways that biracial people are viewed by others influences how they see themselves.”
Money also plays a role in how children of interracial couples identify themselves. The richer a family is, the more likely children are to identify themselves as white.
And some religious affiliations appeared to encourage children of interracial parents to pick one side or the other. When a family identified with an “ethnically homogenous religion,” such as Baptists, Davenport’s study shows, children of interracial parents were more likely to identify themselves with only one racial category, instead of as multiracial.
Davenport finds it interesting that children of black-white unions are the most likely to identify themselves as multiracial, because choosing that identity stands in opposition to the American history of the “one-drop” rule that defined anyone with black ancestors as black.
The largest multiple race population in the U.S. has black and white ancestry, and for them, “a multiracial identification is the new normal” writes Davenport. She suggests that’s because it offers the opportunity “to assert a new identity, one that incorporates both their black and white heritages.”
Identifying as mixed race is not just a matter of personal preference. “How biracial people choose to identify is more than an assertion of their racial group attachments,” she writes. “It also has real political consequences.” These include the distribution of political resources, the implementation of affirmative action policies, and the enforcement of anti-discrimination laws.
“This population is a young one,” she writes. So it’s not clear yet how their attitudes will affect policy.
What is clear: the way children of interracial parents think about race is poised to shape the mind of the nation.