Americans have become more accepting of intermarriage—and intermarriage is on the rise as I reported in the first part of this week’s series. But which came first: the chicken or the egg? Are there more marriages between spouses of different races because intermarriage has become more acceptable, or is intermarriage more acceptable because it occurs more often?
There are no simple answers to such questions, but we do know from the Pew study that minorities and liberals find intermarriage more acceptable, as do young Americans and those who have higher levels of formal education.
One answer might depend on how you respond to this question: Is an immediate family member or a close relative married to someone of a different race? More than one in three Americans (35%) say yes, according the Pew Research Center. And, a large majority of Americans (63%) say they “would be fine” if a family member or close relative married someone of a different race or ethnicity.
If you said yes, the chances are that you are more accepting of intermarriage than if you said no. This is a variation of what is called the “contact hypothesis”—generally (but not always), more contact means more positive attitudes. If this hypothesis applies to intermarriage, it would mean that Americans are becoming more accepting of the practice because more American families have intermarriages in them.
The same thing appears to be true for interreligious marriages, that is, marriages between people of different faiths. This, too, is on the rise. Knowing people of different faiths generally (but not always) increases positive attitudes about them. As political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell write in American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us: “As Americans have come to live by, make friends with, and wed people of other religions, their overlapping social relationships have made it difficult to sustain interreligious hostility.”
What’s your reaction to my theory on acceptance of intermarriage?
What else can explain the trend?
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Originally published at www.OurValues.org, an online experiment in civil dialogue.