In recent years, there has been much discussion about the difficulties African-American women face finding husbands. Although less publicized, similar problems confront Asian-American men looking for wives. Gender imbalances in the number of interracial married couples contribute to both groups' frustrations in the highly competitive market for spouses.
Black women's resentment of intermarriage has become a staple of daytime talk shows, hit movies like "Waiting to Exhale," and magazine articles. Black novelist Bebe Moore Campbell described her and her tablemates' reactions upon seeing a black actor enter a restaurant with a blonde: "In unison, we moaned, we groaned, we rolled our eyes heavenward.... Then we all shook our heads as we lamented for the 10,000th time the perfidy of black men, and cursed trespassing white women who dared to 'take our men.'"
The Census Bureau confirmed black women's complaints that white women were more likely to marry black men than white men were to marry black women. African-American men had white wives 2.65 times more often than black women had white husbands. In other words, in 73 percent of black-white couples, the husband was black.
(This interracial gender gap is even sharper among black-white couples who cohabit without being married. Five times as many black men live with white women as white men live with black women.)
Although some commentators had predicted that this intermarriage disparity should be evening out, this 2.65 ratio actually was up slightly from 2.54 ratio in 1990. (The invention of the "multiracial" category in 2000 makes direct comparisons across time somewhat tricky, however.)
To keep things simple, all these ratios are for non-multiracial and non-Hispanic individuals.
Like most guys, Asian-American men are fairly reticent about admitting any frustrations in the mating game. But the news for them was even worse. Asian women had white husbands 3.08 times more often than Asian men had white wives. That means just over 75 percent of white-Asian couples featured a white husband and Asian wife.
That 3.08 ratio is up from 2.54 times in 1990. Oddly enough, the 1990 ratios for black-white and white-Asian marriages were mirror images of each other.
(In 2000, the white-Asian inequality was somewhat less severe among unmarried partners: 2.09 times as many white men cohabited with Asian women as Asian men cohabited with white women.)
The inevitable flip side of the lack of interracial marital opportunities felt by black women and Asian men is that black men and Asian women find themselves more in demand as spouses.
Black-Asian couples, such as the one that produced golfer Tiger Woods, are still rare, but they are even more unbalanced than interracial pairings involving whites. There were 6.15 times more couples where the husband was black and the wife was Asian than where the husband was Asian and the wife black.
Few whites comprehend the impact on minorities of these interracial husband - wife disparities.
That's partly because whites don't intermarry all that much. While the number of interracial couples is steadily increasing, currently 96.5 percent of married non-Hispanic whites are wed to another non-Hispanic white.
Also, among whites, interracial marriage hasn't impacted one gender much more than the other. Although white women hunting for husbands, for example, suffer more competition from Asian women, they also enjoy increased chances to acquire a black mate. Thus, among non-Hispanic whites, for every 1,000 white women who are married, 1,006 white men are married. On a national level, this imbalance is close to imperceptible.
Although the bitterness that some black women feel over intermarriage is well known, the imbalance rests even more heavily on Asian-American men. For every 1,000 Asian women with husbands, only 860 Asian men had wives, leaving a large number of Asian bachelors left over. In contrast, for every 1,000 black women who were married, there were 1,059 black married men.
Black women, though, argue that the most desirable black bachelors are likeliest to marry outside the race.
Looking at it another way, 18 percent of Asian wives have white husbands, while merely seven percent of Asian husbands have white wives.
Currently, six percent of black husbands are in an interracial marriage, compared to only two percent of black wives. (Fourteen percent of black men who are cohabitating without marriage have a white woman living with them, while only three percent of cohabitating black women live with a white man.)
In the many Internet chat rooms that debate what young Asians call "the dating disparity," most participants blame media stereotypes. More controversially, some observers have pointed to differences among the races in cultural standards of behavior, or even to average physical differences in height, hair length, muscularity, and the like.
The above numbers refer only to non-Hispanics.
Among people of Hispanic ethnicity (who can be of any race), there was little intermarriage imbalance. Hispanic women were 1.17 times more likely to have a non-Hispanic white husband than a Hispanic husband was to have a non-Hispanic white wife, but that difference is fairly small compared to what is seen among African-Americans and Asian-Americans.
A little under 18 percent of Hispanic wives are wed to non-Hispanics husbands, and a little over 15 percent of Hispanic husbands have non-Hispanic wives.
These data are not estimates, but are the actual counts of all 54,493,232 married couples in America as of April 1, 2000. So, they are extremely reliable. This enumeration is made once every 10 years. Only the decennial Census has enough respondents to accurately measure the various varieties of interracial marriage.
In contrast, the Census Bureau also releases annual Current Population Survey reports on "Families and Living Arrangements." These include cursory estimates of the numbers of interracial couples. These reports occasionally lead to the press filling up with excited comments about new trends in interracial marriage, but they are based on sample sizes too small to be trustworthy. For example, these annual CPS surveys have several times reported that the total number of white husband -- black wife married couples had increased or decreased by 30 percent in the latest year, which is clearly impossible. The last CPS report included this warning: "The Census Bureau cautions the public not to confuse these estimates, based on survey data collected in March 2000, with Census 2000 data."