A new Pew study finds that the gender gap in Asian-American interracial marriages is growing. (It is also growing in black relationships in the other direction. There’s plenty of commentary on that subject, but you can start here.) Asian-American females marry men of another race at almost double the rate (~40%) as Asian-American men. This trend has actually increased in past years, despite increased immigration, which lowers overall intermarriage rates (since many immigrants are already married, and 0-generation immigrants are much more likely to remain within an immigrant community).
These statistics do have particular relevance for me, an Asian-American man in a relationship with a white woman. (Potato, this is your shout-out!) Sometimes when we’re out, we like to play a game, in which we count the number of Asian-male/white-female couples, and compare it to the number of Asian-female/white-male couples we see. The ratio is usually even more lopsided than the Pew study indicates. (We also play a game where we wonder why attractiveness in Asian-female/white-male couples disproportionately favors the Asian female, but that game is only tangential to the question at hand.)
Why is this? I have a few theories, based on nothing except my own hunches, and it’s worth noting that “Asian-American” covers a wide variety of ethnic groups including Indian, Pakistani, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Indonesian, Iranian, Iraqi, Arab, etc. Thus, any generalizations will be just that — generalized. My theories after the break!
Hypothesis 1: This is part of a global trend of bachelor Asian males.
East Asia is now dealing with a generation of bachelor males living at home and remaining unattached. Some 70% of Japanese males remain unmarried by age 30 (you’ll have to deal with the GoogleTranslate here), compared with 35% for American males (see Census stats here). For whatever reason, Asian males are simply not marrying at the rate that they used to. Part of this may have to do with the decline in arranged marriage; after all, it was a lot easier to get married when families pre-ordained it. Maybe Asian men just don’t do romance American-style.
The other part may be a disinclination on the part of women to enter into a male-dominated Asian marriage. When my girlfriend did her Fulbright studies in Korea, she noted that Korean men were good boyfriends but bad husbands. In a dating world in which women do the choosing, many may be more willing to consider other options.
In America, this means that Asian women might consider a dating pool outside the Asian community. After all, this would mean that an Asian woman would tend to choose to be outside of a more male-dominated traditional marriage, while an Asian man would hold out for the same traditional marriage.
Hypothesis 2: Asian families care more about keeping male children married into the ethnicity than female children
Traditionally, male children are given much more value in Asian cultures. (The gender gap in Chinese babies is quite alarming.) Asian families have generally invested much more time and energy into the success of male children than in female children. Although Asian-Americans are among the quickest to adapt to American society, cultural heritage is difficult to shake off. Primogeniture continues to be a prevailing societal norm, despite assimilation into a new society.
Perhaps this focus on the male child and the continuation of the family line means that much more care is taken in the selection of a bride for the Asian male child, as opposed to a groom for the Asian female child. If I care about the family bloodline in a male-driven system, I only need to put my concern in the first male child. Thus, “ethnic purity” may only be more valued for the male child’s marriage, and the pressure for an Asian woman to marry Asian would be diminished.
As a bit of a stretch, this might even be traced back to earlier traditional Chinese policies, in which female Han children were married off to rival tribes or families to build alliances, particularly when colonizing new areas of western and northern China. Like I said, kind of a stretch, since few Asian family needs political alliances to avoid being raided by barbarians these days.
Hypothesis 3: Asian females, more constrained by traditional Asian culture, want to break out of it
The incentives for Asian men to break out of Asian culture are not particularly great. Within the Asian cultural system is a wealth of business partnerships, social networks and safety nets, which allow for broader access for an Asian male entering into marriage with another Asian family. Enter into a marriage within the Asian immigrant group and you reap the continued benefits of that system. Marry outside that system and you run the risk of diminishing your access or worse, a complete cut-off from the system. Sure, you would have the network of your wife to work with, but Asian immigrant populations build tight networks of families, communication and money (see Korean gaes — communal savings pools — as an example).
On the other hand, the incentives for Asian women to break out of Asian culture may be greater, depending on the family, culture, etc. Like many traditional cultures, most Asian cultures have a subservient role for women, even after modernization. Although Asian women now comprise a significant part of the workforce, their chance at leadership roles is small. The benefits for plugging into the Asian immigrant social network are mostly limited to the other women in the network. As a result, Asian women may find themselves more inclined to leave that social network behind.
In any of these scenarios, I’ve left out the individual human element, but most of my hypotheses are not choices that the parties are aware of. I doubt that an Asian-American woman wakes up in the morning and says “I’m gonna bag me a white dude.” Yet, the general social trends may push Asian women away from the possibility of ending up in a traditional Asian marriage.