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A record number of 4.8 million Americans are now in an interracial marriage, meaning 1 out of every 12 marriages involves people of a different race. The percentage is still small—8.2 percent—when compared with marriages between people of the same race, but when you look at the fact that that number was 3.2 percent in 1980, it’s clear this trend is quickly rising.

According to the Pew Research Center, which used data from the previous census as well as the 2008-2010 American Community Survey, which surveys 3 million households annually, Asians and Hispanics continued to be the most likely to marry someone of a difference race, but the biggest increase in interracial marriages occurred among African Americans. Blacks who married outside their race increased from 15.5 percent in 2008 to 17.1 percent in 2010, which the Associated Press says is “due in part to a rising black middle class that has more interaction with other races.”

Other findings included:

  • Black men were more than twice as likely as black women to marry someone outside their race: 24 percent vs. 9 percent. For Asians, the reverse was true: 17 percent of Asian men married someone of a different race compared to 36 percent of Asian women.
  • White-Asian couples who married had the highest median income, nearly $71,000, followed by Asian-Asian ($62,000), white-white ($60,000), white-Hispanic ($57,900), white-black ($53,187), black-black ($47,700) and Hispanic-Hispanic (nearly $36,000).
  • The top three states for white-black married couples are Virginia, North Carolina and Kansas, all with rates of about 3 percent.

Public acceptance of interracial marriage is improving as well, although perhaps not as much as it should be. About 83 percent of Americans say it is “all right for blacks and whites to date each other,” which is a big jump from the 48 percent who said so in 1987. About 63 percent of those surveyed also say it “would be fine” if a family member were to marry outside their own race.

In addition to changing attitudes about interracial marriage, researchers point out that the influx in Asian and Hispanic immigrants has also increased the dating pool. But now that there are substantial numbers of immigrants in the US, members of these racial groups may be able to find a partner of the same ethnic makeup up going forward, which could slow interracial marriage rates.

Divorce, which is high across the board, was found to be more likely among interracial couples. The Pew researchers cited a study conducted a decade ago which found that mixed-race couples had a 41 percent chance of separation or divorce, compared to 31 percent for those who married within their race. A different analysis found divorce rates among mixed-race couples was more dependent on the specific race combination, with white women who married outside their race being more likely to divorce. Mixed marriages involving blacks and whites were also considered the least stable, followed by Hispanic-white couples.

Overall, Paul Taylor, director of Pew’s Social & Demographic Trends project, sees this data as a positive sign of racial tolerance in America.

“In the past century, intermarriage has evolved from being illegal, to be a taboo and then to be merely unusual. And with each passing year, it becomes less unusual. That says a lot about the state of race relations. Behaviors have changed and attitudes have changed.”

Do you agree that the rise in interracial marriages is a sign of improved race relations?

Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.

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