Americans Overestimate Number of Asian Americans, Minorities, and Extent of Interracial Marriage

On Discover Magazine’s Gene Expressions blog, Razib Khan takes a look at how different groups of Americans perceive the number of Asian Americans and other minorities. He concludes that Americans consistently overestimate the number of minorities and underestimate the number of whites. He also states that despite 31% of Asian Americans marrying a non-Asian American in 2008, Americans overestimate the extent of interracial marriage, especially for Asian Americans. Are the concerns raised by one of  Asian American blogs’ favorite topics totally overblown? How can Khan possibly justify his conclusions?

Let’s look at a snippet of the data Khan uses. The real percentages from the 2000 census are in the top row. Each following row is the average of the estimates of percentage of each racial group racial by given the group in the first column, from a study also done in 2000 (since this each item in each row is an average of estimates, the perceived percentages do not add up to 100). The last two columns show the difference between estimates of whites and minorities compared to the census numbers. You can clearly see how whites are underestimated and minorities overestimated.

How does Khan conclude that Americans overestimate the extent of Asian American interracial marriage? He says that they underestimate that amount of homogamy, or marrying within a group. If you look at the 2000 census numbers for Asian Americans, you will see that 3.6% of the population is Asian American. If interracial marriage was done a purely random basis (a person has the same chance of marrying someone without regard to race), then the chance of two Asian Americans happening to marry would be 1.3% (3.6% times itself), or an interracial marriage rate of 98.7%. Compare that to the  2008 interracial marriage  rate for Asian Americans of 31%.

What’s the cause for these findings? Regarding the overestimation of the percentages of minorities, Khan guesses that the mainstream media, produced mainly in New York and Los Angeles, reflects diversity in those locations that are not present in much of the country. I’m highly skeptical of that, as I suspect as are many readers of this blog. Some studies instead suggest that mainstream media is actual becoming more white. Perhaps Americans are buying into “minorities are taking over” sensationalism.

Regarding homogamy in Asian Americans, he seems to have more reasonable answers. He mentions that there is a great deal of residential segregation, which increases the likelihood that people with marry within their group.  Indeed, some cite the rise of Asian ethnoburbs as one of the reasons for the slowing of Asian American interracial marriage rates.

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About Jeff

Jeff lives in Silicon Valley, and attempts to juggle marriage, fatherhood, computer systems research, running, and writing.
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