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March 28, 2005

Inter-ethnic marriage in Britain

In a recent post on educational performance by ethnic groups in the UK I mentioned some research on inter-ethnic marriage by Raya Muttarak of Oxford. She has made at least two studies on the subject: (1) Who Intermarries in Britain? and (2) Marital Assimilation: Ethnic Intermarriage in Britain.

The second study has more recent data and is more useful for comparisons over time, but the first paper has fuller theoretical discussion….


The data sources are mainly government surveys. An official guide to the ethnic classifications used, and the data sources, is available here.

One point to note is that ’Asian’ usually means ’South Asian’. Chinese people are classified separately, and the term ’Asian’ often excludes Chinese.

The 2001 Census for the first time introduced some ’Mixed’ ethnicity categories: White and Black Caribbean, White and Black African, White and Asian, and Other Mixed. There is no separate category for ‘White and Chinese’. It appears to be the intention that they should be included under ’Other Mixed’, and notes on education statistics make this explicit. However, the 2001 Census form gives no guidance on this point, and faced with a choice between ’White-Asian’ and ’Other Mixed’, White-Chinese people might well put themselves under ’White-Asian’.


The propensity of different groups to intermarry is affected by their numbers in the population. Here are population figures (both sexes, all ages) for England and Wales from the 2001 Census:

_Other Black_____0.10_______0.2
_Other Asian_____0.24_______0.5
_Other Mixed_____0.16_______0.3
*includes Latin American, etc.

The Census includes questions about the relationship between members of the household. It is therefore possible to extract, e.g., the number of White-Asian marriages. Since the Census covers only those present in the household on Census Day, the information is not complete, but it is unlikely to be seriously biased with respect to the proportion of inter-ethnic marriages. The Office for National Statistics has just released some data on inter-ethnic marriage from the 2001 Census. The following are the proportions, in rank order, of each ethnic group who are married to someone of another ethnic group (nearly always White):

Mixed______ 78
Other Black__38
Black Carib__24
Black Afric___15

This might suggest that Whites have a low propensity to marry other ethnic groups, but after taking account of relative population sizes, 2% is actually a high proportion (about 20%) of the maximum possible intermarriage rate for Whites.

These figures may be compared with those of Muttarak (2) taken from different sources (the Labour Force Survey, which is mainly concerned with employment and training issues, but also contains a lot of demographic data). The figures are not directly comparable with the Census data, since they include cohabiting as well as married couples. I have averaged the figures for both sexes.

Black Carib__16_________29
Black Afric___18_________11

In most of the non-White groups the proportion of men intermarrying is higher than that of women, the exceptions being the Chinese, where twice as many women as men intermarry, and Indians, where in 2002-3 there was a slightly higher rate for women than for men.


It will be seen that for Black Caribbeans and Chinese the proportion intermarrying has increased since 1981. For Indians it has increased very slightly, with a fall in the rate for men offset by a larger rise in the rate for women. Among Pakistanis and Bangladeshis there has also been a fall among men and a rise among women, with the net effect a fall. Among Black Africans the rate among both men and women has fallen.

Muttarak’s research shows that in all groups those born in the UK have a higher intermarriage rate than first-generation immigrants, so it may seem paradoxical that in some groups the intermarriage rate has fallen between 1981 and 2002-3. The explanation is that in some groups continuing immigration has offset the rise among the second (or later) generation. As I have mentioned in other posts, there has been a large recent increase in immigration of Black Africans, including many Muslim Somalis. Muttarak (page 21 of (2)) discusses this.

The reasons for the fall among Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are less obvious, and Muttarak’s discussion is rather weak. I suspect that it has become easier for spouses from arranged marriages to be ’imported’ in the last 20 years, due both to better transport and communications and to changes in the immigration rules. There may also be increased religious and family pressures on Muslims to marry within the group. I note that among Pakistanis second generation women are even less likely to intermarry than in the first generation, contrasting with all other groups in this respect. I suspect also that the earliest immigrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh were mainly men, and had a higher intermarriage rate for lack of alternatives. This early cohort may now be dying off (or their marriages may have broken up.)

For the long term, it seems likely that the Chinese and Caribbean groups will become entirely assimilated into the mainstream population. For second-generation Chinese the intermarriage rates are especially high, at around 70%.

It is impossible to predict the future of the Black African group, as it is so diverse and for the most part so recently arrived.

The future of the South Asian groups is unclear. For second generation Indians the intermarriage rate is around 14%, which is not high enough to presage total assimilation in the foreseeable future. But the rate may accelerate in the third generation, when family pressures to marry within the group will probably be weaker.

There is little sign of the Pakistani group disappearing by assimilation. Surprisingly, there may be a greater prospect of assimilation in the Bangladeshi group. Despite their very low overall intermarriage rate, the rate for second generationers is quite high, at over 10% for both men and women. Indeed it is higher for women than for men, and almost as high as for Indian second generation women. I have commented elsewhere on the marked improvement in educational performance among Bangladeshis in the UK, which is another factor promoting assimilation.

Characteristics of intermarrying partners

The main aim of Muttarak’s two papers is to analyse the characteristics of individuals who marry people of another ethnic group. Anyone who is interested in the subject should read the papers, but to summarise:

For ethnic minorities characteristics associated with a high rate of intermarriage include:

a) being born in Britain rather than abroad, i.e. being second or later generation immigrants

b) fluency in English

c) being well-educated, in particular having a university degree or equivalent qualification

d) absence of religious affiliation

e) living in an area with a low density of ethnic minorities.

These apply to both sexes and most ethnic groups. However, Muttarak (2) notes that for Black Caribbeans having a higher education qualification makes little or no difference to the propensity to intermarry, or is even a negative factor. She suggests (p.26) that this is because Black Caribbeans are integrated into the white working-class community. The same appears to be true for second-generation Black Africans.

So far as Whites are concerned, the factors favouring intermarriage are much the same, except that in this case being born outside Britain is positively associated with intermarriage.

Muttarak’s analysis does not cover the effect of belonging to particular religions, as distinct from the effect of absence of religion. However, she notes (page 11, paper (2)) that the recent LFS surveys have included questions on religious affiliation, and she intends to include this variable in the analysis once data become publicly available. It may be difficult to distinguish the effects of religion from ethnicity as such, since most ethnic groups are nearly mono-religious. However, the Indian group may provide sufficient diversity (Hindu, Muslim, Sikh) for a meaningful analysis.

There is nothing very surprising in these results, though the second-generation intermarriage rates for Asians are rather higher than I had expected. It will be interesting to see whether the widely-reported rise of religious devotion among young Muslims has any effect on the trend.

Posted by David B at 04:01 AM