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Options: Racial/Ethnic Identification of Children of Intermarried Couples


  • *Direct correspondence to Zhenchao Qian, Department of Sociology, The Ohio State University, 300 Bricker Hall, 190 N. Oval Mall, Columbus, OH 43210 〈〉. An earlier version of the article was presented at the 2003 Annual Meetings of the Population Association of America. I gratefully acknowledge the support of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (Grant HD 043035-01). The data used in this study are available from the author to other researchers for purposes of replication. I thank Daniel T. Lichter, Leanna Mellott, the anonymous reviewers, and the editor for helpful comments.


Objective. Whites of various European ethnic backgrounds usually have weak ethnic attachment and have options to identify their ethnic identity (Waters, 1990). What about children born to interracially married couples?

Methods. I use 1990 Census data—the last census in which only one race could be chosen—to examine how African American-white, Latino-white, Asian American-white, and American Indian-white couples identify their children's race/ethnicity.

Results. Children of African American-white couples are least likely to be identified as white, while children of Asian American-white couples are most likely to be identified as white. Intermarried couples in which the minority spouse is male, native born, or has no white ancestry are more likely to identify their children as minorities than are those in which the minority spouse is female, foreign born, or has part white ancestry. In addition, neighborhood minority concentration increases the likelihood that biracial children are identified as minorities.

Conclusion. This study shows that choices of racial and ethnic identification of multiracial children are not as optional as for whites of various European ethnic backgrounds. They are influenced by race/ethnicity of the minority parent, intermarried couples' characteristics, and neighborhood compositions.