Hawaii leads country
in interracial couples

Nationally, unmarried pairs
are more likely to mix race
than married couples are

Staff and news services

Unmarried couples are far more likely than married couples to mix race or ethnicity, Census Bureau data show.

About 7 percent of the nation's 54.5 million married couples are mixed racially or ethnically, compared with about 15 percent of the 4.9 million unmarried heterosexual couples. The percentage is only slightly lower for the nation's nearly 600,000 same-sex couples.

Interracial relationships occurred most often in Hawaii, where more than one-third of married couples and more than one-half of unmarried heterosexual couples were interracial.

Nationally, interracial couples comprised less than one-half of gay and lesbian partnerships.

Hawaii's birth statistics affirm and update the U.S. Census report, said Alvin Onaka, state registrar of vital statistics with the Department of Health. More than 50 percent of the children born in Hawaii in 2001 were interracial.

"Hawaii is leading the nation in seeing what America will become," said Onaka, who is an advisor to the National Academy of Sciences panel on racial and ethnic statistics. "America is only recently aware of its diversity, and there are only pockets where they are diverse. We have been aware for 100 years."

Onaka said the 2000 census data does not completely reflect Hawaii's diversity. The census question about race gave five choices: white, black, American Indian/Alaskan native, Asian and native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.

"In the U.S., 2.4 percent who responded said they were of mixed race. In Hawaii it was 21.4 percent. A Chinese marrying a Japanese is not a mixed race," Onaka said. "If we used ethnicity, we would be very much more diverse than that."

Marriages of Hawaii residents are even more ethnically diverse than the census data show, according to the University of Hawaii Center on the Family. "We found that 48 percent of marriages in 2001 were of mixed ethnicity," said Marcia Hartsock, director of the Kids Count program.

Hartsock said the Center on the Family counted marriages in which the brides were local residents for its finding of 48 percent mixed couples in 2001. Those figures include, for example, combinations within one racial group such as a person of Filipino ancestry marrying someone of Chinese ancestry. In the information culled from marriage licenses, the figures for Kauai and the Big Island were higher than the state average, she said.

"When we are looking at the well-being of children, we are looking at family resiliency," said Hartsock. "We think ethnicity is pertinent here. It can be a wonderful blending. There can also be value and cultural clashes."

The census report summarizes unmarried partner data released two years ago by state, race and age. The 2000 head count was the first in which the bureau extensively analyzed unmarried-partner data.

Specifically, a question on the census asked, "How is this person related?" For people living together who were unrelated, options included "roomer, boarder," "housemate, roommate," "unmarried partner" and "foster child."

By state, Utah had one of the lowest percentages of all homes headed by unmarried couples, about 3 percent. Alabama and Arkansas were also among the lowest states.

Alaska, Nevada and Vermont each had more than 7 percent of their households led by unmarried partners, among the highest in the country.

Totaling heterosexual and homosexual couples, the census found 5.5 million households headed by unmarried partners nationwide, a little more than 5 percent of the country's 105.5 million homes, while married couples head a little more than 50 percent.

Interracial relationships -- regardless of marital status -- tended to occur more often in the West and states with higher minority populations, said Martin O'Connell, head of the bureau's family statistics branch.

Rates of interracial couples were also high in Alaska, New Mexico and Oklahoma.

Conversely, the New England states of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, which have low minority populations, also have lower percentages of interracial relationships.

Vermont passed in 2000 the first law granting homosexual couples virtually all the state rights and responsibilities afforded to married couples. Among homosexual partners in Vermont, just over 1 in 20 were between people of different races or ethnicity.

Star-Bulletin reporter Mary Adamski and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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