The Romance of Assimilation: Studying the Demographic Outcomes of Ethnic Intermarriage in American History

Working Paper No. 230

37 Pages Posted: 27 Jun 2000

See all articles by Joel Perlmann

Joel Perlmann

Bard College - The Levy Economics Institute

Date Written: March 1998


Contemporary ethnic and racial intermarriage are the subject of increasing discussion in connection with America's future population; with such concerns in mind, the paper suggests a reorientation of ethnic intermarriage studies and provides related data. Yet our long record of historical experience with intermarriage, and indeed most of the discussion of contemporary trends deal with rates at one moment in time; even the few historical studies of intermarriage rates deal principally with one historical moment. Nevertheless, it is the long-term, cross-generational, impact of intermarriage is crucial to the blending of peoples. The ancestry data in the United States Census is a partial but ultimately unsatisfactory source for keeping track of what might be called the genealogist's record of a people's origins and blending: not the record of what respondents declare to be the origins with which they identify, but the full record of their ethnic origins. This working paper therefore proposes a strategy for advancing the discussion of origins by focussing on census records of the third generation (the children living in households of native-born of foreign parentage, in the censuses of 1880-1970). The efforts to identify these individuals and to handle ambiguous cases are discussed for fourteen datasets: grandchildren of Irish, German, Italian, Polish and Mexican immigrants in a range of census years.

The major focus is on the Italians in 1960 and the major conclusion is that about half the grandchildren of Italian immigrants are also children who had grandparents from other ethnic origins. Indeed, those with four Italian grandparents and two native-born parents (the core meaning of third generation status) are only one quarter of all who had an Italian-immigrant grandparent. The working paper also presents data showing how the lopsided gender ratio nevertheless resulted in low rates of immigrant-generation intermarriage; their grandchildren of mixed descent are the product of cumulative outmarriage patterns and of increased intermarriage in the second generation.

Suggested Citation

Perlmann, Joel, The Romance of Assimilation: Studying the Demographic Outcomes of Ethnic Intermarriage in American History (March 1998). Working Paper No. 230, Available at SSRN: or

Joel Perlmann (Contact Author)

Bard College - The Levy Economics Institute ( email )

Annandale-on-Hudson, NY 12504-5000
United States
914-758-7700 (Phone)
914-758-1149 (Fax)


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