The changing face of marriage: Mixed unions
CBC News Online | August 23, 2004
More couples in Canada are breaking old taboos than ever before. Of the
14.1 million Canadians in couple-relationships in 2001, 452,000 of them were in
a mixed union. That's up 35 per cent in 10 years.
The figures are contained in a study released by Statistics Canada on June 8,
The researchers compared data from the 1991 and 2001 censuses. They looked at
only certain types of mixed couples who were either married or living in a
What many people used to call "mixed marriages" – say between a
Roman Catholic and a Muslim or between Canadians of Anglo-Saxon and Italian
backgrounds – were not included in the numbers.
- One partner is a visible minority and one isn't.
- The partners are from different visible minorities.
The study notes the numbers may be small – 3.5 per cent of all couples in 2001
compared to 2.6 per cent in 1991 – but they are growing at a faster rate than
the number of people in non-mixed couples.
One reason mixed unions are becoming more common may be the rapid growth in the
number of visible minorities in Canada. In 2001, the four million visible
minorities in the country accounted for 13 per cent of the population. In 1981,
the proportion was less than half that – at five per cent.
In the United States, the growth of mixed unions has been even more marked. In
2001, mixed unions accounted for about five per cent of all American marriages
– that's up 1,000 per cent since 1967, when the United States Supreme Court
ruled that laws still on the books in a few states forbidding marriage between
the races were unconstitutional.
The first of those laws were passed to prevent freed black slaves from marrying
whites. More laws were passed as large numbers of mostly male Chinese and
Filipino workers entered the U.S. in the 1700s and 1800s.
While the trend is already growing rapidly, Statistics Canada suggests it
could really take off as the nation's youth get older. The proportion of
mixed-union couples among people aged 20 to 29 is about twice that of their
older counterparts, according to the report.
The survey found that young and highly-educated city dwellers are more likely to
be in a mixed union – and that those factors could also play a part in
fostering a greater acceptance of diversity and a more universal outlook.
It has worked for Loraine Ouimet and Alan Prader of Montreal. He's black and
English, she's white and French. They've been together for more than 17 years.
"I feel sorry for people who are uncomfortable or who are racist. They're
not only hurting others but they're hurting themselves, because they reduce the
pool of people who want to find love," Ouimet said. "All of this would
not have happened if we weren't open."
Rev. Martha Nell Thompson of Wesley United Church in Montreal is marrying more
mixed couples than ever. When she goes through pre-marriage counselling with
those couples, acceptance by the extended family is becoming less of an issue.
"The weddings that I have performed have reflected the society,
again," Thompson said.
But for some, like Jane Lu, acceptance by the family is still difficult. Lu's
background is Chinese. She's engaged to a white man. Her older sisters also
married white men, much to their father's disappointment.
"He did not attend their weddings," Lu said. "It was very
difficult for us to understand why. We tried to get him to open up a little bit
but he just continued his stubborn way. I don't expect him to come to my
wedding, but I think he's come to learn and accept."
Another survey suggests the number of people objecting to their children
entering a mixed union is dropping. More than 80 per cent reported they were
comfortable or very comfortable with their children marrying a visible minority.
"It makes a very positive statement about society and its degree of
openness to other communities, and the continued breakdown of stereotypes and
prejudice," Jack Jedwab, the executive director of the Association for
Canadian Studies, told CBC News.
According to the Statistics Canada figures, Japanese were the most likely to be
in mixed unions. Of the 25,100 couples in Canada that include at least one
Japanese person, 70 per cent were mixed. The study's authors said the high rate
of mixed unions among people of Japanese background is partially due to their
long history in Canada – mixed unions tend to increase with subsequent
Latin Americans had the second-highest rate of involvement in mixed unions at 45
per cent. Blacks are next at 43 per cent.
Chinese and South Asians are at the opposite end of the spectrum with mixed
union rates of 16 and 13 per cent respectively. One key reason, StatsCan says,
is both groups are large and tend be concentrated in urban areas. This gives
members of those groups lots of opportunity to meet someone within their own