A comeback for the American melting pot?

June 18, 2010

When U.S. President Barack Obama’s white mother married his black African father, in 1961, black-and-white marriages were one in 1,000 and inter-racial marriages were banned by law in 15 American states. Even where they were legal, mixed marriages were widely considered taboo.

Fast forward to the present and more than six out of 10 Americans approve of marriages between whites and non-whites. In 2008, one out of seven of all new marriages in the United States were between spouses of different races or ethnicities, according to a study that looked at blacks, whites, Asians and Hispanics.

The 2008 rate, a record, was double that of 1980 and six times that of 1960, partly because of weakened cultural taboos and partly because of successive waves of immigrants from Latin America and Asia, says the study, by the Washington-based Pew Research Center. It is one of several analyses culled from census data in advance of the release later this year of the results of the 2010 U.S. census. (The census is conducted every 10 years).

The figures and the underlying change in attitudes are remarkable. Do they point to a future, generations away, where the predominant colour of the citizenry is not white, black, brown, or yellow but beige? Probably not. But they might revive a long-running debate on the concepts of the American “melting pot” and the “salad bowl.”

In the melting pot, different cultures, races, and ethnicities are brewed into an American stew. In the salad bowl, the ingredients combine into a salad but retain their distinct identity. For the past few diversity-conscious decades, the salad bowl notion has been conventional wisdom.

One prominent melting pot sceptic, Cornell University’s Daniel Lichter, points out that fewer than 5 percent of all married whites have a spouse of a different race or ethnicity. (Hispanics, who come in all colours, are not considered a race but an ethnic group).

“The vast majority of whites today — as in the past — marry other whites,” Lichter wrote in an essay. “We are still far from a melting pot …”
How far nobody knows. The Pew study found that of the 3.8 million Americans who married in 2008, 9 percent of whites, 16 percent of blacks, 26 percent of Hispanics and 31 percent of Asians married someone whose race or ethnicity was different from their own. The most common mixed pairings were between whites and Hispanics.


It’s in the eye of the beholder whether inter-marriage is a decisive step in the assimilation process (what could be better than physical intermingling?) or a dire threat to the white majority (66 percent) and those of its members who think that “Anglo-Protestant values” and traditions are the bedrock of American identity.

The intellectual father of that idea was the late Samuel Huntington, a Harvard political scientist whose controversial 2004 book “Who are we?” provided the underpinning for many of the arguments used by groups advocating curbs on immigration. Huntington foresaw a “bifurcated America” with two languages, Spanish and English.

For white Americans who fear that demographic trends run against them, several sets of new data provide more cause for concern. In June, official census figures showed that non-white minorities, including Hispanics, accounted for 48.6 percent of the children born between July 2008 and 2009. That was up from 46.8 percent from 2006/7.

As early as next year, the U.S could reach a long-expected racial milestone — more babies born to non-whites than to white Americans of European ancestry. Melting pot or salad bowl, whites seem destined to minority status even in the improbable case that immigration were reduced to a trickle.

The reason? More than 80 percent of America’s population growth from 2000 to 2008 came from non-white minorities, according to a study of the country’s 100 largest metropolitan areas by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

The U.S. population reached 300 million in October, 2006, and is forecast to hit 350 million by 2025. That growth rate, in the words of Brookings’ Metropolitan Project Director Bruce Katz, makes the United States a “demographically blessed nation.”

Blessed because America’s competitors, from Japan and Britain to Germany, are shrinking because of declining birth rates. Russia has suffered the sharpest population decline of major industrialized countries — 6.6 million since 1995.

But America’s growth and demographic transformation also comes with huge challenges for which there is no solution in sight. One of them is growing economic inequality, according to the Brookings study, the other is a sharp division in education. Today, around 50 percent of Asians and 31 percent of whites hold college degrees, compared with 13 percent of Hispanics and 18 percent of blacks.

A recipe for salad rather than stew?


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Is a stew more preferable than a salad? Does one imply better economics, politics, or other social areas? Is the improvement (or decline) of any area worth actively working toward (or avoiding)?

Or is this just semantics and line-drawing for the sake of it?

Posted by drewbie | Report as abusive

Hello Bernd,
Thank you for raising hot point :).

It is not a problem that 80% of population growth comes from non-whites. The problem is that USA stopped offering values and identity to new-comers. It is no longer melting pot! It creates enclaves based on cultural identity.
Most of XX century immigrants saw USA as Champion of Free World because they were escaping from Nazi, Communist, religion oppression. They had the same education level with US. Today, most immigrants come here in search for easy life and money and lack education. Uneducated people all over the world have really hard time to integrate to new environment and form the most vulnerable part of population.

Look at Turks in Germany, Arabs in France and Latinos in USA. In same cases their 2nd and even 3rd generation fails to integrate to society. They form aggressive subclass (forget about assimilation).

So while bringing in 1,000,000’s low educate mobs USA shy its Christian/European roots and searches for new identity. Instead promotion education that was part of Europe tradition USA demote education so new comers don’t feel embarrassed. Program “No kid left behind” means nobody moves forward.

Even today there are 10000’s high skilled jobs that pay well over $100000. But they don’t go to Americans since US education system failed own people. These jobs go to …to few immigrants from Europe, India and Asia.

Posted by sk_usa | Report as abusive

It’s definitely a melting pot. The notion of cultures retaining their own identity and not mixing with others is true mostly of immigrants and first generation non whites born in the US. Get past that group, and what you find is that the children of these people grow up learning English and assimilating to the American way of life.

My children know almost nothing of the culture from which they originally come. They’ve grown up accustomed to living here in the US. This way of life is all they know. It happens to every wave of immigrant culture. Even Jewish people who as a culture, tend towards retaining their own identity, still assimilate much of the culture they live in, and prosper like everyone else.

As race mixes with race, successive generations will discard the notion of race as a factor in anything. The idea of racism will simply fade against the reality of multiracial people. Bigots will be seen as unwanted relics of a much less refined past. Any racial “issues” we have now stem from our own limitations. Our children will move beyond those limitations and our culture will become more united and homogeneous as more and more races/cultures mix together.

All we have to do is be humane enough to each other to allow our children a chance to grow up and take over the reigns. When it comes to love, it’s all good.

Posted by Benny_Acosta | Report as abusive

I believe Reuters should have also added this:
“Unfortunately, most of the nation’s headlines ignored Pew’s observation that intermarriage rates with whites actually have declined among Asians and Hispanics since 1980. This is something new.” which is also from Daniel T. Lichter

One thing I particularly like about him is that he didn’t conclude that ‘whites are less likely to marry others’ based on the percentage numbers above like many other less competent researchers.

From the mathematical view points: because whites are the majority, the interracial marriage number has to be lower. Mathematically, there is no way it can be equal to or close to that number from other races.

Let’s assume in a 1000 people case, 80% white (800 people), 20% other race. If the interracial marriage percentage for other race is 40% (80 people), that same number for white cannot be 40% as well, because 40% of the 80% white is 320 people and that is already more than the entire other race count (200 people). The number for white can only be at most 25% because there are not enough people in other race for whites to marry and make the number exceed 25.

You will be surprised how many social science and humanity researchers unable to see this. In other word, the percentage numbers don’t say anything if it’s not scaled by the distribution of race in the whole population. Or at least do a percentage tracking over time like in my first paragraph. It would give better insight.

Some note from a math major student.

Posted by trevorh | Report as abusive

well said trevorh.

US should not be afraid of ratios as long as they select right immigrants who can contribute to the nation and grow with it. It is also important that they assimilate American values and sentiments.

So right steps are necessary for successfully building nation rather than worrying about ratios.

After all US is born out of immigrants!

Posted by sigirisetti | Report as abusive

@Benny_Acosta: The melting pot would work much better if it weren’t so easy for Latin American immigrants to function without learning English. Spanish is in fact America’s unofficial second language and it is everywhere. ATMs, 800 numbers (toca uno por Espanol), schools, radios, television (Univision). You can live happily in America forever just speaking Spanish. George W Bush once even gave his Sunday radio address both in Spanish and in English. So Huntington was right about one country and two major languages.

In the past, English was the glue that bound diverse communities together. Where it still exists, that glue is becoming weaker by the day.

Posted by Komment | Report as abusive

I wouldn’t call English the way it’s typically spoken in America a “language” – more a series of grunts, squeaks and howls interspersed with lurid commercial endorsements and little smiley faces.

Immigrants and natives to America alike must decide whether sniffing cultural glue of such low caliber is likely to be the most gainful use of their time. Then comes the key issue of whether to marry in America or to have a good life.

Posted by HBC | Report as abusive

America is far from a melting pot – always has been. Even the salad analogy fails: the first black Americans were slaves and Native Americans were nearly exterminated. For all the pundits heralding the arrival of a post-racial society, you got another thing coming. As the research shows, interracial marriage amongst whites is decreasing while amongst all other minority groups it is increasing. As the immigration reform bill controversy in Arizona has proven, race is still a hot issue in America. For more about racism and the post-racial American society check out this article: http://www.philosoguy.com/265/awaiting-t he-post-racial-society/

Posted by pcasinelli | Report as abusive

We definitely need some ethnic cleansing here in the US. Hey, if Israel can do it, why can’t we? We can’t support it in Israel with our tax dollars and not have it here. This is a White homeland. You just have to declare it like the Jews have done for Israel, right? Which is it – make a decision.

Posted by Rexter | Report as abusive

You should look up an academic paper by Kevin MacDonald about how Jews worked to pass the 1965 immigration law in the US specifically to commit genocide against Whites. Whites are the only group where genocide is openly discussed, albeit in code-terms like “diversity” and “multiculturalism.” Yet “diversity” is never discussed in Israel, Mexico, Africa, Japan, or ANYWHERE other than the US or White nations.

Posted by Rexter | Report as abusive

@HBC: You do realize you sound just as arrogant and ignorant as the people you believe hold a polar opposite view point, right? You don’t exactly seem appropriately verbose to look down your nose at the rest of the population. And I have no idea what the marriage comment is even talking about.

@Rexter: Do everyone a favor and just go move to Palestine. Your comment is silly. It sounds like a 9 year old trying to be argumentative, except its being ridiculous about complex political issues rather than watching TV shows for older kids. …Wow. Your second comment actually leaves me having no idea where you stand. I thought you were being facetious at first. Okay you obviously won’t like it in Palestine. Go to Canada.

Posted by ZooeyGlass | Report as abusive

ZooeyGlass – like a typical you-know-what-you-are you scurry because you can’t take on ANYTHING I said because you know I’m right. There is no arguing with it – it is fact.

Posted by Rexter | Report as abusive

The white ‘race ‘ or Caucasians screwed up during the sixties when all this started. They let the ultraliberals give us Vietnam and a change in the Immigration laws. This combined with TV, drugs and pollution helped guarantee America’s inevitable decline.

Posted by paolosilv | Report as abusive

American identity, at the moment, is correlated to economic and cities industrial structure. Persons in a work environment, using traditional American ethics, try to improve their efficiency through quite conversations involving manners and pride. Lower class african-Americans (tendency to be cool, talk loud about their gossip), immigrant mestizos (tendency to giggle & retain their machosim) and do not forget the new tolerance of cell phones at work, simply disrupt and fill the workplace with feelings of futility for production. So yes assimilation is what made America what it was. Now the cultures of other, not so prosperous economies, are being recreated here. This will in effect bring the same maladies that helped their native economies, not prosper. However, forgive what I have said, as America is now for taking advantage of the people who want to have fun, rather than be informed.

Posted by weildor | Report as abusive

As a young White male growing up just outside of Detroit I can factually say that the “melting pot” is a facade to wreck our country by packing it full of third world people. White people in America have been coddled for a long time and we have some definite rude awakenings to reality coming for us. One of them is the reality of racial differences.

If we will not accept the facts by simply learning them as they are, then we will accept them when they are chasing us down with machetes. Take a good look at what’s happening to the Whites in S. Africa. It’s on its way here too.

Posted by NewAtlas | Report as abusive

[…] Source VN:F [1.9.2_1090]please wait…Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast) […]

Posted by A comeback for the American melting pot? | EUTimes.net | Report as abusive

SK_USA clearly doesnt understand immigration history. Most immigrants were not educated, at any point in history, because the educated rarely have a need to travel great distances as their resources provide multiple regional options. For the most part immigrants have been labourer, from the irish to the asians, and over time acquired new skill and built there educational foundation. Now 50% of all asians in the US have college degrees or higher…..who wouldve thought wed come so far from teh ppl who worked for dollars a month on a suicide construction project for those who claimed superiority…..31% degrees? Have fun in the future…

Posted by theobvious | Report as abusive

I believe the stark differences is races and classes facing us today is proof that there is not a melting pot. The melting pot existed when all people that formed this nation came together. They were from all over the world and immigrated before things were established and they bonded because of it.

Now its us versus them. The NAACP calls tea parties racist because they disagree with a black president – not because he leans so far left he’s about to fall over. Legal immigrants protest enforcing laws against ILLEGAL immigration. There is so much division in this nation I don’t think anything can bring it back together.

As evidence to my point about classes being against each other. 46% of the country paid no taxes in 2009. google it @ emint.com. Major problem. The wealthy pay the taxes and the lower incomes collect it leading to anger between groups. The wealthy are tired of supporting ‘lazy’ people and those who receive entitlements want more and have become dependent upon this redistribution.


Posted by Andymc7 | Report as abusive