Endogamy refers to in group marriage, or a pattern of marriage in which the partners have a shared group affiliation. Its conceptual counterpoint is exogamy, or a pattern of marriage in which the partners are different in their group affiliation. For scholars of race and ethnic relations, the significance of endogamy stems from its relationship to group boundaries and the processes by which they are maintained, transgressed, and negotiated. Indeed, endogamy is generally understood to be among the most important social mechanisms in the formation and reformation of racial and ethnic groups.
Endogamy is increasingly recognized to be a complex and emergent social process. Under lying this recognition are theoretical developments in the study of ethnic identity, which is increasingly seen as multiple and fluid rather than singular and stable in character. This conceptualization also suggests that definitions of endogamy will also shift, depending on what particular aspect of identity is under consideration as well as the historical circumstances and meanings that surround it. As, for example, in the case of a marriage in which the partners are different in their ethnic affiliation but similar in their religion, a marriage that is endogamous in one respect may not be so along another dimension. Furthermore, there is a sense in which marriage itself, regardless of whether it initially involves persons who are similar or different in a particular way, may work to create endogamy or at least make exogamy invisible. As highlighted by situations in which one spouse undergoes conversion into the religious affiliation of the other spouse, marriage may result in the incorporation of the ‘‘outsider’’ into the group in question.
Even with these considerations, it would be fair to say that endogamy, defined as a marriage pattern that preserves the primary group distinctions prevalent within a society, has been and continues to be a widespread norm. In pre modern societies, endogamy was largely ensured by prevalent structural conditions, in particular the limited degree of social and geo graphical mobility available to and experienced by most persons. In addition, marriages were understood not as matters of individual negotiations of romantic love but as practical contracts that were closely intertwined with the authority and interests of the larger kin group (Giddens 1992). These conditions too were encouraging of in group marriage in the sense that in pre-industrial societies the endogamy of members was generally advantageous to the kin group, allowing it to consolidate and to expand its local networks and resources.
In late modern societies, endogamy continues to be the norm, particularly with respect to the boundaries of social class and race. This is certainly the case in the contemporary United States. In some parts of America, interracial marriage remained illegal until the 1960s. Today, however, it is maintained not by laws but by other dynamics, most importantly perhaps by the presence and power of informally segregated social networks in the organization of people’s lives. Writing of the contemporary US, Whyte (1990) observes that ‘‘dating and mating’’ almost invariably take place within rather than across race and class based networks. However, while racial endogamy continues to be the norm in the US, it is also the case that it has declined over time. In 1960, 99.6 percent of all marriages were racially endogamous, in comparison to 94.6 percent in 2000. As noted by Nagel (2003), rates of racial exogamy are highest among Native Americans (67 percent), followed by Asians (26.3 percent), Hispanics (26.1 percent), blacks (10.9 percent), and whites (6.1 percent).
The rise in racial exogamy has generated a growing body of literature on its implications, particularly for the ‘‘mixed race’’ children who emerge from these unions. Scholars writing about interracial marriages in the 1930s and 1940s were overwhelmingly pessimistic about the fate of the children, emphasizing their identity confusion and lack of acceptance by others (Song 2003). Much of the contemporary literature has a very different tone, emphasizing the positive aspects of a mixed heritage. Instead of choosing the affiliation of one parent over another, ‘‘mixed race’’ persons are increasingly inclined to acknowledge and to maintain their diverse heritage, thereby challenging the singular conception of racial identity that has been prevalent in the US (Root 1992). This is so even among those who have one black parent, and who thus face the deeply rooted US ‘‘one drop rule’’ whereby any black ancestry results in one’s automatic assignment by others to the category of black. It was in part due to the efforts of ‘‘mixed race’’ persons that the US Census underwent an important policy shift in 2000. Respondents are now allowed to check off as many race affiliations as they wish instead of being limited to a single one.
- Giddens, A. (1992) The Transformation of Intimacy. Stanford University Press, Stanford.
- Nagel, J. (2003) Race, Ethnicity, and Sexuality. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
- Root, M. (1992) Racially Mixed People in America. Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA.
- Song, M. (2003) Choosing Ethnic Identity. Polity Press, Cambridge.
- Whyte, M. K. (1990) Dating, Mating, and Marriage. Aldine de Gruyter, New York.