For all the high-octane, emotionally charged claims bandied about today on immigration by the media and politicians, data from the highly reputable Institute for Family Studies (IFS) presents some very encouraging and reliable news regarding immigrant families in America. Immigrants coming to America tend to be deeply pro-marriage in their beliefs and practice. The numbers are quite dramatic.

Based on their new analysis of U.S. Census data, scholars at IFS report, “Specifically, 72% of immigrants with children are still in their first marriage, whereas the share among native-born Americans is just 60%.” Immigrants, as a rule, tend to have higher marriage rates overall, as well as lower divorce numbers. IFS explains,

For every 1,000 unmarried immigrants ages 18 to 64 in 2019, 59 got married. The corresponding number for native-born Americans was 39. Likewise, only 13 out of 1000 married immigrants ages 18-64 got a divorce in 2019, compared with 20 out of 1000 among native-born Americans of same age.

Dr. Wendy Wang, the report’s author, told The Daily Citizen, “immigrants are more likely than native-born Americans to embrace a family-first mindset.”  After controlling for important factors like education, income, ethnicity and age, immigrant homes with children are twice as likely to be married than native-born parents. Immigrants coming to our shores from India have the strongest marital stability.

A remarkable 94% of first-generation Indian immigrants with children are still in their first marriage. Nearly none with children are unmarried (2%), and only 4% are remarried. Immigrants with 80% percent or more still in their first marriages are from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Taiwan, Korea, China, Japan and Poland, in that order.

Latin American immigrants also tend to have intact marriage rates markedly higher than native-born Americans, ranging in the lower 70 and 60 percent. Sixty-eight percent of those coming from Mexico, American’s largest immigrant population, are still in their first marriages.

It is generally believed that higher education and greater income are related to increased family stability. And Asian and Indian immigrants tend to have higher levels of income and education compared to all other immigrants. But all immigrants, on average, still have lower levels of both compared to native-born Americans.

Compared with native-born American parents, however, immigrants with children overall have lower levels of education and higher rates of poverty. Some 48% of immigrant parents have a high school or less education, compared with only 29% of native-born parents. And the poverty rate is 15% for immigrant families with children, compared to 11% for native-born American families.

Yet, the Institute for Family Studies explains, “immigrant families are more stable than native-born American families.”

Generations Decline Though

What is unfortunate is the impact living in America has on the marriages of immigrant children as they grow. The remarkable marital success their parents enjoyed tends to decline from one generation to another. Even with those from the strongest pro-marriage cultures.

Consider the shift from first- to second-generation Indians. While 94% of first-generation Indian immigrants with children are stably married, only 87% of native-born Indian Americans with children remained married. This, even though they have higher incomes than the first-generation Indian immigrants, and their educational levels are equally high.

American Culture is Toxic to Marriage

There is unfortunately something about growing up in American culture that leads to less stable marriages and family. The scholars at IFS contend that “the individualism in American culture has its virtues but is at odds with stable marriage and families.”

One’s view of what marriage is really about makes a great difference in marital success. Research conducted last year by the Institute for Family Studies found that couples who believe “marriage is mostly about an intense emotional/romantic connection” are at greater risk of divorce than those who believe that marriage includes romance, but is also about “the kids… and raising a family together.”

Moreover, married adults with a primarily romantic view of marriage report being less satisfied with their relationships. Seventy-four percent of such couples say that they are satisfied with their marriage, compared with 81% of those who believe marriage is equally about the larger family as well.

As America welcomes new immigrants to its land of remarkable opportunities, we would do well to study the marital attitudes and practices of immigrants. They tend to do marriage much better than we do and their children tend to do more poorly in their own marriages the longer they are here.

We should all do what we can do to turn this trend around, as strong marriages and intact families are fundamentally critical to individual and community well-being. As Dr. Wang explained to The Daily Citizen,

At a time when the U.S. marriage rate hits an all-time low, it is important to acknowledge the role of the traditional family values in family stability. And we should not ignore the contribution immigrants made to the overall family stability in America.

Additional Resources:

Why Marriage Matters for Adults

God’s Design for Marriage

Covenant: The Heart of the Marriage Mystery

Focus on the Family’s International Outreach

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