Interracial Social Relations in Adolescence and Adulthood

Joyner, Kara
Kao, Grace (University of Pennsylvania)
Balistreri, Kelly 

Interracial Social Relations in Adolescence and Adulthood

The United States is more racially diverse than ever before. Adults who are currently in their twenties and early thirties spent their adolescence in schools and neighborhoods that were much more racially diverse than those of their parents. The proposed study examines continuity and change in interracial social relations among individuals as they move from adolescence to adulthood and compares the well-being of individuals in different-race versus same-race relationships. The project has four specific aims: (1) To document patterns of variation in the prevalence of having interracial social ties among recent cohorts of adults; (2) To analyze the ways in which interracial contact in adolescence influences the formation of interracial social ties in adulthood; (3) To investigate and explain change in interracial partnering during adolescence and emerging adulthood; and (4) To examine how interracial romance and well-being are linked in adulthood. To address these aims, data from three major longitudinal surveys that collect information on the race and ethnicity of respondents’ social affiliates (e.g., friends and lovers) at varying points in adolescence and young adulthood will be utilized: The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY97), and the Toledo Adolescent Relationships Study (TARS). These data allow an examination of the interracial involvement of adults born between 1975 and 1989. Descriptive analyses will be used to document how the prevalence of having different-race friends and partners (e.g., dating, romantic, sexual, cohabiting, and married) in adulthood differs for men and women of different racial groups and how interracial partnering changes with increasing age. Data from the 2008 American Community Survey (ACS) will also be used to understand how prevalence estimates of interracial cohabitation and marriage based on longitudinal survey data are distinctive from estimates based on data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. Multi-level logistic regression models will estimate the effects of variables (proxying opportunities and preferences for interracial contact) on the likelihood of having different-race friends and partners in adulthood. Multi-state hazard models will be used to highlight how key variables are associated with rates of transition into and out of interracial relationships in adolescence and emerging adulthood. Additional analyses will compare how adults in different types of same-race and different-race couples fare in terms of a variety of health-related outcomes, including psychological stress and relationship quality. Ultimately, the findings of this study are relevant to several topics emphasized by the Demographic and Behavioral Sciences Branch (DBSB), including “how the patterns of interracial and interethnic friendship, courtship, marriage, and childbearing are changing in the United States.” They also speak to a multitude of public and scholarly debates that span a number of fields and disciplines within the social sciences. For instance, the results of this project will enhance social scientific knowledge on the implications of growing racial diversity in the population.


Kao, G., Joyner, K., & Balistreri, K. (Forthcoming). Interracial Romance and Friendship in Adolescence and Adulthood. New York: ASA Rose Series (Russell Sage Foundation).


Balistreri, K., Joyner, K. & Kao, G. (2017). “Trading Youth for Citizenship? The Spousal Age Gap among Cross-Border Marriages.” Population and Development Review. 43(3):443-466

Balistreri, K., Joyner, K. & Kao, G. (2015). “Relationship Involvement among Young Adults: Are Asian American Men an Exceptional Case?” Population Research and Policy Review. 34(5): 709-732.


Joyner, K., Balistreri, K., & Kao, G. “Racial Diversity and Attitudes towards Interracial Relationships.” American Sociological Association Annual Meeting Philadelphia, PA. 2018.

Kao, G., Joyner, K., & Balistreri, K.Interracial Romance and Friendship in Adolescence and Adulthood.” The Rose Seminar Series, Russell Sage Foundation. New York. 2017.

Balistreri, K., Joyner, K., & Kao, G. “The Timing of Migration and Marriage among the Foreign-Born in the United States.” Presented at the meetings of the American Sociological Association, August 2016.

Joyner, K., Balistreri, K., & Kao, G. “Continuity and Change in Interracial Contact.” Presented at the meetings for the Society for Longitudinal and Life Course Studies Meetings in Lausanne, Switzerland October 2014.