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Brian Powell
Department of Sociology

Tracy James
IU Media Relations

Last modified: Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Going the extra mile: Biracial families in the United States

April 17, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Biracial parents, compared to their monoracial counterparts, are more likely to go the extra mile in the amount of time and money they spend on their young children, according to a national study by sociologists at Indiana University and the University of Connecticut.

Forty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a state law in Virginia that prohibited whites from marrying non-whites. The ruling in Loving v. Virginia invalidated similar bans in 15 other states. Study author Brian Powell, a sociology professor at Indiana University Bloomington, said the number of biracial couples has more than tripled since 1970 yet many couples still face challenges, from disapproval or discomfort to outright prejudice.

"They face challenges in being a couple," said Powell, who studies sociology of the family. "They're aware of the challenges their children will be facing. In turn, they try to compensate for this."

The findings appear in the American Journal of Sociology, in an article titled, "Under and beyond constraints: Resource allocation to young children from biracial families." Simon Cheng, a professor at the University of Connecticut, is coauthor.

The study examined data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, which involves a nationally representative sample of U.S. families. Powell and Cheng looked at information -- primarily involving kindergartners -- about the families' economic, cultural and social resources. They compared the expenditures of biracial parents to their monoracial counterparts. If the parents were Latino and white, for example, their data were compared to families where both parents were Latino or both parents were white.

Economic factors included such things as whether there was a home computer, private v. public schooling, and types of educational possessions, such as books and CDs. Cultural factors included reading activities, participation in dance, music or art classes outside of school, and trips to the zoo, library and other cultural settings. The social and interactional data included questions about parental involvement in the children's school.

In most cases, the biracial parents invested at higher levels than their counterparts. Exceptions involved questions dealing with social and interactional issues, particularly the number of close grandparents.

Powell said the study highlighted the great variation of biracial couples. Couples where one parent was black and the other white made up the smallest set in the study -- 143 couples, compared to 601 couples where one parent was Latino and the other white. There were 174 white and Asian couples and 191 couples who were white and "other," for example, Native American.

The study is part of a cluster of studies in which Powell and his colleagues looked at parental expenditures in families that are not considered typical -- or stereotypical. The studies looked at families where the parents were older when they began having children, adoptive parents and biracial parents. Children in these families often are thought of as disadvantaged because their parents are different. Powell's studies have found this is not the case with young children.

For a copy of the study "Under and beyond constraints: Resource allocation to young children from biracial families," please contact Tracy James, IU Media Relations, 812-855-0084 and The article appeared in the journal's January issue, which was published in mid-March.

The study was funded by the Spencer Foundation, the National Science Foundation and the American Educational Research Association.

Powell can be reached at 812-855-7624 and

"Under and beyond constraints: Resource allocation to young children from biracial families," American Journal of Sociology, 112:4, pp. 1044-94.