To have and to hold: interfaith marriage just as common among Muslim Americans as Christians

by YOUSSEF CHOUHOUD

A bar graph showing that American Muslims (14%) are as likely as Christians (9-12%) to marry outside their faith

Across all faith groups, interfaith marriage is becoming increasingly common in America. This pattern is partly a function of the broad acceptance of interracial marriage beginning in the Civil Rights era and a decreasing adherence to organized religions in the last several decades (some estimates reporting the percentage of religiously unaffiliated Americans has more than quadrupled since 1990). Recently married Americans who consider themselves Jews are four times more likely to marry someone outside their faith as Jewish Americans who married before 1970.

Are Muslims following the same trajectory? Naomi Schaefer Riley, who wrote a groundbreaking book on the topic, opens her 2013 Washington Post opinion piece with an assertive answer: “When it comes to intermarriage, Muslims are becoming the new Jews.”

We examine this claim using data from the 2018 American Muslim Poll. Figure 1 compares the percentage of interfaith marriage among discrete religious groups and the non-affiliated. American Muslims are statistically just as likely as Catholics, Protestants, and white Evangelicals to marry outside their faith, yet fall slightly below the rate among Jews.

However, when including those who report they are cohabitating with a person of another faith alongside those who intermarried, the rate of Muslims in interfaith relationships is statistically on par with American Jews (Figure 2). While the percentage of Muslims in this broader category still trails that of Jews, there is demographic evidence to suggest that the two rates will continue to converge over time.

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