Are Children of Interracial Couples at Increased Risk of Genetic Defects?

It may make us wince with discomfort to hear such a controversial question raised. Sometimes people imply that I shouldn’t even bother responding to questions like this. However, I prefer to do so because I know there are some people […]

motherchild3It may make us wince with discomfort to hear such a controversial question raised. Sometimes people imply that I shouldn’t even bother responding to questions like this. However, I prefer to do so because I know there are some people out there who want to be or already are in interracial relationships, and have these sorts of fears, worries and concerns that they’d like express and hear others thoughts on, but can’t find the proper place, person or way to ask without being misunderstood or coming across as offensive. Sometimes it’s important to discuss that “elephant in the room” and spread enlightenment through the exchange of ideas.

The idea for this topic came from a reader who is engaged interracially and cross-culturally to someone from a different continent. The reader’s fiancé had expressed concerns about whether having children with a person of another “race” could increase a couple’s risk of bearing children who suffer from genetic defects and deformities.

There is a large body of scientific research showing the exact opposite. Large gene pools tend to be beneficial to a population, while it is gene pools that are limited (homogenous or small in size) that increase susceptibility to diseases, physical malformations, improper organ formation or function, biochemical imbalances, and certain physiological, behavioral or social problems  and other defects of genetic origin (see Chai, 1976).

Balasco Twins (biracial) with their parents (interracial couple)The reason diversity is beneficial to a gene pool is because populations are constantly migrating, environments are constantly changing, and diseases are constantly mutating. While one population may become biologically unsuitable for its environment, an environment it migrated to, or climate changes, or find itself unable to resist new strains of diseases, another population may have the best genes to survive in the environment or climate zone or have the genes most resistant to a new or mutated disease. Therefore, if the two populations interbreed, the offspring’s resistance to environments, diseases, and so on, will increase and vary.  The two populations are giving to each other, not taking away.

On the other hand, while one instance of breeding with someone who is genetically similar to you may not always lead to serious issues (i.e. various studies including the one cited in this article show that children of non-related couples have a 2-3% risk of birth defects, while the children of first cousins have a 4-6% risk of birth defects), repeated inbreeding within a population over time will lead to serious defects that can cause the population to go extinct. That is because as inbreeding continues, recessive traits in the population strengthen. As the recessive genes strengthen, the population will produce more and more children who suffer from defects that once manifested only occasionally.

If you’re concerned about your children suffering from genetic defects, it is not really “interracial” or “intercultural” you should be focused on. Instead, you and your future partner should both research your respective family histories to determine what genetic conditions have shown up repeatedly and/or consult with a family physician. If a disease shows up repeatedly in your ancestry, that may mean that you are carrying a recessive trait for that disease. If both you and your partner carry the same recessive gene linked to a disease, there’s a 1 in 4 chance that the disease will manifest in a child produced by your union. However, since populations often differ from others in what diseases they are genetically predisposed to, it will be less likely for you to encounter someone from another continent who is genetically predisposed to the same diseases you are than it would be for you to encounter someone from your own continent who doesn’t share some of your recessive genes. Therefore, your intercontinental relationship may greatly benefit your gene pool, expanding it and making it healthier. This is good news, especially for those who do not have much genetic diversity in their gene pool due to, say, coming from small villages or where there may have been some inbreeding such as between cousins. Genetic variation will be the key to the survival of the human species (read this article for more detail).

I say, live, laugh, love, and expand that gene pool! Wishing you and your partner many healthy, happy children.

Please see also another article I wrote on this site, “Why Humans Can’t Preserve ‘Races’.”

Young biracial woman, Singer Alicia Keys

About Velour

I am a young woman who's Caribbean by heritage and American by birth. I'm married to a white man, whom I met during my teens. We've been together for nearly a decade. I have some female relatives and friends who are also married interracially. I share my experiences and thoughts in order to encourage and support other black women who are in interracial relationships or considering the possibility, and men who are interested in or in interracial relationships with black women.