Race Matters: Is A Fear Of “The Swirl” Making Black Women The Most Unmarried Demographic In America?
“Nearly 70% of black women are unmarried, and the racial gap in marriage spans the socioeconomic spectrum, from the urban poor to well-off suburban professionals.”
This is probably a statistic you’ve never heard before. But Ralph Richard Banks, a professor at Stanford Law School, did some research and found that not only is this the case, but we as Black women are mostly to blame for it. “Three in 10 college-educated black women haven’t married by age 40,” he found, their white peers are less than half as likely to have remained unwed.”
What explains this marriage gap? As a black man, my interest in the issue is more than academic. I’ve looked at all the studies—the history, the social science, the government data—and I’ve spent a year traveling the country interviewing scores of professional black women. In exchange for my promise to conceal their identities (in part by using pseudonyms, as I’ve done here), they shared with me their most personal experiences and desires in relation to marriage and family.
I came away convinced of two facts: Black women confront the worst relationship market of any group because of economic and cultural forces that are not of their own making; and they have needlessly worsened their situation by limiting themselves to black men. I also arrived at a startling conclusion: Black women can best promote black marriage by opening themselves to relationships with men of other races.
You may not be as convinced as Mr. Banks, but flip through and check out some of the facts that confirm his theory.
Black women confront a social scene in which desirable black men are scarce.
Part of the problem is incarceration. More than two million men are now imprisoned in the U.S., and roughly 40% of them are African-American. At any given time, more than 10% of black men in their 20s or 30s—prime marrying ages—are in jail or prison.
There are roughly 1.4 million black women now in college, compared to just 900,000 black men. By graduation, black women outnumber men 2-to-1. Among graduate-school students, in 2008 there were 125,000 African-American women but only 58,000 African-American men. That same year, black women received more than three out of every five law or medical degrees awarded to African-Americans.
These problems translate into dimmer economic prospects for black men, and the less a man earns, the less likely he is to marry. That’s how the relationship market operates. Marriage is a matter of love and commitment, but it is also an exchange. A black man without a job or the likelihood of landing one cannot offer a woman enough to make that exchange worthwhile.
But poor black men are not the only ones who don’t marry. At every income level, black men are less likely to marry than are their white counterparts. And the marriage gap is wider among men who earn more than $100,000 a year than among men who earn, say, $50,000 or $60,000 a year.
Because black men are in *** supply, their options are better than those of black women. A desirable black man who ends a relationship with one woman will find many others waiting; that’s not so for black women.
If many black women remain unmarried because they think they have too few options, some black men stay single because they think they have so many. The same numbers imbalance that makes life difficult for black women may be a source of power for black men. Why cash in, they reason, when it is so easy to continue to play?
Black women who do marry often end up with black men who are less accomplished than they are. They are more likely than any other group of women to earn more than their husbands. More than half of college-educated black wives are better educated than their husbands.
The prevalence of relationships between professional black women and blue-collar black men may help to explain another aspect of the racial gap in marriage: Even as divorce rates have declined for most groups during the past few decades, more than half of black marriages dissolve.