Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Decline in Marriage Among Blacks: What Does It Portend?

Marriage rates seem to be in decline throughout the world. As the roles and choices available to women evolve in each society, it seems logical that the function of marriage would evolve also. 

Within the United States the decline in number of marriages persists throughout society, but the decline has been far greater within the black population than within that of other segments. An article in The Economist on the subject provided this chart.

Ralph Richard Banks has written a book investigating this phenomenon: Is Marriage for White People? The title comes from a comment delivered to Banks by a young black student. When Banks wished to discuss issues related to marriage, this young person apparently thought such events were sufficiently rare that the topic was rendered uninteresting. A better representation of the book’s contents is found in the subtitle: How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone. Banks main interest is in evaluating the factors that are affecting marriage rates among middle-class blacks. He suggests that many of these same factors are at work in the white population and could eventually lead to similarly low marriage rates in that group.

The data in the chart above indicates that the marriage rate among blacks was much closer to that of whites in 1970 where the data begins. Banks goes back further and states that the marriage rate among black women was about 90% back in the 1950s. The steeper decline within the blacks indicates that societal factors contributing to a general decline apply to them, but there must be factors specific to them at work as well.

"....the African American marriage decline is not limited to the poor. It now encompasses the middle and upper-middle class, too, a grouping that I refer to simply, for the sake of convenience, as the middle class. Indeed, by some measures the racial gap in marriage is actually wider among the prosperous than among the impoverished."

"College-educated black women are twice as likely as their white counterparts to be unmarried."

Increased wealth should lead to an increase in probability of being married among men, but blacks do not follow that trend.

"For white men, as income increases so does the likelihood of marriage. But a black man who earns more than a hundred thousand dollars per year is less likely to have ever married than a black man who earns seventy-five thousand dollars per year. The highest earning black men are more than twice as likely as their white counterparts never to have married."

The society-wide factors affecting the marriage rate seem to be associated with the changing role of women in our society and a general diminishment in the perceived utility of marriage as an institution. Marriage had been a vehicle for establishing an economic and a childbearing relationship. In recent decades the emphasis has become more on establishment of a personal relationship between two individuals.

"The primary purpose of marriage, in the view of most Americans, is the establishment of a mutually fulfilling relationship, one in which understanding and emotional intimacy prevail. Marriage is now less a means of building a life and more a means of enjoying one’s life. More finish line than starting gate...."

Banks provides a succinct summary of what effect this changed view of marriage has had on the relationship market.

"Doctors used to expect to marry nurses; now they look to marry other doctors."

What is it specifically that affects marriage in the community of economically sufficient blacks?

"Black women confront a tighter relationship market than any other group of women because there are too few black men for them to marry."

Consider the relationship market faced by a college-educated black woman who is employed and economically independent. What does the market look like to her?

Finding a black man of equal education has become difficult.

"In 1970, roughly equal percentages of black men and women had graduated from college. By 1990, black women had moved ahead."

Banks is unable to pinpoint any simple explanation for this decline in black college males, but the mass incarceration of blacks clearly limits the number of young males who might have participated.

The net effect is huge.

"....black women vastly outnumber black men in college, where there are more than 1,400,000 black women, but fewer than 900,000 black men. Not only do more black women enter college, they outperform the men once they get there....Each year black women earn twice as many bachelor’s degrees as black men....In postgraduate education black women outnumber black men more than two to one."

The population disparity of equivalently educated males and females is bad enough, but two other factors make the situation even worse.

Marriageable males tend to disappear from the marriage market by marrying white women, while black women have resisted marrying whites. The number of interracial marriages by black males is significant, and the probability of interracial marriage increases with the education and economic status of the black male.

"....interracial marriage severely diminishes the pool of black men available to college-educated black women....Black men are between two and three times as likely as black women to marry someone of a different race. Estimates are that more than one out of five black men marry interracially, whereas fewer than one out of ten black women do."

Let’s use these numbers and derive a typical college-educated black male population faced by a black woman. If we start with 100 women, there are only 50 men. If 10% of the women marry out of their race and 25% of the males, then we are left with 90 women and 38 men. There are simply way too few men to go around. If these women are to find partners, they will have to look downward on the cultural and economic scales.

Recall that wealthy and well-educated black males are particularly unlikely to marry. Given the female-to-male ratio, it would seem there is little incentive to settle for a single relationship when there is the option for several satisfying relationships—all concurrent. Banks provides evidence that if a black woman wishes to have a relationship with a desirable black man, she may have to be willing to share him with others.

An educated, economically self-sufficient black woman faces a numerical obstacle that she shares with white women: the growing male to female divergence in educational and economic attainment. However, the significant interracial leaking of marriageable men is unique to black women. The disincentive for males to marry depends on a large overabundance of females, a situation far worse for blacks than whites.

Banks has suggested that the marriage trends in the black community might be precursors for the same developments in the white community. Although each segment of the population will develop unique social characteristics, just as those enumerated for the black community, the dominant driver seems to be the extent of the female to male ratio. Banks could be correct if males continue to slide relative to females.

This source provides college attendance data from 2007-8. The ratio of females to males is 59/41 for blacks, 53/47 for whites, 58/42 for Latinos, 51/49 for Asians, and 54/46 for all groups combined.

The overall female to male disparity on campuses is not as large as it is for blacks, but it is apparently large enough to have caused both males and females to alter their expectations in terms of the kinds of relationships they expect to have while in school. Banks discusses the evidence of this effect and others have described it as well. If these new experiences of college women become reproduced in the broader society, then Banks is likely to be correct.

If this is truly "the end of men and the rise of women," then there will be major changes in our society.

On the other hand, the Latino data suggests we might expect to see Latino marriage rates fall precipitously as well, but the chart above does not indicate that—yet.

Stay tuned.


  1. Yeah it is sad the truth is Black women have to compete also with Black men who are on the down low or gay and who sleep with so called straight men. It is like less than 38 men now and more like 25 men. It is crazy so crazy! Sad too because where does our race go from here. I am sure the racist is loving these facts and brothers yall need to wake up it is not just about you! DO you even care we are dying!

    1. The black race as a whole is on a path to oblivion -- there is nothing the "brothas" can do about it except speed it up -- marry more fat white girls - have more mixed babies and eventually go the way of native americans who are 1/32nd native....soon people will be counting how "black" they are like that. Remember - once we stopped importing slaves - 100% black people stopped coming. Diluting has been going on ever since which is why there are so many shades of "black" in America vs Africa. Are US black women going to marry African males to keep their "race" alive? Highly unlikely -- Racists dont have to do much anyway - black "culture" is imploding daily. Ever notice people are constantly trying to redefine what it is to be "black" in America? lol --- slaves to fads and trends and pop culture slowly eroding what was a strong proud people.


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