When analyzing the black women who are 35 and older, the percent who have never been married drops to 25 percent, indicating that a solid majority of black women get married before they turn 35.
Do educated black women have a slim chance of getting married due to a dearth of equally successful black men? We often hear this opinion debated in the black community, especially in urban centers with large populations of young black professionals such as Atlanta, GA and Washington, DC. Many successful black women are pessimistic about their chances of finding love, and believe they need to compromise their preferences or virtues in order to find a mate. Contrarily, many successful black men are noncommittal in courtship because they believe they are a “rare commodity.” Other black men may deal with residual doubts about their competence and worth, amid the prevailing notion that they are failing to contribute to the black family, the black community or society.
Meanwhile, entrepreneurial elements of America have found a variety of creative ways to benefit financially from black females’ anxieties at the expense of black males’ egos. Preachers, entertainers turned relationship experts, filmmakers and news documentaries have manipulated statistics to stoke the fear necessary to sell their preferred cut-rate brand of catharsis or solace.
In this article, we examine the question, “Are there enough successful black men for the black women who want them?” For all of our analyses we used the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS)[Endnote], which consists of sixty-six high-precision samples of the American population drawn from fifteen federal censuses, and the American Community Surveys (ACS) of 2000-2009. This file concatenates sixty-one of the IPUMS USA samples into a single data set that allows 160 years of micro-level census data to be accessed with single queries using PDQ-Explore. For most analyses, we only used the most recent year of data, 2009.
Are media portrayals of the black relationship dilemma accurate?
For example, we examine ABC News, Nightline feature article, “Single, Black, Female — and Plenty of Company.” Taking this statement literally, we should understand that single white women have more “company” than single black women. In the US, 6.2 million black women have never been married, compared to 16.6 million white women. Therefore, a single white female has 10 million more counterparts with whom to enjoy single life than black women.
However, as the article points out, sometimes numbers are deceiving. After all, as they claim, “Forty-two percent of U.S. black women have never been married, double the number of white women who’ve never tied the knot.” True, with our independent analysis of the ACS, we find that 43 percent of black women have never been married compared to 20 percent of white women, who are 18 years and older. However, when analyzing the black women who are 35 and older, the percent who have never been married drops to 25 percent, indicating that a solid majority of black women get married before they turn 35. Granted, the total percent of unmarried black women is still twice more than for white women who are 35 and older.
The article goes on to state, “For starters, there are 1.8 million more black women than black men. So even if every black man in America married a black woman today, one out of 12 black women still wouldn’t make it down the aisle if they hoped to marry a black man.” True, using the most recent data in fact shows 1.9 million more black women than black men. However, the same data show 4.6 million more white women than white men. With this statement, they are exercising arrogant ignorance or deceptive omission to sell the story.
Nationwide, although more than 800,000 more black women than black men have at least a bachelor’s degree, almost 200,000 more black men than black women earn more than $75,000 per year.
Finally, the article asserts, “Let’s take 100 black men. By the time you eliminate those without a high school diploma (21 percent), the unemployed (17 percent) and those ages 25-34 who are incarcerated (8 percent), you have only half of black men, 54 percent, whom many black women find acceptable.” Here, the article assembles numbers to assert, rather audaciously, that nearly half of all black men in America are unworthy of marriage because of their undesirable social characteristics. First, for this statement to be true there has to be zero overlap in these categories. In fact, research shows that nearly 70 percent of high school dropouts serve time in prison. Second, with the number of educated and skilled black people who are unemployed due to the compounding effects of a sluggish labor market and institutional racism, grouping the “unemployed” with high school dropouts and prisoners is hugely disingenuous.
Another more recent article in the Wall Street Journal by Ralph Banks asserts that black women should marry outside of their race to resolve their lack of prospects. The article takes many of the same ill-conceived positions as Dateline, but adds, “Even if a majority of white men are uninterested in dating black women, that still leaves more than enough eligible white men for every single black woman in America.” As we mentioned earlier, there are 4.6 million more white women than white men. We should also add that in 2009 more than 377,214 more white women graduated from college than white men. Add this figure to the fact that white men are 7 times more likely than white women to serve time in prison, yet among the more successful white men, marriage rates are high; therefore the white community does not necessarily have a surplus of eligible white men. The truth is that marriage rates among black men and women are both low. If single black men and women could stop looking to the garbage media for solutions, they might be able to find love in one another.
Are there enough successful black men for the black women who want them?
We hope the above examples of manipulation will lead you to have a healthy level of skepticism toward media portrayals of black men and women. However, we still need to address the question, “Are there enough successful black men for the black women who want them?” The answer is somewhat elusive. In reality, if all 2,514,135 black women with a college degree wanted to marry a black man with a college degree, 830,797 would remain unmarried. In other words, only 1,683,338 black men in America today have a bachelor’s degree.
Black women began to outpace black men in degree production more than a half century ago, starting in the 1960s. However, degree production has not brought about parity in the personal income of black women and black men. Nationwide, although more than 800,000 more black women than black men have at least a bachelor’s degree, almost 200,000 more black men than black women earn more than $75,000 per year. In America,725,922 black men earn more than $75,000 compared to 528,204 black women; 100,000 more black men earn more than $100,000 than black women; and black men are twice as likely to earn more than a quarter million dollars. Therefore, if we define success in terms of education, there will never be enough black men for black women, but if we define success in terms of income, there is still some hope for black love.
Education increases the chances that a black male will earn a higher income but does not completely determine income. Several occupations that do not require a college degree are overrepresented among six figure black men. The top five occupations for black men who make six figures without a college degree are: (1) managers, (2) truck drivers, (3) police officers, (4) construction workers, and (5) bailiffs, correctional officers, and jailers. Interestingly, rounding out the top 10 are janitors and building cleaners; a profession that accounts for 1,431 black men who make six figures. The lesson; working hard at anything can lead to success.
Do black people have unstable marriage patterns because of forced breeding and family separations during slavery?
Some people assert that relationship problems in the black community have origins in slavery, because captors used black men as studs and sold away husbands, wives and children. This argument is extremely unsettling. The implication is that black people have taken more than 150 years to overcome a very callous breeding process, and whorish proclivities, which impede black men’s ability to commit to his wife and children, could be operating at a subconscious level.
Two periods in history show large numbers of unmarried black women. The first is from 1880 to 1930, when more than 1 in 5 was widowed. The second is the period between 1980 and now, when marriage rates among black people sharply declined.
Our analysis of historical census data in fact suggests that it took black people no more than 20 years to overcome this subjugation (See Figure 1). Census estimates from 1880 to 1970 demonstrates marriage rates were mostly higher for black people than for white people. Two periods in history show large numbers of unmarried black women. The first is from 1880 to 1930, when more than 1 in 5 was widowed. The second is the period between 1980 and now, when marriage rates among black people sharply declined. This evidence suggests that residual instability in the black family is not the result of slavers studding out black men during slavery. Rather, it is the result of lynching, mass incarceration and institutional racism, which reduced opportunities for some black men to provide for and protect his family.
Several other factors also explain the high percentage of unmarried black women. First, urbanization is clearly associated with lower marriage rates among men and woman of all races. Black and white women in New York and Los Angeles are less likely to marry than their peers are in Atlanta and Washington, DC. All cities where the percent of married black people were well above the national average were small cities. Second, employment status reduces marriage rates by about 11 percent for black women and 12 percent for white women. Third, only 24 percent of white women and 13 percent of black women who live in poverty are married, compared to 78 percent of white women and 58 percent of black women with household incomes above $100,000. All of these factors disproportionately affect black people and should be noted when discussing lower marriage rates among black people.
Contrary to popular beliefs, the number of divorces has not been significantly higher for black people at any point in history. Divorces among black and white people doubled in the 1980s. However, today, 7,133,594 (nearly 70%) black children do not have both a mother and father in the home primarily because their parents were never married. Fifty-four percent of black children only have a mother in the home, 7 percent only have a father in the home, and 9 percent have neither a mother nor a father in the home. Interestingly, the number and percent of single black mothers and fathers are currently at historic highs.
Note: Percent of all people who have been married at least once regardless of the outcome of the marriage (e.g. intact, separation, divorce, or widowed).
Are most successful black men gay or prefer to be with white women?
To some black women who want black men, hope for black love is lost in the fact that they believe most successful black men are either gay or prefer to be with white women. We are not aware of any research studies that find a higher prevalence of homosexuality among black or successful men, and unfortunately, we cannot analyze this with our data. From our data, we can estimate that 578,533 (4.8 percent) black men and 2.5 million (3.4 percent) white men are in cohabitating relationships with other men. When comparing only white and black men who have college degrees the percent who are cohabitating with men is 2.6 percent for both races. We understand that only a small percentage of the total homosexual population cohabitate, however this is evidence against the theory that homosexuality is overrepresented among college educated black men.
Our data allows us to more precisely measure whether successful black men are more likely to marry outside of their race. Eighty-eight percent of all black men who are married are married to black women. When we use the census to compare household economic status between black and interracial couples, we find that 8 percent of black males who are living at or near poverty have a white wife, and 9 percent of black males who are middle class or better have a white wife. Among married black men with a personal income of more than $100,000, 12 percent have a white wife, 83 percent have a black wife, and 5 percent have a wife who is neither black nor white. Six percent of married black men who are high school dropouts have a white wife and 92 percent have black wives. Among black men with college degrees, 10 percent have a white wife and 85 percent have black wives. Among black male professional athletes, 72.8% are married to black women, 22.2% are married to white women, and 5% are married to women who are neither black nor white.
Eighty-eight percent of all black men who are married are married to black women.
Black women are less likely to marry outside of their race. Among black women with college degrees, 5.3% have a white husband and 93% have black husbands. Only 2% of married black women who are high school dropouts have a white husband and 96.7% have a black husband. Most white men, 97 percent, have a white wife and only .3 percent has black wives. However, due to the difference in the size of the population, we really cannot compare the percent for white men, to the percent for black men. If 8 percent of the 43.1 million married white men were to marry black women, 96 percent of the 3.6 million married black women would be married to white men. Similarly, only .7 percent of married white women are married to black men. At 20 percent, Asian women are more likely than any other race-gender to marry someone of a different race.
What is the black male to female ratio in Atlanta, GA and Washington, DC?
In the mid-1990s, with low college enrollment among black men compounded by their overrepresentation in the criminal justice system, concerns about the future of the black nuclear family elevated. Although the origins of such figures are unclear, many black people began to claim female to male ratios of more than 20-to-1 in cities such as Atlanta and Washington, DC. Here, we examine the female to male ratio in Atlanta and Washington, DC among 25 to 45 year olds; our estimate of the age range of people who are likely to be looking for a mate.
The unmarried black female to black male ratio in Atlanta is 1.3-to-1. Atlanta has 185,527 unmarried black women and 147,271 unmarried black men between 25 and 45. The female to male ratio among college educated black people in Atlanta is 1.8-to-1. Atlanta has 69,193 unmarried black women and 37,973 unmarried black men, who are college educated and between age 25 and 45. However, contrary to popular belief, education increases the likelihood that a black woman in Atlanta will be married. In Atlanta, only 27 percent of black women who dropped out of high school are married, compared to 37 percent among those with a high school diploma, 38 percent among those with a college degree, 55 percent among those with a masters or professional degree, and 67 percent among those with a doctoral degree.
The unmarried black female to black male ratio in Washington is also 1.3-to-1. Washington has 136,142 unmarried black women and 104,516 unmarried black men between 25 and 45. The female to male ratio among college educated black people in Washington is 1.5-to-1. Washington has 52,185 unmarried black women and 34,324 unmarried black men, who are college educated between age 25 and 45. Education also increases the likelihood that a black woman in Washington, DC will be married. In Washington, only 26 percent of black women who dropped out of high school are married, compared to 36 percent among those with a high school diploma, 47 percent among those with a college degree, 59 percent among those with a masters or professional degree, and 62 percent among those with a doctoral degree.
What does this all mean?
Many legitimate issues threaten the survival of black heterosexual relationships and marriage. Higher mortality rates among men at every phase of life affect all races. Further, with the current incarceration rate among black men being 7 times that of white men, the number of marriage ready black men is further reduced. Marriage rates among black people continue to decline and are currently less than half the rate for white people. We would also be remiss if we did not acknowledge that the larger number of black men with high salaries, despite being less educated than black women, could reflect sexism and gender bias in America’s workforce. These are legitimate concerns that require our best minds to address.
However, several narratives that prevail in discussions of black love and marriage have been extremely divisive. Myths that have been perpetuated have drawn misleading contrasts between educated black women and lesser educated black women, pitted single black women against single white women, and obstructed healthy dialogue and compassion between black men and black women. Black men and women with more social capital are becoming estranged and disillusioned, while less affluent black men and women’s marriage prospects are impacted profoundly by the higher incarceration rates among black men and less financial resources to support a family. We sympathize with the pain of the young black female lawyer, who spends her birthday dining at fine restaurants with her equally successful friends; and the dilemma of her physician ex who is having trouble choosing a wife, because he believes he has 20 black women to choose from. However, we should also consider the social and economic needs of the lesser-educated single mother, who cleans hotels after her fiancée went to jail.
We also should structure the debates in a way that does not denigrate black men or dispirit black women. Black women and the media have accused black men, directly and indirectly, of betrayal, insolence and worthlessness. Meanwhile, black men have trivialized black women’s legitimate concerns, while idly and passively allowing researchers and pundits to manipulate numbers to insult their character and integrity. With the support of black women, black men should own and work to correct any shortcomings that marginalize their contribution to the betterment of their community. From these findings, we learn that success among black men is diverse. It could come in the form of two audacious professors at “black ivies” challenging the merits and motivations of media giant like ABC and the Wall Street Journal, or a black male janitor whose hard work and innovation led him to being the director of custodial services at the Pentagon. Today, we assert the possibilities of black male success, and the promise that the seeds of strong black relationships are already planted in a strong black community.
What YOU Can Do
Join Dr. Toldson and Dr. Marks to discuss these and other issues facing the black community at, “Presidential Symposium: Beyond the Stereotypes – Academics, Athletics, Character and Black Male Achievement,” during the Howard University/Morehouse College Nation’s Football Classic, “More Than a Game” activities: a weekend of empowerment, enrichment and entertainment activities, designed to promote Black male achievement.
Bryant T. Marks also wrote this story. He is the director of the Morehouse Male Initiative, assistant professor of psychology at Morehouse College, and faculty associate at the Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Toldson gratefully acknowledges Reynolds Farley, Lisa Neidert, and Albert Anderson at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan for providing the training necessary to complete this analysis. Dr. Toldson and Dr. Marks acknowledge their wives for advanced reading, feedback and help to eliminate any male biases.