The Decline in Marriage among African Americans: Causes, Consequences, and Policy Implications

Article excerpt

The Decline in Marriage Among African Americans: Causes, Consequences, and Policy Implications. M. Belinda Tucker & Claudia Mitchell-Kernan (Eds.). New York: Russell Sage Foundation. 1995. 397 pp. Hardcover ISBN 0-87154-887-9. $49.95; paper ISBN 087154-886-0, $19.95.

This edited volume brings together a collection of chapters, emphasizing the causes, consequences, and policy implications of changing family formation among African Americans. Though declining marriage, female-headed families, and divorce rates are apparent throughout American society, African Americans are disproportionately represented with regard to "getting married and staying married." The editors' intent is to stimulate "discussion in our society as we attempt to redefine both marriage and family, at a time when the matter has become a grist for a rather vitriolic national debate" (p. xix). The writings in this volume are interdisciplinary, reflecting the views of anthropologists, demographers, economists, historians, social and urban psychologists, as well as criminologists.

This book consists of 11 chapters divided into four sections. Discussions of social, historical, and political issues that have shaped research on African American families are provided in Section One where myths are dispelled and new conceptual paradigms for examining family formation among African Americans are offered. Sociological contexts are included in Section Two. Attention is devoted to explicating the relationship of unemployment rates among Black males, adult sex-ratio imbalance, and marriage propensities between Black and White marriage rates. Consequences and correlates of African American marital decline are examined in Section Three. Microand macro-level factors are used to examine the interplay between individual perceptions of the marriage market and conformation structural assessment of relationships. A central issue in this section is: "Do Black adults want to marry and expect to marry, given the societal portrayal of the limited availability of Black males?" Section Four focuses on the consequences and policy implications of African American family formation.

Cox (1940) and Wilson (1987) frame many of the points of view in this volume. That is, the "fragile" economic position of Black males in American society is linked to the prevalence of female-headed and economically stressed African American families. A sex-ratio imbalance is also offered as a central explanation. Variations in how this process occurs are evident throughout these chapters. For example, some authors provide persuasive arguments that there are deliberate efforts within the wider society to eradicate a segment of the Black male population because they are viewed as "socially unwanted, superfluous, and marginal" (p. …