Young African-American Men and Women: Separate Paths?

Article excerpt

Increasingly, the paths of African-American men and women appear to be diverging. When examining social indicators for the race as a whole over the last thirty years, significant progress is evident in areas such as educational attainment, entry into high-status professions, middle-class status, and life expectancy. Yet, when viewed separately by sex, there are glaring differences between the apparent trajectory for males and females in a number of domains, including population size, schooling, income, occupation, marital behavior, living arrangements, criminal justice involvement and risk for HIV/AIDS. The differential experience of black women and men relative to some of these topics has received enormous attention in the media. Recall the oft-cited statistic that one of every three black men in his 20s is either incarcerated, on parole, or on probation (Mauer and Huling, 1995). A finding as dramatic as this one is highly suggestive of differences in other areas, including those that portend greater vulnerability to imprisonment (i.e., dropping out of high school) and those that result from being incarcerated, such as declines in future job prospects and health. Given the brevity of this report, we cannot report here on every area of interest, but we have selected those deemed critical by most observers. Also, this report focuses on young adults rather than the experience of children.

Although some results from the 2000 Census have been released, information broken down simultaneously by sex, race, and age is still largely unavailable. Therefore, the data presented and discussed in this chapter come largely from independent sources and the March 2000 Current Population Survey (CPS) which is an annual survey of a representative sample of the U.S. population conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The CPS is not as accurate as data from the 2000 Census (which attempts to assess the entire national population), but is generally viewed as a good estimate of the areas of interest.

Sex Ratio

According to the March 2000 CPS, there are just over 5 million black males ages 15 through 34 in the U.S. and nearly 5.7 million black females. The corresponding figures for the young adult population-ages 18 through 34-are 4 million and 4.8 million. The black sex ratio (i.e., the number of males for every 100 females) is therefore 89 for the age group 15-34 and 83 for those ages 18-34. This translates into a young adult population that is 46 percent male and 54 percent female. [It should be noted that these figures do overstate the disparity between the number of males and females, since young males are more likely to be missed in Census enumerations. Even with statistical "corrections" for the undercount, however, the overall black sex ratio has been low for the last fifty years. see Tucker and Mitchell-Kernan (1995) for a review.] Some social scientists have suggested that when the sex ratio for a group falls even slightly below 100, it can have dramatic social consequences, including a devaluing of marriage, more divorce and separation and more singleparent families (Guttentag and Secord, 1983). Though evidence that declining sex ratios have caused the changes in family patterns that are characteristic of African Americans today is equivocal, some studies do show the shortage of males to be linked to marriage and childbearing behavior (Tucker and Mitchell-Kernan, 1995).

As important as the consequences of sex ratio imbalance is its cause. Differences in the total number of males compared to females are the result of higher male mortality across the entire life span (including the prenatal period) as well as an increasing invisibility of black men. Nationwide, Black men are making up an increasing proportion of the homeless population (as discussed below). These men are often missed in Census surveys. Finally, there are differences in the relative availability of men and women due to the differences in degrees of institutionalization (especially incarceration) of black men and women. …