Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

African American and European American Women's Marital Well-Being

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

African American and European American Women's Marital Well-Being

Article excerpt

Using a sample of 247 African American and European American women in their 3rd year of marriage, this study compared the predictors of marital well-being for each group by focusing on the influences of individual, interpersonal, and social and economic resources. Regression analyses revealed that emotional health (individual), trusting one's spouse (interpersonal), and feeling under-benefited in the relationship (interpersonal) were significant predictors of marital well-being for both groups of women. Physical health (individual) and in-law relations (social and economic), however, affected the marital well-being of only African American women. Findings from this study suggest the need to examine marital well-being within the context of race.

Key Words: economic resources, individual resources, interpersonal resources, marriage, race, social resources, women.

Although marriage has been associated with a number of positive benefits (e.g., health, income, child achievement), it appears that maintaining a marriage is a difficult task for many Americans. Analyses of data from the National Survey of Family Growth revealed that 20% of first marriages end in divorce within 5 years, 33% end within 10 years, and 43% of marriages break up within 15 years of marriage (Bramlett & Mosher, 2001). Although the rates of marital dissolution are high for all ethnic groups, the rates among African Americans compared with European Americans are even more pronounced. For example, whereas 32% of European American marriages end within 10 years, 47% of African American marriages do so within this same period. Coupled with the high divorce rates among African Americans is the fact that African Americans are less likely to enter into marital relationships than are European Americans, which makes their marriages less normative and more fragile. Thus marital researchers need to understand marriage within the context of race.

As evidenced by marriage and divorce statistics, race definitely appears to affect how one experiences and maintains marriage. However, very few studies have fully explored the effects of race in marriage. The majority of studies on marriage have been conducted using racially homogenous samples consisting mainly of European Americans from which findings are generalized to the entire American population (Bean, Crane, & Lewis, 2002; McLoyd, Cauce, Takeuchi, & Wilson, 2000). By conducting research on racially homogeneous samples and generalizing the findings, researchers make the assumption that factors explaining European American marriages are the same as those explaining African American marriages.

Studies have begun to emerge, however, that suggest that African Americans may conceptualize marriage differently from European Americans. For example, Veroff, Douvan, and Hatchett (1995) concluded that "Black couples interpret their marital experiences in the context of their social worlds, their communities and kin, their economic situations, all within a backdrop of institutional racism" (p. xii). Other researchers have also found evidence of the effects of race and ethnicity on marital experiences. For example, Chadiha, Veroff, and Leber (1998) found that African American couples were more likely to focus on couple relations and religion when interpreting their newlywed experience, whereas European American couples were more likely to focus attention on achievement and work themes. Researchers have found that factors that appear to be common to both African American and European American marriages are often manifested in very different ways. For instance, having a supportive wife was found to be a benefit to the stability of both African American and European American marriages. For European American marriages, however, having a supportive wife meant having a wife who was cooperative, whereas for African American marriages it meant having a wife who was collaborative (Orbuch, Veroff, & Hunter, 1999). …

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