The Shocking State of Black Marriage: Experts Say Many Will Never Get Married

By Kinnon, Joy Bennett | Ebony, November 2003 | Go to article overview

The Shocking State of Black Marriage: Experts Say Many Will Never Get Married


Kinnon, Joy Bennett, Ebony


THE good news is that the Black marriage rate seems to be on the upswing--from 46.1 percent in 1996 to 47.9 percent in 2001--after a 40-year downward spiral.

But the slight increase is only one cheerful note in an otherwise mournful tune. The bad news is that the number of Black married couples is only half the number of married Whites, and the situation is getting worse. In 1963 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech, more than 70 percent of all Black families were headed by married couples. In 2002 that number was 48 percent.

An even more alarming statistic is the increase in the number of both Black men and women who have never been married. Nearly 45 percent of Black men have never married and 42 percent of Black women have never married. More to the point, an increasing number of Black women will never get married. The percentage of Black women who are married declined from 62 percent to 31 percent between 1950 and 2002.

Not only are African-Americans marrying at a lower rate, they are also marrying at a later age. The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies reports that by the age of 30, 81 percent of White women and 77 percent of Hispanics and Asians will marry, but that only 52 percent of Black women will marry by that age. Black women are also the least likely to re-marry following divorce. Only 32 percent of Black women will get married again within five years of divorce; that figure is 58 percent for White women and 44 percent for Hispanic women.

Thus, we have another major crisis on our hands. Quiet as it's kept, we are confronted with one of the biggest crises in the history of African-American people.

"The Black family has crumbled more in the last 30 years than it did in the entire 14 decades since slavery," says Dr. Julia Hare, author, psychologist and executive director of San Francisco's the Black Think Tank.

The basic problem here and elsewhere is the shattering impact of a racist system that disproportionately penalizes Black boys and Black girls and Black brides and Black grooms. Despite the laudable gains of individual Blacks and the increasing number of well-to-do and even rich brides and grooms, the economic disparity between the Black community and the White community is growing. The unemployment rate of Black America is higher today than it was on the day King dreamed his dream--8.1 percent then and 10.4 percent now--and drugs and the systemic incarceration of a whole generation of young Black males have distorted almost all institutions in Black America. Nearly 2 million Black males are either currently in a state or federal prison or have been at one time, and experts add that almost 17 percent of Black men had prison experience in 2001 compared with 7.7 percent of Hispanic men and 2.6 percent of White men.

Experts say these factors and others have weakened Black community institutions. Dr. Frank Harold Wilson, president of the Association of Black Sociologists, and sociology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, says that the traditional controls of the "church, school and community that reinforced the family are increasingly challenged by new social controls of the media, peer groups and 'the street.'"

All of this--the ravages of the drug crisis and the AIDS crisis, the phenomenally high number of Blacks in jail, the unacceptably high rate of unemployment--has measurably and dramatically decreased the pool of marriageable Black men. So has the increase in the number of Black men--1 out of 10, according to some experts--who are marrying non-Black women. "This country is in an interracial marriage boom," Dr. Hare says. "One out of 10 Black men will marry White women; that's 10 percent of our men gone."

Dr. Wilson says that the meanings given to dating, sex, and marital and extramarital relationships among Blacks are changing. …

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