Perceptions of Mate Selection for Marriage among African American, College-Educated, Single Mothers

By Holland, Rochelle | Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Perceptions of Mate Selection for Marriage among African American, College-Educated, Single Mothers


Holland, Rochelle, Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD


There have been many studies on single motherhood among African American women; however, few researchers have studied the growing population of college-educated, single mothers within this racial group. American women in general are exhibiting nontraditional behaviors regarding the family life cycle that may be based on various cultural attributes, diverse sexual life styles, personal experiences, varying belief systems, availability of birth control, and workforce participation. When examining African American women specifically, there seem to be more rapid changes occurring at the family life cycle stage of coupling and marriage when compared with the general U.S. population. Thus, a substantial number of African American women are bearing children without being married and while they are enrolled in college and/or employed. Although there is a significant group of African American single fathers, there is a higher percentage of African American single mothers. Despite an exhaustive discussion focused on this population, it has not included a comprehensive examination of the diverse lifestyles of these women.

Historically, many areas of academic research have been based on identifying and addressing social problems; however, a substantial amount of social research has been geared toward studying African American women who are (a) single mothers who live at or below the poverty line, (b) single mothers with little or no education, (c) single mothers who depend on welfare, and (d) single mothers who report being socially deviant (i.e., substance abusers and/or prison inmates). Overfocusing on a specific group within a race with specific variables can generate racial stereotypes. Moreover, societal images of African American single mothers have had negative connotations because of assumed traditional norms for family life. Many studies have skewed evaluations of single motherhood, and the specific circumstances of college-educated, African American mothers in challenging situations have been virtually absent in social research. This population remains unstudied, and the variety of variables related to them have not been accurately depicted.

* Background

Family life cycle theory was used to structure this study. This theory posits that there are several developmental stages in the life cycle of a family. The stage in the family life cycle most pertinent to this study is the coupling and marriage stage, and the situations among African Americans in this stage have not been fully explored. Although Carter and McGolderick (2005) provided an in-depth review of contemporary American families in the family life cycle as well as a profound review of single parenthood in the United States, their cross-racial review was reflective of what has been traditionally done in social research. That is, they devoted a whole chapter to African American families who live at or below the poverty line in the family life cycle, with no explicit reflection on other types of African Americans who represent different socioeconomic lifestyles. In fact, when these authors discussed American families in poverty, their examples were only of African Americans, as if there were no other races that could have been used for this category. Again, this reinforced the general stereotype of most African American families being impoverished. Furthermore, a significant number of studies were done in the 1990s that discussed single motherhood among African Americans; however, few current studies have been published. Most important, several major conditions have contributed to low marriage rates in the African American community, such as local male availability, educational attainment, and sex ratios. Unfortunately, when exploring research on marital trends within the African American community, it is evident that the literature is limited.

Marriage Rates

Among African Americans, the change in women's roles in the 20th century, coupled with changing attitudes about marriage, have led to a general decline in the marriage rate for this racial group (Pinderhughes, 2002). …

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