Romantic Relationships among Unmarried African Americans and Caribbean Blacks: Findings from the National Survey of American Life*

By Lincoln, Karen D.; Taylor, Robert Joseph et al. | Family Relations, April 2008 | Go to article overview

Romantic Relationships among Unmarried African Americans and Caribbean Blacks: Findings from the National Survey of American Life*


Lincoln, Karen D., Taylor, Robert Joseph, Jackson, James S., Family Relations


Abstract:

This study investigated the correlates of relationship satisfaction, marriage expectations, and relationship longevity among unmarried African American and Black Caribbean (Caribbean Black) adults who are in a romantic relationship. The study used data from the National Survey of American Life, a national representative sample of African Americans and Caribbean Blacks in the United States. The findings indicated that the correlates of relationship satisfaction, expectations of marriage, and relationship longevity were different for African Americans and Black Caribbeans. For Black Caribbeans, indicators of socioeconomic status were particularly important correlates of relationship satisfaction. For African Americans, indicators of parental status were important for relationship longevity. Policy and practice implications for nonmarital unions are discussed.

Key Words: African Americans, Afro-Caribbeans, cohabitation, marriage, romantic relationships, socioeconomic status, West Indians.

The number of unmarried adults in the United States has increased dramatically over the past four decades. The decline in marriage has been particularly pronounced among African Americans (African American Healthy Marriage Initiative, 2000). However, declining marriage rates do not mean a decline in romantic relationships. The majority of investigations on nonmarital unions focus primarily on transitions to marriage. Although these studies are important for identifying barriers and facilitating factors for marriage entry, they provide less information about the nature of romantic unions among unmarried adults that may or may not end in marriage. The focus of this investigation is to examine the correlates of relationship satisfaction, expectations of marriage, and relationship longevity among unmarried African Americans and Caribbean Blacks.

Studies of nonmarital romantic relationships among cohabiting and noncohabiting adults are important for at least two reasons. First, fewer cohabiting unions are resulting in marriage, and this is more likely the case for African Americans (Schoen & Owens, 1992) and Caribbean Blacks (Coppin, 2000). Consequently, there is growing recognition among researchers that not all cohabitations are part of the process leading to marriage and are instead alternative forms of union (Smock, 2000). Second, few studies account for whether unmarried respondents are coupled but not cohabiting.

Most studies examining social life among Black Americans have ignored the cultural and economic diversity within the Black population in the United States. Blacks are usually treated as a monolith, without regard to ancestry or ethnicity. Yet, the Black population in the United States is becoming more diverse each year, fueled in large part by the immigration of Blacks of Caribbean descent. In 1990, Blacks in the United States totaled about 30 million, and by 2000, the total had increased to 36.2 million (U.S. Census Bureau, 2005a). Of the nearly 4% of Blacks who were foreign born, 60% were from the Caribbean. Moreover, Caribbean Blacks make up 25% of the Black American population in major cities such as Boston, New York, Miami, and Fort Lauderdale (Logan & Deane, 2003, table 2). Accordingly, it is important to consider cultural, contextual, and demographic differences within the Black population that may be sources of variation in the nature of their romantic relationships.

Theories of Marital Behavior

A considerable body of research in sociology and demography focuses on the role of economic and demographic factors to explain changes in marital behavior among African Americans (e.g., Kielcolt & Fossett, 1995). Economic explanations generally seek to explain the decline in marriage by connecting these changes to the economic circumstance of men and women. Theories of mate availability highlight gender ratios and marriage market conditions as important demographic factors that effect the decision to marry among African Americans. …

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