Stealing the headline from Joy Jones who quotes one of her black students: "Marriage is for white people".
I was pleasantly surprised when the boys in the class stated that being a good father was a very important goal to them, more meaningful than making money or having a fancy title.
"That's wonderful!" I told my class. "I think I'll invite some couples in to talk about being married and rearing children."
"Oh, no," objected one student. "We're not interested in the part about marriage. Only about how to be good fathers."
And that's when the other boy chimed in, speaking as if the words left a nasty taste in his mouth: "Marriage is for white people."
He's right. At least statistically. The marriage rate for African Americans has been dropping since the 1960s, and today, we have the lowest marriage rate of any racial group in the United States. In 2001, according to the U.S. Census, 43.3 percent of black men and 41.9 percent of black women in America had never been married, in contrast to 27.4 percent and 20.7 percent respectively for whites. African American women are the least likely in our society to marry. In the period between 1970 and 2001, the overall marriage rate in the United States declined by 17 percent; but for blacks, it fell by 34 percent. Such statistics have caused Howard University relationship therapist Audrey Chapman to point out that African Americans are the most uncoupled people in the country.
She goes on to write that black women are the least-married group in America and explains that the others she knows have largely decided to avoid marriage because of all the baggage that men bring, with little apparent benefit.
Among African Americans, the desire for marriage seems to have a different trajectory for women and men. My observation is that black women in their twenties and early thirties want to marry and commit at a time when black men their age are more likely to enjoy playing the field. As the woman realizes that a good marriage may not be as possible or sustainable as she would like, her focus turns to having a baby, or possibly improving her job status, perhaps by returning to school or investing more energy in her career.
As men mature, and begin to recognize the benefits of having a roost and roots (and to feel the consequences of their risky bachelor behavior), they are more willing to marry and settle down. By this time, however, many of their female peers are satisfied with the lives they have constructed and are less likely to settle for marriage to a man who doesn't bring much to the table. Indeed, he may bring too much to the table: children and their mothers from previous relationships, limited earning power, and the fallout from years of drug use, poor health care, sexual promiscuity. In other words, for the circumspect black woman, marriage may not be a business deal that offers sufficient return on investment.
I agree that the decline of marriage in our country, among all races, is primarily a failure of men and only secondarily a failure of women. Men need to want marriage and need to make themselves worth marrying, and I suspect that then most women would be be eager to meet men's needs in return.
(HT: Paul Hsieh.)