Black and White (race and marriage)

Each person’s view of marriage is different. It’s informed by one’s own familial experience (i.e. “I don’t want to get married because my parents divorced”). It’s informed by culture, religion, and politics. However, increasing evidence indicates that race has a dramatic impact on marriage. First, how drastic is the racial disparity in marriage? Second, how can we explain that disparity? Third, what can we do about it?

Racial Disparity

In a recently published book, Is Marriage for White People? How African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone, Author Ralph Richard Banks describes the way race affects marriage rates. A review of Banks’ book is available here. Previous reports regarding comparatively low marriage rates amongst blacks focused on low rates amongst the black lower class. Banks finds that the low marriage rate is consistent for blacks across all socioeconomic strata.

An article last year in the Economist (found here) cites a study which found a drastic difference in marriage between blacks and whites, differences in prolonged marriage, divorce rates, and birth to single mothers. In addition, the study found that differences in marriage were also associated with differences in economic mobility.

Explaining the Disparity

Chalandra Bryant published a study, Understanding the intersection of race and marriage: Does one model fit all? Bryant’s study includes a conceptual framework to help illustrate why there is a racial marriage disparity. An abstract of her article including a look at this conceptual frame is available here. Bryant explains racial differences in marriage as resulting from stressors that both interact and multiply—and are unique to the African American experience. Banks explains the racial disparity in marriage rates as a result of black women’s inability to find a committed partner in their lives–essentially blaming black men. In addition, the fact that Banks notes res reduced marriage rates for blacks across socioeconomic strata discounts financial strain as a cause of the disparity. Meanwhile, Bryant includes financial strain in her model.

Plan of Action (what can be done?)

Banks states (controversially) that black women should marry outside their race to increase their marriage prospects. Bryant views individual perceptions of community disorder as affecting their behavior within relationships. So, if community disorder is quelled, hostility within black relationships will be reduced, and as a result marriage will increase in value.

Banks’ solution seems white-centered and…even racist. Bryant’s framework seems like a legitimate illustration of how stressors—unique to the black experience influence marriage and divorce within the community. However, her solution of reducing community disorder seems to be a proxy for making black communities more white.

There is a problem, we might understand what is causing it, but no one really has a solution.

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