Aug 10, 2011

Do educated black women have a slim chance of getting married due to a dearth of equally successful black men? We often hear this opinion debated in the black community, especially in urban centers with large populations of young black professionals such as Atlanta, GA and Washington, DC. Many successful black women are pessimistic about their chances of finding love, and believe they need to compromise their preferences or virtues in order to find a mate. Contrarily, many successful black men are noncommittal in courtship because they believe they are a "rare commodity." Other black men may deal with residual doubts about their competence and worth, amid the prevailing notion that they are failing to contribute to the black family, the black community or society.

Meanwhile, entrepreneurial elements of America have found a variety of creative ways to benefit financially from black females' anxieties at the expense of black males' egos. Preachers, entertainers turned relationship experts, filmmakers and news documentaries have manipulated statistics to stoke the fear necessary to sell their preferred cut-rate brand of catharsis or solace.

In this article, we examine the question, "Are there enough successful black men for the black women who want them?" For all of our analyses we used the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS)[Endnote], which consists of sixty-six high-precision samples of the American population drawn from fifteen federal censuses, and the American Community Surveys (ACS) of 2000-2009. This file concatenates sixty-one of the IPUMS USA samples into a single data set that allows 160 years of micro-level census data to be accessed with single queries using PDQ-Explore. For most analyses, we only used the most recent year of data, 2009.

Are media portrayals of the black relationship dilemma accurate?

For example, we examine ABC News, Nightline feature article, "Single, Black, Female -- and Plenty of Company." Taking this statement literally, we should understand that single white women have more "company" than single black women. In the US, 6.2 million black women have never been married, compared to 16.6 million white women. Therefore, a single white female has 10 million more counterparts with whom to enjoy single life than black women.

However, as the article points out, sometimes numbers are deceiving. After all, as they claim, "Forty-two percent of U.S. black women have never been married, double the number of white women who've never tied the knot." True, with our independent analysis of the ACS, we find that 43 percent of black women have never been married compared to 20 percent of white women, who are 18 years and older. However, when analyzing the black women who are 35 and older, the percent who have never been married drops to 25 percent, indicating that a solid majority of black women get married before they turn 35. Granted, the total percent of unmarried black women is still twice more than for white women who are 35 and older.

The article goes on to state, "For starters, there are 1.8 million more black women than black men. So even if every black man in America married a black woman today, one out of 12 black women still wouldn't make it down the aisle if they hoped to marry a black man." True, using the most recent data in fact shows 1.9 million more black women than black men. However, the same data show 4.6 million more white women than white men. With this statement, they are exercising arrogant ignorance or deceptive omission to sell the story.

Finally, the article asserts, "Let's take 100 black men. By the time you eliminate those without a high school diploma (21 percent), the unemployed (17 percent) and those ages 25-34 who are incarcerated (8 percent), you have only half of black men, 54 percent, whom many black women find acceptable." Here, the article assembles numbers to assert, rather audaciously, that nearly half of all black men in America are unworthy of marriage because of their undesirable social characteristics. First, for this statement to be true there has to be zero overlap in these categories. In fact, research shows that nearly 70 percent of high school dropouts serve time in prison. Second, with the number of educated and skilled black people who are unemployed due to the compounding effects of a sluggish labor market and institutional racism, grouping the "unemployed" with high school dropouts and prisoners is hugely disingenuous.

Another more recent article in the Wall Street Journal by Ralph Banks asserts that black women should marry outside of their race to resolve their lack of prospects. The article takes many of the same ill-conceived positions as Dateline, but adds, "Even if a majority of white men are uninterested in dating black women, that still leaves more than enough eligible white men for every single black woman in America." As we mentioned earlier, there are 4.6 million more white women than white men. We should also add that in 2009 more than 377,214 more white women graduated from college than white men. Add this figure to the fact that white men are 7 times more likely than white women to serve time in prison, yet among the more successful white men, marriage rates are high; therefore the white community does not necessarily have a surplus of eligible white men. The truth is that marriage rates among black men and women are both low. If single black men and women could stop looking to the garbage media for solutions, they might be able to find love in one another.



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