Marriage elusive for educated black women

The Takeaway

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Throughout the course of American history, a lot has been said about marriage in the African-American community. From scientific racism to the Moynihan Report to Tyler Perry, the way we discuss marriage in black America can be difficult and often controversial. The marriage rate has declined for all Americans over the past forty years, but it’s declined much faster in the black community. Why is this?

Ralph Richard Banks, a professor at Stanford Law School, thinks he has the answer. His new book is called “Is Marriage for White People?: How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone.”

For the book, Banks studied marriage in the black middle class, which he says has never really been explored. One of Banks’ discoveries was that “nearly twice as many black women graduate college as black men.”

This disparity in education levels leads to three big trends for African-American marriages, according to Banks: First, many educated black women remain unmarried due to a shortage of partners. Second, women who marry men less educated than they are end up being the main breadwinner in households, which leads to marital tensions. And third, college-educated men, because they are scarce and can have relationships on their terms, are less likely to settle down.

“If more black women open themselves to men other races, man women in fact would find better relationships with non-black men than they do with black men,” says Banks. Moreover, he says, black women should give more weight to class and less weight to race when it comes considering marriage partners.

In the book, Banks also writes about current depictions of middle class African-Americans in pop culture — like those found in a number of Tyler Perry films — which he says can be disastrous for women.

“These pop culture representations that make black women seem responsible for their own plight and make black women seem like they’re asking for too much — those are misguided and have led to disastrous consequences,” Banks explains.

Ultimately, marriage is good for African-Americans, Banks asserts, because “70% of black children are born to unmarried parents, and that’s not a development that we should feel positive about.”


“The Takeaway” is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what’s ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.

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