Marriage Eludes Many Black Women

Claudia Pinto, The Tennessean, January 24, 2010

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Roughly 50 percent of black women in Davidson County have never been married, compared to 25 percent of white women, according to 2008 U.S. Census Bureau data. Nationwide, 46 percent of black women haven’t tied the knot vs. 23 percent of white women.

The statistics back up what Crouch [Melanie Crouch, 42, a single black woman] came to recognize on her own–that marriage is no longer a given for young black women. How women react to these odds is a personal decision that experts say has implications for everyone.

“Ninety percent of my girlfriends are single. They’re teachers, attorneys, professional women,” Crouch said. “We’re fashion-friendly. We’re regulars at the beauty shop. We take Zumba classes. But there we are on Friday nights watching a movie together.”

‘It’s a numbers game’

Black or white, the reasons why people don’t marry are largely the same: Their parents weren’t married, so they don’t see the need, either; they’re wary of getting married because of the high divorce rates; they’re putting off marriage to pursue careers; they’re living together instead of getting married; or they just don’t want to get married at all.

But MaryAltani Karpos, a Vanderbilt senior lecturer in sociology and criminology, said African-American women face a problem that’s unique unto them–there are simply more women than men. There are 12.9 million black women ages 18 to 64 in the United States, compared to 11.7 million black men, according to census data.

The number of eligible men is reduced even further for women who want to date men who are as educated as they are. Census data shows that 71 percent of black graduate students are women.

Success may be a Catch-22 for women. Kevin Terrell, 24, said he thinks a lot of African-American men feel like they aren’t needed if a woman is too independent.

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Girlfriends act like wives

Shellie R. Warren, 35, who has never been married, acknowledges that African-American women are at a disadvantage numbers-wise. However, she believes that women who want to be married need to take a look at their role in why are they are single.

Instead of asking, “Why don’t men want to get married?” Warren said the question should be, “Why should men want to get married?” She argues that men get everything they need from the women they date.

“They have one girlfriend to cook for them, another one for sex,” said Warren, who is the author of Inside of Me, a book about how her life experiences led her to embrace abstinence before marriage, and a second book coming out this spring called Eyes Open, Legs Closed. That book is about how Warren’s view on the purpose of sex has changed since practicing celibacy.

Warren, of Nashville, said if women want to get married, then girlfriends need to stop acting like wives.

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Others suggest that if African-American women want to increase their likelihood of getting married they should date men of other races. However, Karpos said black women aren’t as likely to do that as black men, perhaps because we rarely see images of black women and white men in the media.

Warren said she just feels more comfortable dating black men.

“Culturally there are differences,” she said, adding that dating white guys means having to be asked questions like, “Why does your hair do that?”

Kids often come first

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Roughly 78 percent of African-American babies in Tennessee were born to women who weren’t married in 2008, according to data recently released by the Tennessee Department of Health. That’s compared to 35.2 percent of white babies and 53.6 percent of Hispanic babies.

The rate of babies born to unmarried African-American women has been higher than that of white and Hispanic babies for years. However, the rates have grown significantly in Tennessee, from 58.7 percent in 1980 to 78.2 percent today.

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Studies have shown that when fathers aren’t present, all the negative statistics go up–suicide, teen pregnancy, high school drop out rate, criminal behavior.

But Karpos believes the situation may not be as dire as people think. Even though marriage is considered to be the ideal, Karpos points out that half of them end in divorce. And nearly 40 percent of opposite-sex, unmarried American households include children, according to the census bureau’s current population survey.

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