Why Aren’t College-Educated Black Women Meeting Their Match?
Brianna Holt, Insider, February 5, 2023
A viral TikTok of white, female college graduates showcasing their engagement rings while waiting to receive their degrees sparked a conversation online about the pressure on young women at southern colleges and universities to get engaged before graduation.
The phenomenon has many names, but is perhaps most commonly trademarked as “ring by spring” or obtaining an “MRS degree.” While the terms can have a negative connotation — implying that a young woman’s main intention in attending college is to find a partner – it sheds light on the very real experience of young, white women finding their life partners on campus.
It isn’t comparable to the experience of college-educated Black women who are 53% less likely to marry a well-educated man (with at least some post-secondary education) than their white counterparts.
Whether dating to marry or focusing on dating at all is a priority for Black women in college, uncontrollable factors like systematic racism, preference, and stigma in a society influenced by western beauty standards play into the experience of singlehood amongst Black female college students.
According to the book “The Dating Divide: Race and Desire in the Era of Online Romance,” young Black women, like most everyone else, want to marry someone who’s similarly educated. But in a society where Black women are among the highest educated female demographic in America (in terms of post-secondary education) and only 36% of Black male students complete a bachelor’s degree within six years, the dating pool drastically decreases for college Black women seeking an equal on campus.
“We have an economic system that creates real inequality, in particular for Black men. And so you have a situation known as the marriage squeeze, where Black women tend to be more highly educated than Black men because of the different ways in which a racist society impacts men versus women,” said Jennifer Lundquist, professor of Sociology and Senior Associate Dean of Research & Faculty Development at the University of Massachusetts, and co-author of “The Dating Divide.”
Issues like a higher mortality rate among Black men — both for health reasons, but also systematic violence — including police brutality, affects the gender proportions in the Black community. In terms of challenges surrounding completion of secondary education, factors like being a first-generation college student, needing to work a full-time job while in school, or not having the savings or financial support to afford tuition slow down the rate at which Black men graduate.
While Black women have the lowest rates of dating across race lines, predominantly white institutions don’t necessarily create an inviting environment for those who are open to pursuing love outside their race. “These are Black women in an institution that is increasingly hostile towards people of color, particularly Black women,” said Celeste Currington, an assistant professor of sociology at Boston University and co-author of “The Dating Divide.”
Long standing images and stereotypes assigned to Black femininity that devalues it as something that is deviant and undesirable also plays a role in why Black women are being approached less on campuses.
“These white supremacist initiatives throughout history paint Black women as aggressive or hypersexual on the one end, but also non-feminine on the other hand. A lot of people internalize these images and of course they’re also pinned against white femininity,” Currington said. “Blackness, particularly gendered blackness, was not framed as something that is beautiful, that can be desirable. And this impacts people’s experiences.” On dating apps, Black women with a college degree are more likely to be passed on by non-Black men than a white woman with less education.