Myth-Busting the Black Marriage 'Crisis'

Panic over single black women is unfounded. Two black scholars have the numbers to prove it.

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"The often-cited figure of 42 percent of black women never marrying includes all black women 18 and older," Toldson says. "Raising this age in an analysis eliminates age groups we don't really expect to be married and gives a more accurate estimate of true marriage rates." Same data, but significantly less scary.

"Educated" doesn't have to mean "alone." The researchers also take on the claim that "marriage chances for highly educated black women" are grim. While the numbers may be different in other urban areas, at least in the two major cities Toldson and Marks examined, education significantly increased a woman's chances of tying the knot.

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In Washington, D.C., 36 percent of those with only a high school diploma, 47 percent of those with a college degree, 59 percent of those with a master's or professional degree and 62 percent of those with doctoral degrees are married. There's a similar pattern in Atlanta. So much for having to choose between a diploma (or four) and a husband.

The ratio of unmarried black women to black men is not dismal. Toldson recalls talking to three women in Atlanta who offered up three different black male-to-female ratios for the city: 1-to-10, 1-to-17 and 1-to-22. "No one could tell me the origins of these numbers, so I decided to do some research and figure out where they were coming from," he says.

"I analyzed the census data, and even when I used the strictest criteria, I still wasn't getting above 1-to-2. The artificial ratios are just floating around out there. I want people to understand that [that ratio] is still not easy for you -- I'll concede that -- but it's not anything absurd."

There are more "successful" black men than you think. Toldson and Marks respond to the claim that, based on the percentages of those who are without a high school diploma, unemployed or incarcerated, nearly half of all black men in America are unworthy of marriage because of their socioeconomic characteristics.

For this statement to be true, they point out, there would have to be zero overlap in those categories. That obviously isn't the case (70 percent of high school dropouts serve time in prison). The researchers also challenge the idea that there aren't enough "successful" black men for the women who want them.

Yes, black women have outpaced black men in receiving degrees since the 1960s. But more black men than black women still earn more than $75,000 a year, and black men are twice as likely to earn more than $250,000. Toldson says that we should look more broadly at success among black males, acknowledging that education doesn't necessarily determine income. The result is a picture of the number of available "successful" black men that's much less dim.

Not all "successful" black men marry women of other races. To challenge what they call the "cultural myth" that successful black men are likely to be unavailable to black women because they prefer to marry outside their race, Toldson and Marks point out that among married black men with a personal income above $100,000, 83 percent have  black wives. Among married black men with college degrees, 85 percent have black wives. Toldson cautions against exaggerating a behavior that we might see as negative, when in reality it occurs a small percentage of the time.