Myth-Busting the Black Marriage 'Crisis'

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

The percentage of black women 35 and older who have never been married
drops to 25 percent. (Thinkstock)

When it comes to marriage in the African-American community, two black scholars have a message: The mainstream media's analysis is divisive and defeatist. We're slammed with panic-inducing statistics because fear sells. And we need to stop buying into it.

Their research, recently published in Empower Magazine, is an answer to the onslaught of gloom-and-doom news about black women's struggles to find black mates. You know, the coverage that's oozing with desperation and grounded in seemingly alarming numbers. Take a Washington Post piece from 2006:

In the Washington area, there are 83 single black men for every hundred single black women ... For Robyn and black women like her -- who see their fates intimately bound to black men -- life means strategizing and dreaming beyond the numbers in a world where it seems the ground has shifted under their feet. 

If that wasn't enough melodrama to make you want to go watch Waiting to Exhale while commiserating with Asian men and researching adoption, there was the December 2009 ABC News/Nightline story "Single, Black, Female -- and Plenty of Company." And during the April 2010 "Nightline Face-Off: Why Can't a Successful Black Woman Find a Man?" "expert" comedians and commentators set up a blame game between the genders.

After the alarms about the "crisis" sounded, the headline-grabbing solutions rolled in. In a Washington Post piece, an author urged black women to save themselves by dating men of other races. Ralph Richard Banks has proposed the same fix to the "black marriage dilemma" in his upcoming book, "Is Marriage for White People?"

The coverage of this issue is excessive, and the tone and content can be unproductive. That's clear. But we can't question the alarming statistics that drive the discussion. Right?

Actually, we can. Enter Ivory A. Toldson, Ph.D., a Howard University professor and research analyst for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation; and Bryant Marks, a psychology professor at Morehouse College and faculty associate at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research.

Eye rolling over the excessive efforts to stir up panic over black marriage is nothing new. But these two have the expertise -- and, more important, the incentive -- to challenge the very assumptions that drive the discussion. They've looked at the same old data (from the census and American Community Surveys), but through a different lens. It's one that's not set on manufacturing a catastrophic picture of black people and marriage. In fact, they consider it a personal mission to do the opposite.

Toldson and Marks say that the statistics about single black women and "undesirable" black men have been intentionally presented in the worst-possible light. Their work -- they call it "myth busting" -- tells a different story.

Most black women do get married. The ABC News/Nightline article "Single, Black, Female" presents this stat: "42 percent of U.S. black women have never been married, double the number of white women who have never tied the knot." True, say Toldson and Marks. But their independent analysis of American Community Surveys data from 2000 to 2009 shows that among black women 35 and older, the percentage that have never been married drops to 25 percent, meaning that a solid majority (75 percent) of black women get married before they turn 35.