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

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.

“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.