The importance of Valentine’s Day, like birthdays, graduations, Christmas and straight-A report cards, changes significantly as you get older. When you’re in elementary school, Valentine’s Day is an obligatory dropping of cheap paper cards into construction-paper boxes in front of everybody’s desk. In high school, perhaps an elaborate purchase of helium balloons that you have to carry around awkwardly from math class to first lunch. By the time you reach adulthood, the magic is kinda gone. If you’re dating, you get to spend twice as much for the same meal at Intermezzo as you spent there last Saturday, and if you’re single, don’t even try to get a table; they’re booked.
One of the other traditions around Valentine’s Day are obligatory think pieces about whether black love is alive or dead or on life support or can be saved only if we get down with the swirl. Generally I think these articles are cheap racialized clickbait, and before you start forwarding “Rachel Dolezal’s Advice for Black Women on Valentine’s Day” on Facebook, there is actually some very positive information out there about black love.
So if you’re looking to spice up your conversation on the most romantic weekend of the year, or wanting to shut down some cynical friends, here are five black-love stats for Valentine’s Day 2016.
1. Having a job equals finding a date.
Thanks to President Barack Obama, more and more African Americans will probably have dates for Valentine’s Day in 2016 than at any point in the last 10 years. Why? Because black unemployment is the lowest it’s been in a decade, and studies show that most people meet their significant others and eventual spouses at work.
Yes, yes, we all know that African-American unemployment is twice that of white America. That’s been the case for almost all of American history (discounting those years when black employment was at 100 percent). However, the drop in the black rate from 10.4 percent in February 2015 to around 8 percent in February 2016 means that your chances of bumping into a potential cuffing buddy in the break room just got that much better.
2. The club is jumping in your 30s.
Long before she was in an abusive relationship in Scandal, Kerry Washington played a temptress to Chris Rock in the underrated movie I Think I love My Wife. At the film’s climax, Washington, who’s been the hot girl her whole life, admits that things have hit a standstill. She says that as beautiful as she is when she goes out, men will still gravitate toward 20-somethings, which leads her to the horrifying concluding monologue: “Then it hit me. You know, I’m 32 years old. I’m the old bitch at the club now. Think it was the first time in my life I was talking to a man who wasn’t even thinking about f—king me.”
Take heart, though: Statistics prove that Washington’s character was way off the mark. African-American women date longer and have a higher chance of getting married past the age of 33 than white women, who marry earlier, do. Of the African-American women who have never been married by 33 years of age, about 78 percent eventually do. Not a bad way to spend the middle decade of life.
3. Computer love is real.
The explosion of niche dating sites has actually increased the dating and marriage prospects of African Americans in recent years. Black dating sites have been responsible for an increasing number of couplings over the last five years in America, in many cases connecting black folks in cities where meeting other people of color can be a challenge. A 2014 study from the University of Kansas concluded, “[M]arried couples who met through social networking sites were younger, married more recently and more likely to be African-American compared with those who met through other online locations. Compared to those who met offline, the social networking couples were also younger, married more recently and more likely to be male, African-American or Hispanic and frequent Internet users with higher incomes.”
So rather than focusing on all the doomsayers who claim that online dating is a vast, horrible wasteland for African Americans (and black women in particular), maybe the issue isn’t online dating, it’s the place where you’re swiping left or right.
4. The numbers add up.
I’m just going to lay out the most basic facts here regarding African-American marriages. There is no explosion of black men marrying white (or Latina or Asian) women. There is no mass exodus of black women chasing after white men (“TGIT” storylines notwithstanding). If anything, perhaps through technology, an improving economy, or Barack and Michelle Obama’s good example, black dating and marriage numbers are on the rise:
* 88 percent of African-American men who are married are married to black women.
* 94 percent of African-American women who are married are married to black men.
* 75 percent of married black women get married before the age of 35.
* 50 percent of black marriages include a child from a previous relationship, which means that single moms and dads are jumping the broom like everyone else.
Put another way: For African-American women with college degrees, only about 5.3 percent are married to white men, and for those without a college education, only 2 percent are married to white men. The numbers are similar for African-American men. The point is, for richer or poorer, the numbers say that black folks are choosing their own up and down the economic ladder.
5. We’re in a golden age of celebrity black marriages.
Not since the days of Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis has the status symbol of a strong black marriage been so powerful in African-American popular culture. Consider the 1960s and ’70s, when black celebrities like Richard Pryor, Sidney Poitier, Tina Turner and Diahann Carroll either never married black folks or dropped them when success hit. Compare that with today’s millennial and Generation X celebrities and notable folks. Outside of Barack and Michelle, you’ve got Will and Jada, Boris and Ari, Jay Z and Beyoncé—heck, Dwyane Wade left one black wife for another, and Russell Wilson pulled a reverse Kanye right after he won the Super Bowl.
Jason Johnson, political editor at The Root, is a professor of political science at Morgan State’s School of Global Journalism and Communication and is a frequent guest on MSNBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera International, Fox Business News and SiriusXM Satellite Radio. Follow him on Twitter.