I just finished reading something by a Stanford professor about marriage in the black community. As he points out, as with most things, something that impacts the black community is also impacting other communities, just not to the same extent….yet. That something is that blacks are the least likely racial/ethnic group to get married and the most likely to get divorced. Let me stop here and remind you that people who identify as black make up only slightly more than 10% of the population. So most single people are not black and most people who get divorced are not black, we are talking percentages of a specific population here, not numbers of people. Also, keep that in mind when we discuss births to couples who are not married, the primary reason people give for investigating the state of marriage or not getting married, this statistic hit 70% last year in the black community. Most babies born on the other side of the blanket as the Victorians would say, however, are not born to black people.Forty-one percent (41%) of all babies born in the US were born to single women last year. Soon,if this trend continues, at least half the babies in America will be born to single mothers.
As with many negative, or possibly negative things, this phenomenon has been racialized to make it appear that the problems of unwed motherhood is mainly a black thing . There were, however, 1,726,566 babies born to single mothers in America last year, and I can promise you, the majority of them were not black. Information from the Heritage Foundation (a right leaning thing tank) reports that 36.8% of the babies born out of wedlock last year were white, 30.9% of babies born out of wedlock were Hispanic, 25.6% of babies born out of wedlock were black and 8.5% were Asian. So, not surprisingly given the demographic numbers, the majority of babies born to single mothers were white.
This begins to beg the question, then, why are these women not getting married? We know that women who are less well educated are more likely to have babies without benefit of marriage, but we do not really know if that is a function of causation or correlation. The scholar from Stanford suggests black women are not getting married because they are outstripping black men in accomplishments and do not want to marry down so to speak. He suggests they look towards men of other races for potential husbands.
I, on the other hand, do not believe that is the case. It may be true that there are fewer black men going to college and more black women. However, I do not think not having a college degree would necessarily disqualify a man of any color for consideration as a spouse. As a matter of fact logic would suggest that if black women are accomplishing so much and obviously supporting themselves and any children they might have ( speaking only of the highly accomplished group) as single women they do not need that much financial contribution from the male. While this might seem to be emasculating to some still stuck in the old ideas about gender roles, it would not have to be. A black woman PhD married to say a postal worker could still have a good married and family life . Only adherence to outmoded ideas of gender and money would be an impediment.
No, I think this is a case of black folks, as usual, being the canaries in our society. If marriage is on the rocks in the black community it is portending things to come in all populations.
Speculate with me for a few minutes on why women may not be getting married. I can only come up with a few reasons that make sense:
1) They have not met a man they want to marry
2) They do not want to get married period, in other words they enjoy being single
3) They want to get married and have found a man they want to marry but he does not want to get married and if they cannot have him they will remain single
I have to suspect that the first two are much more feasible than the third reason. I cannot imagine a woman who wants to be married pining for her lost love until she is way past her sell-by date and missing her chance for a mate simply because some Romeo let her down. So lets go on to the next step. Why did women used to want to get married?
1) To have sex without guilt
2) To meet societal norms of being married
3) Because they loved the man and want to spend the rest of their lives with him
4) Because they got pregnant and if they did not marry the father that meant they were a fallen woman
5) Because jobs for women were low-paying and scarce and they needed a man to provide for them.
Of the five reasons above all but number 3 have bitten the dust. Having sex has become almost as casual as shaking hands. Societal norms are no longer about marriages, perhaps the last vestige of the past marital tradition, the fancy wedding is popular, but as we can see from the recent nuptials of Kim K, who has filed for divorce less than three months in, a nice wedding does not necessarily make for a long successful marriage. Getting pregnant is no longer an imperative to marriage that is obvious and women have not only become more educated, they have become more employable than a lot of men. If they have a child together the woman also has a much better chance of collecting child support than she did a decade or so ago.
The question becomes why should women get married? To have someone to kill spiders? To have someone to take out the trash? For companionship? One can keep a pet lizard for the spider issue, the trash can be managed by either hired help or oneself and companionship is not always guaranteed in marriage. Golf, football, fishing, video games, baseball, basketball, track, horse racing, NASCAR, and a vast array of other hobbies and past times can occupy the male of the species–sometimes to obsessive levels.
Conventional wisdom has it that if you are going to have a baby it needs a mother and a father. But, in 2011, does that mean they have to live together and/or be married? Can’t you each participate in the raising of a child without being under the same roof 24/7?
I am not dissing marriage, or suggesting it is not a good institution. I am saying that it seems to be on the ropes and I am trying to figure out why. What I come up with, after talking to a lot of women, married and unmarried, is that the requirements for a happy life for women may have changed. Those men who fought against giving women the vote may, indeed, have been prescient. Once women get a taste of power, independence and freedom it becomes hard to go back to being Betty Crocker or Mrs. Cleaver or Mrs. Huxtable.
I admit to being a dinosaur,but women not that much younger than me have told me they do not cook, period. When I was recently talking to some women and gushing about how I had decorated both the Ohio house and the NC condo for Halloween several of them looked at me funny and one finally asked, ” Were you having a party in NC? I mean who would see it besides you and your husband?”
A lot of the things that defined womanhood, being a wife, being a mother, cooking Thanksgiving/Christmas/
Easter/Birthday dinner, decorating the house for holidays, ironing ( I stopped that myself decades ago), setting a pretty table have been deemed optional and/or obsolete by many modern women. Don’t believe me? Go try to find a decent gravy boat or some place cards, then come back! I send my Christmas cards the day after Thanksgiving, I address them and write a note in each one. I have special Mr and Mrs return labels with a Christmas tree or ornament or dove on them. Some of my friends now send them via email.At Thanksgiving and Easter there are place cards on my table–turkey ones at Thanksgiving, bunny ones at Easter. We use the silver from the silver chest.
I was recently told by a woman I consider perfectly decent that she would be serving her family Thanksgiving dinner on paper plates ( shudder). Another one announced her family was going out to dinner (horrors).
Did the erosion of these traditions help erode the state of marriage? If you do not have traditional customs then perhaps marriage is just one more victim of ” we don’t do that anymore.” Or are women just becoming more self-sufficient. Were those 1900-1970s stories and commercials and other societal norms of women chasing men to get a wedding ring ( remember going to college to get your MRS degree?) only myths perpetuated by the need for a man to support you and not an indication of a true desire to be married?
Who knows? I have been married way longer than I was single, about three times as long if my math holds up. It has been good almost all the time, great a lot of the time and bad very rarely. I still have to wonder, however, what I would tell my granddaughters if they asked me about whether or not to get married? I guess I would ask them how they felt about killing spiders.