Once upon a time (in America), marriage seemed like the logical next step every woman eventually took.But with marriage rates declining steeply, that fairy tale has been untrue for some time now.
While changing attitudes toward marriage seem to have affected Americans of all races and ethnicities, one group in particular has had a harder time taking that walk down the aisle: black women.
In honour of Black History Month during the month of February, we decided to delve into exactly what’s going on.
The One Group of Women Remaining Single?
A New York Times op-ed piece sparked major discussion when Angela Stanley, a single black female, and a researcher at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University, discussed black women and marriage openly in the media. An oft-cited figure, according to Stanley, is that 70% of black women are unmarried. But that stat, she says, has been misconstrued. In reality, the percentage only applies to women ages 25 to 29—and, for a variety of reasons, black women tend to marry later.
To get to the bottom of this debate, we sat down with an expert: Nika C. Beamon, the author of “I Didn’t Work This Hard Just to Get Married: Successful Single Black Women Speak Out.” Ms. Beamon wrote the book precisely because she was inundated with media chatter about depressing stats on the black female marriage experience. She spoke to us about the state of affairs … and, in particular, how it’s related to women’s personal finance.
Here’s what she had to tell LearnVest.
You wrote a whole book about black women and the choice of whether to marry. What was your initial observation when starting to interview the women in your book?
The first thing that struck me was that, for the majority of the women I talked to, getting married (or the possibility of not getting married) was not something they obsessed about that often. In fact, it seemed like the media was obsessing about it much more than they were.
Why did they think they weren’t married?
Well, there were a lot of reasons mentioned. Many of the women put their careers first, and relationships were put on the backburner. And once they became financially successful—buying their own cars, or homes, and paying for a nice lifestyle on their own—there wasn’t an economic incentive to find a man to take care of them.
One frequently mentioned stat shows that black women are graduating from college at twice the rate of black men.
Most of the women I spoke to preferred to date black men. It wasn’t that they were opposed to dating men of a different race, but there was often guilt associated with dating men who weren’t black, and concerns about being accepted by friends, family and members of the community. And for those women, yes: They would look around college campuses, and they wouldn’t see men who looked like them.
Some experts estimate that one in four black men will spend time in jail during their lifetimes. How does that affect the dating scene?
Well, the first thing is that incarceration definitely takes men off of the college and career path. But once they’re out of prison, it really depends on what the crime was. If the person had truly changed and had become a productive member of society, I don’t think the women I interviewed would rule these men out as potential partners.
And does the situation for black women change post-college?
In all honesty, it doesn’t. If you haven’t gone to college, then you’re certainly not going to go to graduate school or end up in corporate boardrooms. Black women with higher degrees end up in the same careers or social circles as the people they went to school with, and the black men who didn’t go to college just aren’t a part of those scenes.
Are these highly educated, financially successful black women willing to date black men without the same level of education or success?
Of the women I spoke to, the answer was yes—especially because they weren’t looking for men to provide for them. But unfortunately, many of the men they meet (when they actually find themselves faced with an opportunity to meet black men) are intimidated by women who make more money or are more educated than they are. Their attitude is, “What can I contribute?” which misses the point entirely—the women aren’t looking for them to contribute anything besides companionship!
What are some of the pros and cons of being single?
I think everyone should be single at one point. It’s a great way to find yourself and discover what’s important to you.
At the same time, the women who take themselves off the market—the ones in their 30s who feel that marriage and a family just isn’t going to happen for them—forget what it feels like to be in a relationship and compromise.
They forget that relationships require work, because they’re so used to doing everything in their lives alone. So when they meet someone who might be potentially be a great partner, the relationship has the potential to fail just because they’ve forgotten the skills necessary to make a relationship work. That said, I think it’s entirely possible to be happy without ever getting married.
Do you think that there’s still a personal or economic value in getting married—or is the institution out-of-date?
My parents have been married for 48 years—I absolutely believe there’s a value in marriage, especially if there are children involved. In fact, I think one of the reasons that black men are falling behind black women is that many of them haven’t had the benefit of being raised by their fathers, or having a male role model in their lives. The girls look at their mothers and can see the benefit of hard work, but the boys lack strong role models. It’s one of the reasons why I feel that it’s so important for successful black men and women to mentor children, and be that example for them.
With the women you interviewed, what was the attitude toward not getting married?
There wasn’t as much bitterness as the media made it seem: There wasn’t anger on their part toward black men for having failed them, as they understood why black men had fallen behind in the few key ways we’ve discussed.
The feeling overall is more: “I thought my life was going to be this way, and now it’s like this instead.” And that’s OK!
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