Results from a new survey have caused a few “say what’s?” The poll, by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health, finds that single black men are much more likely to say they’re looking for a long-term relationship (43 percent) than single black women (25 percent).
Overall, as the study notes, “When people in the prime marrying cohort — ages 18 to 49, never married, divorced or widowed — were asked whether they were seeking a long-term relationship, just about a third said they were.” But men were significantly more likely to say so than women.
This of course runs counter to the public perception, juiced by the media, that black men are all players with no intention of sticking around. Thus the flood of comments to NPR’s website expressing both doubt and some possible reasons for this surprising finding.
Some thought the problem lay in the fact that black women outnumber black men in college degrees, and therefore, as “assortative mating” would have it, they’re not looking to marry “down.” Two-thirds of all bachelor’s degrees awarded to African-Americans in 2009-2010 went to women. “Black women face the thinnest pool of same-race partners of any group in the country,” Ralph Richard Banks, author of Is Marriage for White People? was quoted as saying. His book caused a stir when he recommended that black women marry outside their race instead of marrying down. Black men, it would seem, are already doing that. Indeed, exacerbating this shallow pool is the fact that, according to research, for black men, as education increases so does their likelihood of interracial marriage.
Others speculated that black women place higher priority on a man’s ability to earn and contribute to the household income, and given the frequently bleak job market for many black men, they’re skeptical. As Maria Kefalas and her coauthor Kathy Edin have documented in their superb book, “Promises I Can Keep,” lower-income single mothers often institute a “pay to stay” rule, and if a guy can’t pay his share (or more), then there’s no reason to get married. Donna Franklin, in her book, What’s Love Got to Do With It? Understanding and Healing the Rift Between Black Men and Women, notes that black women graduates of elite schools are more often in breadwinning roles. Black women in these relationships earned 63 percent of the household income, compared with white women graduates, who earned 40 percent.
A caveat worth considering, however: Although there are significantly more college-educated black women than men, only about half of college-educated black men are currently married. If the issue is simply men’s marriageability, one would expect a significantly higher fraction of college-educated black men to be married.
Others thought it might be a case of the “Bradley effect,” the desire to answer in a socially acceptable way. Still others thought it might be definitional– what do you mean by “long-term” in a relationship.
Still others have suggested that it’s black women’s fault. In Black Woman Redefined: Dispelling Myths and Discovering Fulfillment in the Age of Michelle Obama, Sophia Nelson lays it out for them, listing the reasons why black men prefer white women. Top of the list is that black women are too domineering and too controlling for their own good. (seriously). Reminds me of Steve Harvey’s latest, Act Like a Lady: Think Like a Man. Will it ever stop?
Or here’s a thought. It could be that Hollywood and the media have (gasp) been feeding us images of black men that don’t align with reality. Maybe we just think black men don’t want long-term relationships.
Either way, the debate will no doubt wage on. Interestingly, there were few notable differences by age, so the current crop of young adults does not seem to be bucking the trend.