“Jumping the broom,” “taking the dive,” “the old ball and chain.” No matter what anyone calls the institution of marriage, there is no doubt that getting married is one of the most important decisions of any person’s life, and that a good marriage (sometimes to a spouse met in college) can improve a person’s life, immensely. “Yes, I want to get married, marriage is important because it’s important to have that type of connection with your significant other,” says junior in business management, Ross Broadnax. Unfortunately, sentiments like these are increasingly rare and married black people are, seemingly, becoming an endangered species.
Marriage rates across the board have been dropping since the 1960s, but they have dropped like a rock in the African American community. About 43 percent of black men and 42 percent of black women have never been married, in comparison to about 27 percent of white men and 21 percent of white women who have never married. According to the 2000 Census, black families are the least likely to contain a married couple, at a rate of 46 percent in comparison to 81 percent of married families in all other groups.
While the incidence of the no marriage phenomenon is easy to quantify, the consequences of it are nearly impossible to completely comprehend. First, and perhaps most obviously, unmarried families tend to lack both parents supporting the children, meaning they have less income to use on child rearing as married families. This puts a strain on single parent families that all too many families know far too well. Having only one source of income makes it hard to make it month to month for average African Americans and almost impossible to save money for anything.
Even more difficult to put into any sort of numbers is how much mental and emotional stress only having one parent can cause for both the parent and child. “If I was starting a family, I would definitely want to get married; I think a marriage provides a foundation for a good family,” said Jelyse Dawson, a junior in business management. Anyone who has ever taken care of a child, even for a short while, knows that doing so is physically and emotionally exhausting. It is nearly impossible to supervise, discipline, comfort, and, otherwise, raise a child constantly without anyone there to give you a hand or give you a break.
As many black Americans on this campus and elsewhere are proof of, it is not impossible for the product of a non-married household to be a responsible, positive member of the African American community. However, raising a child without a father or without a mother is certainly not the easiest way to do an inherently difficult thing. Children with parents who have never been married experience difficulties that certainly do not ruin their childhoods, but they do make them more difficult.
So why are African Americans not getting married so frequently? Why are so many members of the community choosing to make raising a family even more difficult than it already is? The most likely answer lies in the somewhat cyclical nature of familial traditions. Basically, people whose parents were not married tend to not get married themselves, because they do not see the institution as an expected or important part of life. Considering that currently seven out of ten black children do not grow up with their fathers in the home, it is easy to see that many people do not grow up with marriage modeled in their homes for them.
However rare marriage has been in the past black American generations, it would be more greatly beneficial if more black couples who planned on starting families got married, especially if they planned on having kids. Marriage should not be looked at as a negative for men or women, but a positive for the family as a whole. More strong marriages would mean more strong black families, and more strong black families would mean a stronger community as a whole.