October 24, 2005
Contact: Alex Roberts
Institute for American Values
Major New Study:
The Consequences of Marriage for African Americans
(New York, NY) A newly released study by a team of family scholars
estimates that marriage typically brings a host of important benefits
to African American men, women, and children. On average, married
African Americans are wealthier, happier, and choose healthier
behaviors than their unmarried peers, and their children typically
fare better in life—differences that indeed seem to stem
largely from marriage itself. At the same time, however, African
American women tend to benefit from marriage less than Whites
and men. These are among the key findings presented in The
Consequences of Marriage for African Americans, a first-of-its-kind
report based on reviews of 125 social science articles and a new
statistical analysis of national survey data. The study was conducted
under the auspices of the Institute for American Values, a nonpartisan
think-tank based in New York City.
According to Dr. Linda Malone-Colon, one of the report's authors:
“This groundbreaking study of African American marriage offers
more hard evidence of what most black people (and white people)
already know in their hearts—that marriage matters, that
marriage is literally good for the health and well-being of
men, women and children.
Furthermore this important study offers comprehensive evidence
that efforts to strengthen African American marriages in our
country are an important means to improving the life conditions
of African Americans.
More specifically, this report highlights the need for increasing
societal supports (for those black women and men who wisely
seek marriages) that will help them to achieve marriages characterized
by true love, honor, respect, heartfelt mutual support and unconditional
The study comes after decades of controversy surrounding the
Black family. For years, intellectuals have debated the importance
of marriage and “family breakdown” for Black Americans, but have
generally lacked a comprehensive, data-based understanding of
the consequences of marriage for African Americans. The new report
begins to fill that knowledge gap.
- One major finding of the study is that marriage seems
to be highly beneficial for African American males throughout
the life course. For example, when African American
boys live with their father in the home, particularly their
married father, they typically receive substantially more parental
support. As a result of this better parenting, African American
boys with married parents are markedly less likely to become
delinquent and they also tend to do better in school. In adulthood,
marriage is associated with a range of better outcomes for African
American men, from $4,000 increases in wages to greater happiness
with family life.
- African American females also appear to derive very
important benefits from marriage, but these apparent benefits
are smaller than those for males.
- Another striking finding is that marriage is profoundly
important to the economic well-being of Black families.
Study after study consistently concludes that marriage is one
of the strongest determinants of economic status for Black Americans,
and can often mean the difference between living above or below
the poverty line – especially for families with children. Why?
Because marriage often means the addition of a second income
to the household and it also tends to make adults more productive,
Importantly, these marriage benefits appear to be quite strong
and significant even when studies control for other variables
that may commonly affect marital status and the outcome variables
and even when studies use longitudinal analysis. The evidence
is therefore strong that marriage typically brings important benefits
to African Americans.
Among the other key findings presented in the report:
- There are racial differences in the consequences of
marriage. All in all, Black women appear to receive
a smaller marriage premium than White women. Black men appear
to receive a smaller marriage premium only in terms of their
satisfaction with family life. A major reason for these differentials
is that marriages of African Americans are, on average, of lower
quality than those of Whites.
- Racial differences in the prevalence of “very happy”
marriages are apparently central to overall racial differences
in well-being. Racial differences in the prevalence
of “very happy” marriages statistically explain a substantial
portion of overall racial differences in well-being. For example,
African American adults on average report being less happy than
White adults, and about 50 percent of this racial difference
is statistically explained the fact that fewer African Americans
are in very happy marriages. In contrast, only 11 percent of
the racial happiness gap is explained by persons’ perceptions
of their economic rank.
- Marriage appears to inhibit crime. As local
marriage rates increase in Black communities, violent crime
- Parental marriage shapes child well-being.
Having married parents seems to be a surprisingly important
promoter of infant health among African Americans. In the teenage
years, having married parents apparently protects against early
sexual debut and pregnancy.
Based on these findings, the study offers some general recommendations,
- Marriage clearly matters for African Americans. There is strong
evidence that it is a vital source of economic security and
greater psychosocial well-being. Policies geared towards increasing
marriage rates in the African American community—particularly
the number of high quality marriages—are likely to substantially
increase the well-being of African American men, women, and
children. They should also help to close the racial gap in positive
outcomes. Obviously, such policies should not be coercive, but
concerns about coercion should not dominate the public policy
debate because almost four-fifths of unmarried Black adults
say they would like to be married.
- Policies seeking to increase marriage rates and marital quality
among African Americans should focus on tax reform, reducing
domestic violence, providing culturally-relevant marital education
and counseling, and numerous other efforts outlined in the report.
In view of the fact that the low prevalence of good marriages
among African Americans grows in large measure out of a scarcity
of marriageable men, these policies should also include job
training, efforts to improve African American education, and
efforts to reduce the incarceration of young African American
men for drug offenses. The latter should include both efforts
to reduce drug offenses and more constructive sentencing practices.
- Researchers should devote more attention to studying and understanding
the role marriage plays in the lives of African American men,
women, and children. As part of this effort, researchers should
be careful to use precise family structure categories. They
should also carry out their analyses separately for men and
women, boys and girls, since each of these groups appears to
be affected by marriage in unique ways.
About the Authors
The Consequences of Marriage for African Americans was
written by Lorraine Blackman of Indiana University; Obie Clayton
of Morehouse College; Norval Glenn of the University of Texas
at Austin, Linda Malone-Colon of Hampton University and the National
Healthy Marriage Resource Center; and Alex Roberts of the Institute
for American Values.
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