Press Release

October 24, 2005

Contact: Alex Roberts
Institute for American Values
(212) 246-3942

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 commitment.”

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, successful workers.

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 decreases.
  • 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, including:

  • 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.