Blacks are more likely to get divorced because, first they are poorer, and poverty strains marriages...
African-Americans and Marriage

African-Americans and Marriage

African-Americans are Less Likely to Marry and More Likely to Divorce, Studies Show

       African-Americans are less likely to get married and more likely to get divorced, according to experts who have studied divorce rates around the United States. The biggest indicators for marriage success -- or failure -- are age, poverty and education levels, they say.  

Divorce among black couples is more prevalent than it is among whites or Hispanic couples, according to a 2003 study by Demographic Research,, a web site that published demographic research on the Internet and encourages an "international community of people concerned with population issues." The study on the site show that 32 percent of African-American couples divorce as compared with 21 percent white couples and 22 percent Hispanics.             

While he thinks the reasons for the numbers are complex, Andrew Cherlin, professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., tried to explain the problem: “Blacks are more likely to get divorced because, first they are poorer, and poverty strains marriages, and second because African-American culture places more weight on ties to grandmothers, aunts, and other kin than does European-American culture, compared to the ties between husbands and wives."

In a study called "The Topography of the Divorce Plateua," Dr. R. Kelly Raley and Dr. Larry Bumpass said the high rate of divorce among African-Americans “may provide an important insight for understanding the low, and decreasing, marriage rate for the group as well as the high proportion of the birth to unmarried black women,"

The researchers found that “70 percent of black women’s first marriages will end in divorce, as will 47 percent of white women’s marriages..." Age, education and income are major factors in the stability of all marriages, regardless of race or ethnicity, but those factors affect African-American couples more than others, according to the two researchers.
"It is likely that the more uncertain the prospects for marital stability, the more the potential gains from marriage are decreased and the potential costs increased...,” they wrote in their study.

That's not surprising to Divorce 360 expert Dr. Pamela Thompson, an Atlanta psychologist, who counsels couples in marriage therapy as part of her practice. “Marriage is virtually extinct in the black community in the U.S. today,” she said. “A person born in the black community has a 70 percent chance of being born to an unmarried couple.”  

African-American couples who are married often have less than a fighting chance, she said. “What puts more pressure on an Afro-American married couple is that the female earns more than the male in many instances, and she has a more favorable career track. That upsets the apple cart in the natural order of things,” she explained. “As the head of a household so goes the family. If the head of a household is a man who isn’t pulling his weight, then he makes the whole family vulnerable."   

She also criticizes black women for contributing to the problem. “In recent years there is harshness to black womanhood. Because her world is harder and tougher it makes it makes marriage for her much more fragile,” Thompson said.   

Rev. Cedric Brooks, associate minister of Redemption United Methodist Community Church in Atlanta, thinks the decline in church participation among African-Americans has contributed to the problem. “There was a time when there was a stigma if a woman wasn’t married in the black community, particularly if she was pregnant. Today I run into women in the black community that want a baby but not a husband. I think it’s their maternal instinct, but they don’t want the jerk that comes with the baby,” he said.

Another factor: “The Afro-American community has attempted to integrate itself into mainstream American society," he said. "The more we’ve tried to do this, the more we’ve accepted the views of mainstream American society. The black community’s chase for money and material things has caused us to push aside the family and family values."

That's unfortunate, according to a 2005 study called "The Consequences of Marriage for African Americans." 

The study was produced by five scholars: Lorraine Blackman, Indiana University School of Social Work and the African American Family Life education Institute; Obic Clayton, Department of Sociology Morehouse College; Norval Glenn, Department of Sociology University of Texas; Linda Malone-Colon, Department of Psychology Hampton University and the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center; and Alex Roberts, Institute for American Values.         

The study's findings conclude:

  • Marriage improves the economic, social and psychological well-being of African-American men and women.   
  • Black men receive more benefits from marriage than black women.  
  • Financially blacks benefit more from marriage than whites.  
  • Black women benefit less from marriage than their white counterparts.  
  • Black-White differences in quality of marriage are an important reason why black women benefit less from marriage than white women.  
  • Marriage results in important benefits for black children.  
  • Marriage is definitely beneficial for male children.  
  • Black children appear to benefit more from marriage of their parents than white children.  
  • It is not clear why there are apparent racial difference involving black and white children and marriage.  
  • Marriage matters as far as those who are concerned about black American and make policy.    

Whatever positives the study shows, Thompson isn't certain what can be done to improve the marriage or divorce rates for African-Americans.  “I try to remain hopeful that somehow marriage for African-Americans will improve, but I’m not sure how it can be turned around and improved when black women have few reference points to guide them,” she said.  

Don Moore is a veteran newspaper editor and reporter who spent more than 40 years working at newspapers around Florida. He recently retired from the Port Charlotte, Fla., Sun-Herald. He can be reached at