Acton Institute Powerblog

Marriage and the Black Family

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I recently received a letter from a reader of my Acton Commentary column, "Marriage as a Social Justice Issue," which she had seen reprinted in modified form at Town Hall. My correspondent was concerned that I had overlooked a key fact: the lack of marriageable black men. She said, in part:

Education and the lower number of available black men are 2 major things you left out of your article. I know that marriage is important in the black community, but if every black man you meet has limited education, a criminal record and several children, what is getting married going to do, really? It is going to tie you to a man that can’t provide for you, that wouldn’t make sense. And if he didn’t treat you well, then there really is no reason to marry him.

I think the real propblem here is not that blacks don’t marry, it is that there are just not enough good black men to go around. So they screw around. Women are only human and they have needs. And if you are 30 never married with no prospects, I would imagine that over time, you get lonely, and men can take advantage of that, and they do. Very sad but true. So don’t make the single mom the bad guy here. We are not bad and plenty of us work and don’t get public assistance.

What can I say? She is correct. Put her point another way, many women may be making the best of a bad situation when they choose to have children without husbands.

My question to her, and to my readers: what can we do that would be constructive about the problem of lack of marriageable black men? Part of the problem is crime and incarceration, but that part of the problem is something neither I nor most readers are in any position to do anything about. My correspondent implied that men take advantage of the vulnerability of the woman who hopes for marriage or at least motherhood.

The reason this is important for EVERYONE and not just the black community is this: within the broader culture, the combination of feminist movement, gay rights movement and family law radicals are conspiring to make marriage a gender neutral institution. For all practical purposes, this has meant the marginalization of men from the family. In the black community, the process of marginalizing men is more or less complete. The kinds of family forms, and sexual dynamics we see there, is where the society as a whole is headed.

Cross posted at my blog.

Jennifer Roback Morse


  • Robert

    Bill Cosby and many others have tried to discuss some of the social problems implicated in the decline of marriage — and the oft-cited “man shortage” — within the African-American community. A major barrier to the discussion is that, since “The Moynihan Report” 40+ years ago, racial sensitivity has made this area a political minefield. Really innovative thinking cannot take place when the issue is so hemmed in by political correctness.

    Anedotally, based on conversations with and observations of the romantic/marital lives of my black friends and acquaintances, relationships between black men and women seem to be poisoned by suspicion and mismatched expectations. Black women complain that black men are unreliable and unfaithful. Black men complain that black women are demanding and angry.

    I think anyone who pays attention would be aware of how profound and bitter the “war between the sexes” is among African Americans — you see this discussed in magazines like Essence and Ebony, in books targeted at the black market, by black evangelists and motivational speakers, and also by comedians. The nature of this conflict is widely acknowledged, but discussions aimed at finding solutions usually end in finger-pointing and excuse-making.

  • Dr J

    I think what we are seeing within the black community is an intensified version of what is going on in the white community. White women have similar complaints about men being faithless and basically shirking. And white men have for some time been struck by how angry many women are.
    There is a part of this problem that is common to all Americans, and not unique to blacks. But it’s hard to put your finger on it exactly.