Acton Institute Powerblog

Black Marriage Matters

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Brittney C. Cooper, Assistant professor of Women’s and Gender studies and Africana Studies at Rutgers University, writes at Ebony that President Obama is being unfair to the black community by pointing out that many of the violence-related pathologies in inner cities are a result of fatherlessness. Cooper objects saying,

Instead when the president began by suggesting that we need to “do more to promote marriage and encourage fatherhood,” I started shaking my head. Rather than empathizing with those Black families that have been destroyed by violence, he blamed the prevalence of non-nuclear Black families for contributing to it! Recycling this tired narrative about broken families and absentee Black fathers does nothing to address the steady flow of guns into our communities, nor the pathologies that lead young people to fire them.

Later on, Cooper raises a good point when she observes that although 70 percent of Black children are born to unmarried parents, this does not mean that 70 percent of Black children don’t have active fathers. Cooper concludes that the social pathologies we find in inner-city black communities are the result of economic stress. Cooper says,

When people can work, pay for affordable housing and send their children to decent schools in their own communities, those communities become safer. My logic is pretty elementary: folks will be less likely to engage in crime in order to support basic needs, when they have jobs that can provide for those needs.

It is certainly true that economic stress may tempt people to commit crimes. The Bible is clear about that possibility (Prov 30:8). However, Cooper closes out her objection to Obama by saying something that makes no sense: “The challenges facing Black folks in Chicago are myriad, but they have little to do with the decrease in marriage rates.”

What? The problem with Cooper’s objection to President Obama’s claim is that it has no basis in fact or reason. Black marriage rates have actually been associated with a host of social ills in the black community. Cooper could not be more incorrect about the facts. For example, in The Consequences of Marriage for African Americans 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, all find that the data tells a different story: Black marriage matters.

Here is a summary of the their findings:

(1) African American boys with married parents are markedly less likely to become delinquent, and they also tend to do better in school.

(2) 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—because marriage often means the addition of a second income to the household. Marriage also tends to make adults more productive, successful workers.

(3) 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.

(4) Black children of married parents typically receive better parenting, are less delinquent, have fewer behavioral problems, have higher self-esteem, are more likely to delay sexual activity, and have moderately better educational outcomes.

(5) In areas including parental support, delinquency, self-esteem, and school performance, having one’s father in the home—and particularly one’s married father—appears to be a crucial determinant of better outcomes for young Black males.

(6) Regarding both levels of parental support and the risks of delinquency, African-American children seem to benefit more from parental marriage than do White children.

While it may be true that some unwed fathers are involved in the lives on their children, President Obama is right to point out the marriage effect. To say that the breakdown in the black community is not associated with the decline in marriage rates is to deny the facts and ignore the importance of one of the most important institutions in human society.

Anthony Bradley Anthony Bradley, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics in the Public Service Program at The King's College in New York City and serves as a Research Fellow at the Acton Institute. Dr. Bradley lectures at colleges, universities, business organizations, conferences, and churches throughout the U.S. and abroad. His books include: Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America (2010),  Black and Tired: Essays on Race, Politics, Culture, and International Development (2011),  The Political Economy of Liberation: Thomas Sowell and James Cone of the Black Experience (2012), Keep Your Head Up: America's New Black Christian Leaders, Social Consciousness, and the Cosby Conversation (2012), Aliens in the Promised Land:  Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions (forthcoming, 2013). Dr. Bradley's writings on religious and cultural issues have been published in a variety of journals, including: the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Detroit News, and World Magazine. Dr. Bradley is called upon by members of the broadcast media for comment on current issues and has appeared C-SPAN, NPR, CNN/Headline News, and Fox News, among others. He studies and writes on issues of race in America, hip hop, youth culture, issues among African Americans, the American family, welfare, education, and modern slavery. From 2005-2009, Dr. Bradley was Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO where he also directed the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute.   Dr. Bradley holds Bachelor of Science in biological sciences from Clemson University, a Master of Divinity from Covenant Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Westminster Theological Seminary.  Dr. Bradley also holds an M.A. in Ethics and Society at Fordham University.


  • RogerMcKinney

    Socialists have blamed all problems on poverty since Saint-Simon came up with his nutty scheme in the early 1800’s. Even the poor blacks in Chicago are wealthier than anyone in the world outside of Europe and Japan.

    The real problem with shooting in Chicago is the same problem that black communities face in every other major city: they refuse to cooperate with the police, black or white, to help them catch the criminals. They want the shootings to stop, but let the police arrest a young black shooter and see the uproar in the community over jailing another black man.

    Police departments across the US have quietly quit working in the black communities because of the complete lack of cooperation and hostility to the police.

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  • Lorraine

    Thanks, John Girton, for sharing this blog post. I am honored that our study continues to inform the public conversation about how to improve the quality of life for families, particularly African Americans..Across the years of my research, I have included findings on the impact of marriage on women; they, too are included in the study cited in the blog post. As you know, my model of marriage enrichment/marriage education addresses the quality of life issues raised by the research on women and marriage so the WORK of family life can be shared by both partners as well as their extended families. Dr. Cooper [I wonder if we are kin :-)] suggests that if only women had enough money to support their families, crime rates would be diminished. However, while economic need is a major driving force behind crime, another major factor is lack of adult supervision and too little time in family life for character education. This is true even in families who are economically comfortable. So, as you’ve heard me say many times, beware of false dichotomies. Solving the problems faced by families requires a Marshall Plan, not a single magic wand.