Black Marriage Matters
Religion & Liberty Online

Black Marriage Matters

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 B. Bradley, Ph.D., is distinguished research fellow at the Acton Institute and author of The Political Economy of Liberation: Thomas Sowell and James Cone on the Black Experience.