Overview and Background

Marriage in the African American Community

Resources for Practitioners

Relevant Information


Overview and Background of the African American Community

African-Americans/Blacks comprise 13.5 percent or 40.7 million people as of July 2007, according to the U.S. Census. Previously, the largest racial minority in the United States, the Hispanic population now outnumbers the African American population. African Americans live throughout the United States but are predominantly located in the South East and along the Eastern seaboard. See map here.

The terms African American and Black are used interchangeably here and refer to residents of the United States who have origins in any of the black populations of Africa or the Caribbean.

Marriage has become less common among African Americans. According to the U.S. Census, African American households are the least likely to contain a married couple, compared to other racial/ethnic groups. Similarly, an African American child is three times more likely to be born out of wedlock than a white child and, on average, will spend only six years in a two-parent family compared with fourteen years for a white child and thirteen years for a Hispanic child. However, surveys indicate a high value placed on marriage among African Americans.

Marriage in the African American community appears to vary based on educational attainment and income, especially among men as potential marriage partners for African American women. Marriage appears to contribute greatly to the economic well-being of African-American families.   

Marriage in the African American Community

During the last decades the rates of marriage in the black community have declined while the rates of divorce, separation, cohabitation, out-of-wedlock births, and children residing in female-headed households have increased. These trends are contrary to the reported cultural values.

African American Culture 1Cultural beliefs related to marriage include:

The 1987 wave of the National Survey of Children found that 63% of black females and 69% of black males agreed or strongly agreed "unless a couple is prepared to stay together for life, they should not get married," compared with 84% of non-black youths (Moore & Stief, 1991).

In 2006 Gallup's Annual Minority Rights and Relations survey found that: 
69% of Blacks said it is very important to marry when a man and woman plan to spend the rest of their lives together as a couple.
50% of Blacks said it is very important to marry when a man and woman have a child together.

African American teens are less likely to date or participate in serious romantic relationships than teens from other racial/ethnic groups (Cooksey et al. 2002; Crissey 2005). They are also less likely to say they expect to get married, even controlling for their more limited dating experience (Crissey 2005).

• 88% of African American teens view marriage as important, however, only 72% feel well prepared for marriage.

• Churchgoing African American married mothers are 31% more likely to report that they have excellent relationships with their husbands.

• 55% African American married mothers and 53% African American unmarried mothers reported being interested in a generic relationship program; whereas 79% African American married mothers and 68% African American unmarried mothers reported being interested in a religious relationship program. Unfortunately, according to the National Congregations Study, marriage and parenting programs are less common in Black churches (3%) compared to other churches (18%).

• According Donchell Johnson, owner of www.forblackweddings.com, "jump the broom" is a symbolic way that African American slaves legitimatized marriage, when marriage was not legally permitted. The broom is a symbol of sweeping away the old and welcoming a new beginning. The hop the couple takes over the broom represents the leap of faith they take when starting a new life together. African American couples do this at the conclusion of their wedding ceremony.

• African-American mothers in urban cities (according to the Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study) have strong "pro-marriage" attitudes yet they are the least traditional in their attitudes about gender roles in marriage.

 Marriage and divorce rates:

• Only 45% of African American households contain a married couple, compared to 80% for Whites, and 70% among Hispanics. (U.S. Census)

• In 1890, 80% of African American households were comprised of two parents. One hundred years later, only 40% of African-American children live in married-couple households.

• African Americans are significantly less likely than other racial/ethnic groups to ever marry, less likely to remarry, more likely to divorce, separate and cohabit and bear and rear children out-of-wedlock (and in mother-only households).

• There is a marriage gap in the African American community based on educational attainment. Only 28% of Blacks with no education are married compared to 55% of Blacks with a college education.

• One explanation for lower marriage rates among women, as identified by blackdemographics.com, is related to the earnings potential among black men. With higher college graduation rates among African American women, the median income fell 12% for Black men while rising 75% for the women from 1974 to 2004. A high-earning woman has little incentive to marry a low-earning man.

• Black women divorce at a rate nearly double of either white or Hispanic women.

• Between 1970 and 2000 the percent of African Americans who have ever married declined from 64% to 55% among men and from 72% to 58% among women (2003 census).

• Higher mortality rates due to poor health care, violent crime, and ever growing incarceration rates, have been shown to decrease the African American male population. This may be linked to the increasing numbers of Black women struggling to raise children and manage families alone.

• According to www.blackdemographics.com the low rate of marriage and high divorce rate in the African American community are decreasing the African American middle class, built on a two-earner paycheck.

See these additional National Healthy Marriage Resource Center Reports written by Paul R. Amato, Ph.D.: Marital Quality in African American Marriages and Divorce Among African Americans.


Resources for Practitioners

The National Healthy Marriage Resource Center (NHMRC) has numerous on-line resources to enhance healthy marriage curricula and family strengthening programs that are serving African Americans. For the African American population, the NHMRC Web site has the following resources:

Effective Marketing Messages for African American Couples – Tip Sheet for practitioners

Supporting an African American Healthy Marriage Initiative – Tip Sheet for practitioners

Engaging African American Men in Healthy Marriage Services – Tip Sheet for practitioners

Making your Marriage Education Relevant to the African American Community – Tip Sheet for practitioners

Considering Culture in Marriage Education – Tip Sheet for practitioners

• The NHMRC held a seminar on Capitol Hill in Washington DC entitled Healthy Marriage in Culturally and Racially Diverse Populations where panelists discussed lessons learned on serving African American, Hispanic and Native American populations in healthy marriage programs. Transcript and audio-cast of the September 2008 seminar are available.

African American Culture 2Further Resources:

African American Marriage Patterns by: Douglas Besharov and Andrew West, Hoover Press, August 2001.

Responding to the Black Marriage Crisis: A New Vision for Change by: Linda Malone-Colon, Institute for American Values, Future of Black Family Series, No. 6, June 2007.

The Decline in Marriage Among African Americans: Causes, Consequences, and Policy Implications by:  M. Belinda Tucker and Claudia Mitchell-Kernan, New York : Russell Sage Foundation, 1995.

Five Types of African-American Marriages by: William D. Allen & David H. Olson, Journal of Marital & Family Therapy, July 2001.

The Consequences of Marriage for African Americans by: Lorraine Blackman, Obie Clayton, Norval Glenn, Linda Malone-Colon, and Alex Roberts, Institute for American Values, 2005.

Healthy Marriages in Low-income African-American Communities. Part 1: Exploring Partnerships Between Faith Communities and the Marriage Movement. A Thematic Summary, Annie E. Casey Foundation and  Emory University, 2005.

Healthy Marriages in Low-Income African-American Communities, Part 2: Expanding the Dialogue with Faith Leaders by: Robert M. Franklin, Ph.D., and Stephanie C. Boddie, Ph.D., from Making Connections, Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2004.

Marriage and the African-American Community by: Ron Haskins, The Brookings Institution, 2001.

Five Types of African-American Marriages by: William D. Olson and David H. Allen, Mental Health Consulting Journal Article, Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 2001.

Marriage and the Well-being of African American Boys by: Linda Malone-Colon and Alex Roberts, Institute for American Values, 2006.

"Together, We Are Strong": A Qualitative Study of Happy, Enduring African American Marriages by: Loren D. Marks, Katrina Hopkins, Cassandra Chaney, Pamela A. Monroe,  Olena Nesteruk, and Diane D. Sasser, Family Relations, 2008.

The Benefits of Marriage for African American Men by: Claudia Sitgraves, Institute for American Values, 2008.

Neighborhood Context and Financial Strain as Predictors of Marital Interaction and Marital Quality in African American Couples by: Cutrona C., Russell D., Abraham W., Gardner K., Melby J., Bryant C., Conger R., Iowa State University, 2003.

Beyond The Healthy Marriage Initiative: How Extension Agents Can Promote Healthy Relationships among Low- Income, Cohabitating African American Couples by: Cassandra Chaney, Ph.D., Louisiana State University, 2009.


African American Culture 3Links to Other Relevant Information

African American Healthy Marriage Initiative (AAHMI)

African American Healthy Marriage Initiative's 2009 Research to Practice Conference Proceedings

The State of Our Unions: How Black Married Couples can Keep the Love Alive

The National Center on African American Marriages and Parenting

Black Demographics and Statistics

U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey Report – Blacks: 2004. Released in 2007.

Black Marriage Day

Happily Ever After: A Positive Image of Black Marriage

Program for Strong African American Marriages