The Toughest Marriage Market

Christine Whelan | Posted on 04/14/10

Interesting (and depressing) piece in the current issue of the Economist -- Sex and the single black woman:How the mass incarceration of black men hurts black women -- reminds us that between 1970 and 2007, the proportion of married black women aged 30-44 dropped from 62% to 33%.

Why? From the Economist:

Jail is a big part of the problem, argue Kerwin Kofi Charles, now at the University of Chicago, and Ming Ching Luoh of National Taiwan University. They divided America up into geographical and racial "marriage markets", to take account of the fact that most people marry someone of the same race who lives relatively close to them. Then, after crunching the census numbers, they found that a one percentage point increase in the male incarceration rate was associated with a 2.4-point reduction in the proportion of women who ever marry.

The follows some 2004 research out of Princeton University, which found that the crime-suppressing benefits of incareration are offset by the negative impact it has on marriage and social stability within the black community. [PDF] Among high-achieving black women, the problems are similarly dire, although income helps, according to research by Megan Sweeney. Still, these researchers note, for most black women, it's still not enough. [See PDF of the original research cited in the Economist]

Want more? The Logic of Life, by Tim Harford, explores many of these issues. While this research is depressing, it's so important that we discuss uncomfortable issues like race, class and jail-time -- and the challenges black women face in the marriage market generally -- instead of simply perpetuating myths (like Maureen Dowd and the New York Times seem to love to do) of problems that high-achieving white women in marriage.

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