By Maya Rhodan
WASHIGTON (NNPA) – CNN has covered it. ABC News’ Nightline has done a feature on it. It has appeared in the pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post.
It has been discussed on NPR. Oprah, in her prime even tackled it. The “it” isn’t the deficit, the economy, health care, education, or gun violence.
“It” is Black women’s prospect of marriage in the 21st century.
“A lot of women feel like once they get to where they want to get in their career, they’ll never find a man,” says Audrey Chapman, a relationship expert and therapist based in Washington, D.C.
That belief is reinforced by news outlets spewing statistics that suggest there are either A. No acceptable (i.e. employed, heterosexual) Black men are available in sufficient numbers or B. No Black men interested in dating or marrying Black women.
Consequently, many educated, successful Black women will never get married.
The numbers tell the story: Forty-two percent of Black women have never been married, compared to 23 percent of White women, according to a 2010 Yale study.
And there’s more: The Census Bureau tells us that 70 percent of Black women between the ages of 25 and 29 have never been married, compared to 23 percent of White women.
And if you are not a numbers person, the message is conveyed in other ways as well.
“African Americans are the most un-partnered group of people in America,” says Chapman, who has been practicing for more than 30 years. “Marriage has been eroding since the 80s among Blacks. But, I think attitudes of marriage have changed overall, not just in the Black community, all over.”
Over the past 50 years, marriage has become increasingly obsolete, often replaced by practices such as cohabitation, remaining single and co-parenting.
According to 2010 Census data, only 51 percent of adults over 18 were married in 2010, down 21 points from 1960 and the median age for first marriage is 28.7 for men and 26.5 for women.
Among African Americans, the median age for first marriage is 30.7 for men and 30 for women. In 1960, the median age for marriage among Black men was 25, for African-American women it was 22.
Yet today, despite all the information that should suggest otherwise, many young Black women are still hopeful that they’ll someday get married.
“Love is really important part of my life,” says Carolyn Smith, 22. “Falling in love and finding that best friend you can share the rest of your life with is my ultimate goal. It’s just something I’ve always wanted.”
Smith, a resident of Atlanta, says unfortunately finding the “perfect catch” has not been as easy as she’d hoped.
“When a woman has standards on what’s a great guy, we’re called too picky. When we relax our standards, all of sudden we don’t know our worth,” says Smith. “It’s like women are expected to be perfect; go out but not too much, be attractive all the time, be Wonder Woman. And what do we get? A [man] that tells you he’s not interested in the whole relationship thing but is interested in having sex with you and playing house without having to commit to you.”
Carolyn belongs to the “Millennial” generation, made up of those ages 18-29 in 2010, a generation that, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center, places a higher value on parenthood than marriage.
In a 2010 Pew Research Center survey, 52 percent of “Millennials” surveyed said being a good parent was one of the most important things in their life, compared to 30 percent who said a successful marriage was most important.
Among those surveyed 36 percent said they had children, while on 22 percent had never been married. Which means “playing house” may be a lot more popular than Smith, and her traditional values toward marriage, is comfortable with.
Valdez Steed, 23, says while he does want to get married one day, having a son is an even higher priority.
“I want a son more than I want marriage. Your offspring is a representation of you. Marriage s different,” Steed says. “I can see myself loving a kid forever, but not necessarily the person I created the child with.”
And he may not be in the minority.
“Family is not going to be what you traditionally would think of,” says Chapman. “It’s not going to look like what I grew up with—I had a father at the head of the family and a mom without a career until the oldest was in school. Children in the 21st century are not going to know that—the ones who do are going to be dinosaurs.”
Chapman also says as we get further into the 21st century marriage won’t disappear, but it will be “redefined” to better fit with society.
“Just how we’ve had to redefine race, we’ll have to redefine marriage,” Chapman says. “We’re living now in a multicultural, blended family society that we’ve never known before.”
Not everyone under 30 is anti-marriage, however.
Angelica Roberts is 22-years-old and in one week she will be married to her high school boyfriend, with whom she already has two kids.
When she was younger, she thought 28 was the ideal age for marriage, but now that her life has taken a different path, she’s ready to settle down and continue her life with the father of her children.
“Since I had children out of wedlock, I wanted my children to be around their dad,” Roberts says. “I also genuinely love my fiancé.”
Although, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, about 60 percent of couples who marry between 20 and 25 eventually divorce, Roberts is optimistic about the prospect of staying with her husband.
“I see us strengthening; as they say, wisdom comes with age,” Roberts says. “I really see our daughters looking up to us and saying ‘I want a husband just like daddy.’”