Marriage, Family on the Decline for Highly Educated Black Women

Fewer black women with postgraduate degrees are getting married and having children, according to a study by the Yale Center for Research on Inequalities and the Life Course, which was presented at the 104th annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in San Francisco on August 8.

“In the past nearly four decades, black women have made great gains in higher education rates, yet these gains appear to have come increasingly at the cost of marriage and family,” said Hannah Brueckner, professor of sociology at Yale University; co-director of the research center; and the study’s co-author. “Both white and black highly educated women have increasingly delayed childbirth and remained childless, but the increase is stronger for black women.”

The study, which is the first to review longitudinal trends in marriage and family formation among highly educated black women, found that black women born after 1950 were twice as likely as white women never to have married by age 45 and twice as likely to be divorced, widowed or separated.

The gap in the proportion of black and white highly educated women living with a spouse has grown over the decades, increasing from 9 percent in the 1970’s to 21 percent in 2000–07.

“Highly educated black women have increasingly fewer options when it comes to potential mates,” Brueckner said. “They are less likely than black men to marry outside their race, and, compared to whites and black men, they are least likely to marry a college-educated spouse.”

Although black women were more likely than white women to have children early in their academic careers, 45 percent of those born between 1955 and 1960 were childless at age 45 compared to 35 percent of white women born in the same time period.

Brueckner and the study’s lead author Natalie Nitsche, a graduate student in sociology at Yale, analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey to uncover marriage and family trends among black women with postgraduate degrees. The Current Population Survey has surveyed approximately 50,000 households monthly for more than 50 years to collect data on the American labor force.

The American Sociological Association (www.asanet.org), founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society.