Is Marriage for White People?: should African American women marry more across color line?

Sep 1, 2011

Should African American women marry more men who are not African American? In his controversial new book, Is Marriage for White People?, Stanford Law Professor Ralph Richard Banks says yes. Banks explains that the declining rate of marriage among blacks over the past 50 years largely boils down to a simple problem of supply and demand. Nowadays, about 7 in 10 black women are unmarried. In fact, successful black women marry men who are less educated and of a lower social class about 50% of the time—a rate higher than for any other racial group of women in the country. For every two black women to graduate from college, only one black man graduates, and this disparity greatly contributes to a shortage of black men of similar status eligible for marriage. With successful black men in high demand, Banks argues, these men tend to be less faithful and balk at the idea of settling down because of the array of choices before them. Banks says black men often dictate the terms of a relationship to their black partners, which psychologically affects black women and changes the compositions of families.

It is a kind of “loyalty” to the black men and the betterment of the race, Banks explains, that makes black women hesitant to marry members of other races. With many black men plagued by unemployment, a lack of opportunity for education, and prison sentences, marriage outside the race may seem like abandonment to many women who want to help their community succeed. Banks writes that if more successful black women marry men of other races, the supply of black women available to men of similar social statuses will decrease, eventually limiting the bounty that black men perceive and fostering greater commitment—and thus, more black marriages—in the future. Does more black women marrying men who aren’t black better the race as a whole? With the rise of women in the last half-century, there are many more women graduating from universities than men—could women of all races be facing the same supply problem as well in the near future? What might that mean for our conception of loving relationships and familial composition in the future?

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