Thursday, August 13, 2009

New study finds that marriage and childbirth are declining for high-achieving Black women

MSNBC reports on a new study by Yale researchers Natalie Nitsche and Hannah Brueckner show that high-achieving Black women are less likely to marry and have children compared to their white female counterparts.  Key findings in the study are:

  • Among black women with postgraduate educations born between 1956 and 1960, the median age at which they gave birth for the first time was 34 years old. This was about the same as it was for white women in the same demographic. 
  • Once white women reached their 30s, many more of them did give birth, often more than once. Many black women did not. 
  • The rate of childlessness among this group of black women rose from 30 percent for those born between 1950 and 1955, to 45 percent for those born between 1956 and 1960.
  • For highly educated black women born between 1961 and 1970, 38 percent have remained childless.
These are significant findings because, as the researchers note, “in terms of American society, this is one additional obstacle” to the broadening of the black middle class. "Fewer highly educated black people having children means that they cannot pass on those advantages and knowledge.”

In another study that used interviews with Black women, sociologist Averil Clarke found that there is greater Black cultural pressure for Black women to marry within their race than there is for Black men.  “A greater negative reaction falls on them,” Clarke said. “Some women in my sample told stories of African-American men on college campuses getting upset if they dated outside the race. There seems to be a sense of some policing of women’s sexuality. I think women are more controlled by these community and family pressures around who they should date. Men have greater freedom.”  High-achieving Black men tend to “outmarry” (marry outside race, religion or ethnicity) at a higher rate than black women, researchers say (hmm, let's see, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, actors Sidney Poitier and James Earl Jones, musician Quincy Jones, rapper Ice-T - all married white women!).

Don't sleep on Black female interracial marriage and dating; think of Eartha Kitt, Lena Horne, Halle Berry, Alfre Woodard, Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon. The crux of these findings suggest that the historical policing of Black women's sexuality has not waned, and the pressures within our communities to contain our ability to partner with men and women outside of our race still persist.

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