This past December, a Church in Orange, NJ (just outside of Newark) was the site of an unusual, and in some communities even radical, act: my then boyfriend and I—two black 20-somethings with no children—were married.
It is no secret that single-parent households and teenage pregnancy outside of marriage have been a source of concern in the Black community for quite some time. But while opinions and proposed solutions to this problem abound, little real impact has been made.
I am a 26-year-old Black female from suburban NJ who was raised in a conservative, Catholic household. Marriage has always been very important to my family. My parents were married for 38 years until my father suddenly passed away. Each of my elder siblings is married. Binding oneself to another spiritually and legally has always been what was expected.
Not Yet a Woman
In Blairstown, NJ, where I was raised, a 26-year-old bride would be considered somewhat of a late bloomer, but for the past eight years, I have been living in a very different culture, with very different ideals from those which I was raised. After moving to the Newark area at the tender age of 18, I was asked by some of the young women in my new neighborhood about why I didn’t already have children. There were no questions regarding marriage. I was told that I wasn’t yet a woman because I had no children. I was shocked at the time, but over the years that shock has led me to wonder about the roots of this phenomenon. Is the lack of concern regarding marriage and children born out of wedlock a socio-economic issue? Are these issues confined to this localized area? Why do these issues exist for Black Americans on a larger scale than for other groups?
According to the 2004 statistical data from the US Department of Health and Human Services, Black Americans are more likely to be unmarried than their White, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaskan Native counterparts: 42.2% for Black males, 40.8% for Black females, compared to 27.5% and 21.2% respectively for Whites, 38.2% and 30.3% for Hispanics, and 35.7% ad 29.9% for AIAN. Along with this disturbing evidence, (also from the US DHHS) the rate of children born to Black women outside of marriage has continued to increase as the rates of other ethnic groups have declined.
The reality of those statistics is painfully evident in my own neighborhood. “I thought about marriage, but truthfully, it wasn’t really on my mind” said Rashida, 22 who has a 7-year-old son. “I loved my baby-daddy, and we were just having fun. The baby just happened.” Each of the twelve young women I spoke to with baby in tow had a similar answer. Interestingly all but one of them grew up in single-parent homes themselves.
All of the ten young men I spoke with echoed the sentiments of the women. Joe, 25 remarked that Blacks are not focused on getting married because there is no emphasis placed on marriage in the home. While Raymond, 28 commented “I’m not tryin’ to get tied down! There’s too many honeys out here and too little time!”
- Only 42% of Black Americans are married**
- 62% of Black American households are headed by a single parent**
- The percentage of married Black women has declined from 62% to 31% from 1950 to 2002*
- Approximately 45% of adult Black men have never married*
- Approximately 42% of adult Black women have never married*
- 68% of Black American children are born to unmarried women**
**2002 US Dept. of Health and Human Services
“There is a lack of a generational heredity concerning marriage. There is just no passing on of the importance of marriage based on a covenantal agreement” said Rev. David Howell a well-regarded clergyman in the Newark area from the Love of Jesus Family Church.
Andrew Lyke, the coordinator for marriage ministry for the Archdiocese of Chicago agrees. “There are too few examples of successful marriage around them. Their expectations of relationships and family go no deeper than what they see” he said.
Lyke, who, along with his wife Terri have been the guiding force behind Marriage Ministry for the African-American Catholic Community of Chicago since 1982, believes the issue also touches on topics that have become taboo. “At the root of the problem is distancing of sex from procreation and moving more toward recreation. No one wants to talk about abstinence” he said. “As long as brothers get sex without commitment this will continue. This is an unpopular idea and too few ministers and other leaders in the community are willing to assert it.”