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College-Educated Black Women Least Likely to Have a Well-Educated Spouse

A report on social mobility by The Brookings Institution takes a look at the decline of marriage in the U.S., focusing on Black college-educated women.

By Sheryl Estrada

New Black Marriage

Photo by Shutterstock

A recent Social Mobility Memo of The Brookings Institution indicates a large percentage of Black women with college degrees remain unmarried because they seek to only wed a Black, educated man.

Single black female BA seeks educated husband: Race, assortative mating and inequality,” published April 9, offers that the current trend of “assortative mating” in the U.S. — choosing a spouse with a similar educational background — is less available to college-educated Black women.

Black men are the second least likely to earn a college education, after Latino men. And Black women are least likely to “marry out” across racial lines. Therefore, if interracial marriage is not an option, the potential for a college-educated spouse decreases.

Forty-nine percent of college-educated Black women marry a well-educated man, compared to 84 percent of college-educated white women.

Using five-year estimates from the 2008-2012 waves of the American Community Survey, the authors examined race gaps in marriage patterns.

Key Findings:

  • In the past few decades, marriage rates in the U.S. have fallen sharply, and sharpest of all in the Black population.
  • The proportion of Black college graduates aged 25 to 35 who have never married is 60 percent, compared to 38 percent for white college-educated women.
  • Married Black women who are college graduates are much more likely to have a husband with a lower level of education (58 percent), compared to whites of a similar background (48 percent).

According to the authors, “Even if Black women rise up the ladder, in part because of their efforts to acquire more education, one of the key mechanisms for maintaining that higher status for the next generation — assortative mating — is less available to them.”

This means households with two college graduates earn more income, which sets a solid foundation for the next generation.

Black Women and Interracial Marriage

In his 2011 book Is Marriage for White People?, Stanford Law professor Ralph Richard Banks focuses on the marriage patterns of Black, middle class, educated professionals

He conducted a decade of research, including interviews focused on dating and marriage ideals and experiences. Banks cites Black women advancing economically and educationally at higher levels than Black men as a cause for low-marriage rates among Blacks in the U.S.

In an interview with TIME magazine, he discussed a gender imbalance within the Black community:

Two African American women graduate from college for every one African American male. Despite this imbalance, there is still enormous social pressure on Black women to only marry Black men — to “sustain” the race and build strong black families. And this means marrying Black men even if they are less educated or earn less money. In short, no matter the personal cost, Black woman are encourage to marry “down” before they marry “out.”

Banks explained that, for the sake of a man, Black women are pressured to give up certain kinds of life experiences, while white women are taught to cultivate them.  And Black women should be open to having relationships with men who are not Black, and focus more on class.

“This would be good for them, for their children and even benefit other Black couples by helping to level the playing field, he said.”

However, authors of “Single black female BA seeks educated husband” do note that the racial gaps in our society offer the “greatest equity challenges of the 21st Century,” more so than the marriage gaps.

Inequality toward Black men in America has contributed to the difference in education levels between Black men and women. For example, the racial gap in U.S. arrest rates.

Black women do have a lot of factors to consider when seeking a mate. Yet, there is no set formula on educational status, class or race that will definitively result in a successful marriage.

Please feel free to share your experience in our comments section.  We will be posting a follow-up with our reader’s feedback.

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18 comments


  • Michele marshall

    I am a physician who divorced a PhD educated black professor and am now marrying a man with an associate’s degree. People think I’m crazy but one thing that wasn’t mentioned is the arrogance that comes along with many black men’s education. Furthermore, I contend that because of our traditional values, black women who work outside the home in professional jobs are more likely to perform ALL the household duties and are the default parents, doing mostly everything for their children. Educated black women, I feel, get more respect and support from less educated men. I think in many cases it is a choice– and not settling for less. I find it interesting that the research was done by a man and it seems like a phenomenon was observed but women weren’t consulted as to why. It was assumed that black women have no choice. There are so many other factors. Black women may also be more attracted to ‘rough neck’ types and hard working men who may or may not wear a suit or be educated.

  • Darryl Curtis

    As a college-educated Black man that married his wife in 1972 and is still married to her now, let me try to give you a bit of perspective. In my experience as a counselor, I am convinced that many Black women with advanced degrees actually do not desire to perform the role of a wife for a husband. Any man expecting such an educated Black woman to actually perform wifely duties on a consistent basis is perceived, by that educated Black woman, as a troglodyte.
    I cite this case, in which the male Ph.D that wanted his wife to take care of him and his children was seen as “arrogant” by the educated Black woman that considered the role of a wife as beneath her. After all, she is a busy doctor with a thriving practice. Why should she have to do the same things that a housewife would have to do to make a man happy? From her perspective, her man should be honored just to be married to her and should work to make her happy.
    Unfortunately, educated Black woman, men disagree. Being married to an educated Black woman with this sort of thinking is not an honor; it is a chore. Since there are so many women available, no educated Black man has to put up with that chore. All men have to do is avoid educated Black women with this perspective, and their problem is solved. Thus, the dilemma presented in this article.
    The problem that educated Black women have is not race, nor is the problem any other demographic or sociological phenomena. The problem is that many educated Black women feel that their education makes it unnecessary for them to have to perform the duties of a wife. And educated Black women can maintain that perspective; they just shouldn’t get married. Being single is no sin.

    • “I am convinced that many Black women with advanced degrees actually do not desire to perform the role of a wife for a husband”

      Not just Black women, Daryl. I think time has left you behind. You sound like my long-dead Italian grandfather, except his language would have been far more colorful.

    • I find this phenomena to be highly interesting. I believe the “real problem” is that black women have not fully understood men nor the scarcity of time. When society was built around men doing most the labor, men married women who would complement them. Because we are still nostalgic of the Cosby show, we have a false perception of reality. We think that men and women can actually both put in 100 hours a week, make equal amounts of money, take care of kids, cook clean, and maintain the house together without skipping a beat. Professional black women think it’s beneath them to marry men with less even though those men have less demanding jobs and can pick up some of the slack. High-earning men seek less educated, but highly supportive wives to complement their careers. Even if there was an educated black man for every educated black woman it would still not work out because they simply don’t complement each other. The black woman is not free mentally, for she feels uncomfortable dating/marry men with less.

    • I graduated from Howard University in 1985. A Utopia. Educated people everywhere. After leaving I never saw that again. Until…… I went to the Dominican Republic. On an average day I speak with some of the most brilliant Black men I’ve seen in years most in their 40s and above. The majority of these men don’t care if the woman can spell cat. And they are looking for a financial partner. They are looking for youth and beauty. The two things often sacrificed in pursuit of a career

      • What I find baffling is some of these men are joyfully giving these woman more money on a regular basis than they would give a wife or their children

    • Very well said Darryl. You articultate the issue perfectly. The main reason for a man to want to be married and give up the single life (and his freedom) is if he is feels he’s going to gain some major benefit. If he is going to committ to ONE person for life but that person thinks they are too good for him and doesnt enjoying catering to him, then why get married? By societal standards, husbands are AUTOMATICALLY expected to cater to, take care of and spoil their wives regardless of education or status. However, woman seem to think they get a pass of being a real wife if they have education and success. She expects worship by her husband and thinks she is above doing things for him. Double standard.

  • Why is it that the Black women’s martial status is always under study? Honestly its nobody’s business who the Black woman marries or whether they choose to marry or not. I look at it as an attack on Black women to make it seem like their undesirable but I just which that they would stop it with the studies and studying us as if we were the lab rats of the sociological world. No other race of woman’s martial status is as studied, judged, analyzed and criticised as the Black woman’s.

    • it is perhaps presented in so many mediums as an issue, because anytime such a discrepancy exists, it is important that we discuss it.

      Yes, black woman are not have the same “success” regarding marriage as their racial counterparts. Yes, black women are consistently stigmatized on film and television in way that few other women in society are. Yes, our community does carry the burden for continuing to allow ourselves to be viewed in this way. Yes, society does bear a hefty responsibilities for the way we are presented to the world. Yes, our heritage is and continues to be an obstacle that we need to overcome. Yes, the enslavement of a race for 300 years does make it difficult to attain equality. Yes, we must work to ensure the past does not cripple us. Yes, we must remember that the Civil Rights act was passed in 1965, meaning we have only enjoyed this ideal of “equality for roughly 50 years. Yes, there is a black President. And NO. None of these things take away from the continued ailment of our community,

      When black women don’t marry, our children are denied the traditional home that children of other races take for granted. When black women do not marry we lack the financial wellness that other races utilizes which inevitable puts additional financial strain on a other family members when our elders reach retirement. When we don’t marry, our sons and daughters are denied the opportunity learn how to be men and women from both the mother and father in their household. They are denied the opportunity to see what a functional relationship looks like and how to maintain one. It is no wonder we don’t see the marriages rates of our great grandparents, when our parents never taught us how to work through our problems, trust our spouses and love unconditionally. There are skills that we are not learning. This is an issue. We must speak about this. Not so we can ask others to feel sorry for us, but so that we can heal from the wounds of the past and learn from our mistakes.

      Let’s have a conversation!

    • Black Girl Liz

      “Why is it that the Black women’s martial status is always under study?”

      Question of the year. Aren’t there more important things that need to be studied?

    • I think it’s under study because it seems like black woman are always the ones complaining about the lack of available good black men. They are talk about the issues they have being single and wanting marriage.

  • Bill "008"Timothy

    The laughable part to many Black women thought process is that many Black “college” educated women don’t become doctors, lawyers, etc., etc.., etc.. Many of them work jobs with a salary or hourly wage which is on par or less than Black men with a profession certificate, associates degree, military experience, or a combination of the three.

    Simple economics shows that Black women, even if they earn more than a Black man, after all expenses are paid out, has a lower retention of their net income. Many of times the largest chunk of their income goes towards paying off their student loan, then you add in rent/mortgage, and car payment, you have taken an even bigger chuck out of that paycheck; then you add credit cards balances, etc., etc.,. etc…

    At the end of the day, what “educated” Black women supposedly earn per month, very few of it stays in her pocket, and even less goes into savings.

  • There is also one other phenomena. Obesity at 75+% in the Black woman population . To my experience fit woman have more choices educated and uneducated. Ironically my gym is next to an IHOP. IHOP filled with Black Women. Gym. One ot two maybe. At best. Sometimes

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