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.

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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