Why Black Women Don’t Marry Non-Black Men

Tuesday I explained that black women often remain unmarried, and yesterday that they frequently marry less educated or lower earning men.

Today, we turn another puzzle that is explored in my book, Is Marriage for White People?: why black women don’t marry men of other races. Black women are only half or less as likely as black men to marry across race lines, and only a third or less as likely as Asian Americans and Latinos to marry across race lines. Black women’s intimate segregation is often compared to that of Asian American men, but in fact Asian American men marry interracially much more frequently than do black women.

Although the gender gap in African American intermarriage is generally assumed to be longstanding, it is not. As recently as 1960, according to census data, black women were as likely as black men to wed across the race line. (At that time, intermarriage was legal in most states, though Loving v Virginia did not make it legal in all states until 1967.)

So why have black men become so much more likely than black women to wed a person of another race?

The answer comes in two parts: supply and demand. Simply put, there is less demand for black women on the part of potential other race partners. Practically every study of internet dating, for example, has found that black women are the least preferred group of partners in the view of nonblack men.

But lack of demand is not the entire explanation. Even if say, half of nonblack men declined to date or marry black women, there are still more potential nonblack partners for black women than there are black women. Indeed, the internet dating studies confirm that the possibilities for interracial romance are greater for black women than for black men!

A big part of the reason that black women do not intermarry is that they do not want to. In the book I unravel the multifaceted desires and fears that keep black women the most segregated group of people in the nation, but in this brief post I emphasize only one factor: for many black women, to marry across the race line feels like a betrayal of the race, as though they are leaving behind black men who, these women know all too well, are among the most disadvantaged group of people in society. Many successful black women want not to abandon black men, but instead to lift as they climb. For these women, the personal is most definitely political.