Tag Archives: black women

Gloria and her money, analyticized

This isn’t going to help with America’s statistical deficits.

Gloria is the name of a character who appears in some ads for Well Fargo financial advising services. I’m guessing she’s a little shy of 66 years old — partly because of the nature of her family situation, and also because the last spike in popularity for the name Gloria was in 1945, when it reached #23 among American girls born.

Anyway, she’s standing on her deck overlooking the beach. She’s thinking of a pie chart in which expenses (son’s medical school; trip to Paris), time (with grandson; volunteering), and lifelong goals (run a marathon) somehow add up to 100% of the pie.

That image is part of a dynamic montage. But if you poke around the website you can find a flyer version of Gloria’s story. For some reason her mental pie chart has changed now, with an additional pie slice added for “remodel kitchen.” Naturally, the rest of the slices are smaller now.

The copy makes no mention of her family situation, but speaks only of “getting you to your dreams.” Is she single? Black women do have lower marriage rates than average, but more than 80% of Black women in her generation have been married. And she has a son who’s going to medical school, apparently one of her dreams.

The story becomes more clear (even though the picture isn’t) after checking Gloria’s appearance in my print edition of the New Yorker. Now she’s dropped the kitchen remodel from her dreams and added “care for parents.”

But what of a husband? In the New Yorker copy we finally read: “Between paying for her son’s medical school, working, and volunteering, Gloria has a lot going on in her life. But she knows someday it will be just her and her husband, James. With the help of their Financial Advisor, they are preparing for all the things they want to do.”

Now it’s just strange that her husband — who will someday be all there is in her pie chart — is not reflected in her minds-eye chart at all. It’s especially odd given that her life just got more complicated — with not only a grandson she spends time with and a son she supports, but also parents she cares for. (She no longer needs to run a marathon to impress me!)

This is either a very sophisticated kind of marketing — in which different marks in different contexts are fed highly specialized images and narratives — or it’s just a sloppy and random packaging of stereotypical assumptions.

Is this an odd juxtaposition of selfless dreams (volunteer, grandson, care for parents) and self-centered aims (travel, remodel) — or just a well-balanced retirement?

Regardless, it represents the sad degradation of our numeracy, where things are just randomly turned into charts, generating a vague sense of precision for no substantial reason, just tipping us a little further toward noise, away from signal.

Here’s another example, from that busy section of front matter in the New York Times magazine, in which the size of the circles may represent the number of times each story has been blogged. But what does the overlap in the circles represent? Nothing. It’s just there to justify labeling the figure “analytics.” The image provides no more information than a five-item bullet list.


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Quick update: Black-White women’s employment gap

The new employment realities.

Nancy Folbre’s good new post on the Super Sad True Jobs Story reminded me that I haven’t updated the Black-White women’s employment gap graph since last fall.

As you may recall, before the recession Black women had higher employment rates than White women. Since the summer of 2009 that’s been reversed, and has stayed that way for almost two years. Here’s the graph (data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics):

I can’t face the prospect of making up terms to match Mancession and Hecovery for this race pattern. But you get the idea.

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Weathering health inequality

A hypothesis with legs.

In the early 1990s, Arline Geronimus proposed a simple yet profound explanation for why Black women on average were having children at younger ages than White women, which she called the “weathering hypothesis.”

It goes like this: Racial inequality takes a cumulative toll on Black women, increasing the chance they will have health problems at younger ages. So, early childbearing might pose health risks for White women, but for Black women it makes more sense to start earlier — before their health declines. Although it’s hard to measure the motivations of people having children, her suggestion was that early childbearing reflected a combination of cumulative cultural wisdom and individual adaptation (for example, reacting to the health problems experienced by their 40-something mothers).

She showed the pattern nicely with data from Michigan in 1989, in which the percentage of first births that were “very low birthweight,” increased with the age of Black women, but decreased for White women, through their twenties:

Source: My graph from Geronimus (1996).

If the hypothesis is correct, she reasoned, the pattern would be stronger among poor women, who experience more health problems, which is also what she found.

The most recent national data, for 2007, continue to show Black women have their first children, on average, younger than White women: age 22.7 versus 26.0. And the infant mortality rates, by mothers’ age, also show the lowest risk for White women at older ages than for Black women:

Source: My graph from CDC data.

Note that, for White women, mothers have children in the early thirties face less than half the infant-mortality risk of those having children as teenagers. For Black women, waiting till their lowest-risk age — the late 20s — yields only a 14% reduction in infant mortality risk. So it looks like waiting is much more important for White women, at least as far as health conditions are concerned.

The implications are profound. If you base your perceptions on the White pattern, it makes sense to discourage early childbearing for health reasons. But if you look at the Black pattern, it becomes more important to try to improve health problems at early ages — and all the things that contribute to them — rather than (or in addition to) trying to delay first births.

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More marriage predictions gone awry

If the nuts and bolts of demography aren’t for you, may as well save yourself and move on to something else. On the other hand, if you do like this maybe you should consider this whole demography thing for yourself.

Following up my previous rumination on marriage projections, I’ve noticed that another landmark prediction from the past underestimated the eventual number of marriages among Black women Baby Boomers. Paul Glick, a famous Census demographer, predicted in 1984, based on 1980 data, that 75% of Black women born in the early 1950s would eventually marry. Among those who were still alive in March 2010, however, 83% were ever-married. Since they are now only in their 50s and 60s, another 5% or so may still marry.

A 1992 Census report by Arthur Norton and Louisa Miller (which someone thankfully took the trouble to preserve on the website), reiterated Glick’s projections for the same group of women. Noting that, as of 1990, 75% of Black women in their late 30s had ever married, they wrote:

“Assuming that the small amount of first marriages that have taken place after age 40, both among Black and White women, will remain the pattern for the near future, less than 3 out of 4 Black women will eventually marry, compared with at least 9 out of 10 White women.”

In fact, that 75% mark has now been reached by Black women born in the first half of the 1960s, who were the next cohort coming along as Norton and Miller wrote.

That might not seem like such a big error — some 10 percentage points — but  the alarm that was sounded at the time was quite extreme, with the likes of David Popenoe (in 1993) referring to a crisis on the scale of “‘end-of-the-line’ family change.” Revising that number from 75% up to 85% might mean they should have cut the alarm volume in half.

Incidentally, that Glick article has been cited 117 times, and no one appears to have pointed out that the Black projection didn’t quite pan out. It’s asking a lot to hold people to their predictions from 1984 all the way forward to 2010. So this isn’t about blame, but about correcting the past and maybe improving predictions for the future.

The Norton and Miller report suggests that the problem lies in underestimating later-life first marriages, especially among Black women. Another, grimmer possibility is that never-married Black women are substantially more likely to die young than those who are married, which would lead to an increase in ever-married women living at older ages, even if there are on more marriages.

So, my two questions — for someone who knows, or for someone who wants to do some new research — are: what’s up with later-life marriage among Black women? And, does mortality vary a lot by marital status among middle-aged Black women? And, since this is a blog post rather than traditional, boring, peer-reviewed academia, we’ll need that answer within a couple hours.


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Why aren’t marriages getting happier?

Marriage has changed. People’s happiness within marriage hasn’t (much).

You might think, that with all the change in marriage since the 1960s, marriage in the U.S. would have changed more. For example, earnings shares have grown more equal, even among those with children; men are doing more housework while women are doing less. At the same time, marriage has become more selective, with marriage fates falling and divorce rates higher than than they were before the 1970s. And cohabitation has become a more common and acceptable option, providing an alternative for people who don’t want to marry.

You might argue that the increasing equality within marriage would make women happier and men sadder in their marriages. But either way, the increase in divorce and cohabitation should cut down on the proportion of marriages that are unhappy — marriage is effectively more optional than it was 50 years ago.

That’s why I was surprised to read that responses to the General Social Survey since 1973 show no trend toward greater happiness, in response to the question, “Taking all things together, how would you describe your marriage?” (The choices for response were, “very happy” [3], “pretty happy” [2], and “not too happy” [1]). And, even though marriage rates are now much lower for African Americans than for Whites, the race-gender ordering of happiness with marriage has remained close to the same:

Source: My analysis of data from the General Social Survey. The data points are shown as circles, while the lines show five-year moving averages, to reduce noise in the trends.

I say “close to” the same, because of the upward drift in Black women‘s happiness — which would be more clear if not for that very bad data point in 2008. Anyway, the analysis by Mamadi Corra and colleagues, which ended with the 2006 data (I added 2008), confirmed that the race-gender ordering was not accounted for by age, children, income, education or religion.

This reminds me of the recent paper by Sean Lauer and Carrie Yodanis, who argue that much of the change affecting marriage as an institution has involved changes outside the institution — such as cohabitation, homogamy (same-sex couples), and divorce. In fact, they believe, it’s more realistic to describe norms for behavior and relations within marriage as more stable than changing in recent decades. In my opinion, the empirical case is a glass half-full/empty situation, but their theoretical argument is interesting, and maybe evidence like these happiness trends supports it.


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Married, more and less

We complete the lines for another decade.

It’s that time again, when the Census Bureau announces the release of data on family and marriage from the March Current Population Survey. This year we complete our decade trends. This includes one of the longest running series, the estimated age at which men and women marry for the first time (if they do). With no further ado, from 1890 to 2010:

Source: My chart from Census data.

The decade was a pretty big one for the 50-year trend of increasing age at marriage, which is at all-time highs for both men and women.

Note this is not really the age at which people married last year, but rather an estimate of age at which half of the population expected to ever marry has ever been married, I think. If that’s confusing, don’t blame me, blame Shryon and Siegel (p. 292). As I mentioned the other day, we can’t know for sure how many people will ever get married, though chances are it’s at least 90% overall (plus or minus a few million). Unless that changes.

Anyway, the latest numbers are also a chance to revisit the shocking disparity in marriage rates between Black and (non-Hispanic) White women, shown here by age:

Source: My chart from Census data.

That gap in the 30-34 age range is more than 32 percentage points.

In that 30-34 age range, not coincidentally, the Current Population Survey counts a whopping 120 Black women for every 100 Black men — but even numbers of White women men. That presumably reflects a combination of mortality and institutionalization (since prisoners in particular aren’t included in the survey), though it could have something to do with racial identification, since I’m using the “Black only” and “White only” categories, excluding the small percentage that report more than one race.

Anyways, I just happened to be talking in class about one of those 28-year-old men who got married this year…

…and his  bride. (Couples in the Times wedding section are fair game for sociology class so they make great material, including in this case fine photos.) As it happens, she was older than average for a first marriage, at 31 — one of the growing population of highly educated women whose marriages come after their careers have gotten going, which in her case includes vital medical work in Haiti, which postponed the wedding a little. I wish them well, and thanks for the photo.


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Past predictions (marriage dreams not quite true)

Thoughts for the demographer in all of us. And a shout-out to those demography readers, if any, who enjoy predictions, projections, and forecasts.

Demographers have a very useful way of imagining the future as a quality of the present. Because the present always implies a future (and here I think you could add “going forward” without being completely redundant). This imaginative act may be mathematically accomplished, but — if you can feel it — it’s as emotionally compelling as gripping dystopian fiction.

Demographers see past and future states in the present (Taipei, 2010).

The most common uses of this technique are life expectancies and total fertility rates. For these calculations, demographers line up current events by the age of the population in a spreadsheet (deaths by age or births by age), and press PLAY to produce a future based on constant repetition of the present. So they’re not really telling me I’ve got 35 years left — they’re telling me that if I lived 2006 over and over again as I age — 100,000 times — my average self would live 35 more years.

Looking at things this way gives a forward-looking description of the present, but it also sometimes actually does a good job of predicting the future. However, the prediction only works when things aren’t changing radically. So if they cure cancer and heart disease in the next few years, all of us 40+-year-olds will get a new lease on life expectancy.

And, on the fertility side, if everyone decides to put off childbearing for a year or two because of the recession, but then gets back on track once the Tea Party fixes everything, our fertility estimates will be way off for a couple of years.

Forecast: Higher education with a chance of marriage

Marriage is one of those things that’s hard to forecast because the dynamics of the institution are changing rapidly (in generational terms). So, we can tell you that — for the first time in spreadsheet-recorded history — never-married young adults (age 25-34) now outnumber those who are married. But we can’t tell you how many of them will eventually get married; that future has yet to occur, and, unlike mortality, is not certain.

In 2001, Joshua Goldstein and Catherine Kenney took a courageous stab at forecasting the eventual lifetime marriage rates for American Baby Boomers — people born between 1946 and 1964. Their paper in the American Sociological Review has been cited an even 100 times as of today, making it highly influential and worth reading. The two take-home points remain useful and true:

  • About 90% of Boomers would eventually marry, though starting at later ages than in the past. (In fact, women born in 1946 have already surpassed 93% ever-married, by my calculations.)
  • Paradoxically, lifetime marriage rates will be higher for college-educated women — although it might seem they need marriage less. This has also come to pass.

But their predictions are coming in quite low, especially for Black women.* I have no idea why, but their forecasts have Black women’s marriage rates falling even faster than they actually have. Here are the predictions from the paper — for lifetime ever-married rates — and the actual percentage married as of 2007 (based on 2006-2008 pooled samples from the American Community Survey, courtesy of IPUMS):

So, to interpret the graph, for example, their prediction was that 85% of Black women born in the late 1940s would eventually marry at some point. As of 2007, when those women were about 60 years old, that is exactly how many of them have been married. That wasn’t such a hard prediction, though, since most of those marriages took place before the data for their model were collected (1995).

Why are Black women from the later cohorts getting married at higher rates than predicted? I have no idea. But seeing as the youngest cohort they studied are only in their late-40s now, their prediction can only get further off (since people can never get un-ever-married).

Finally, to show the difficulty in predicting this kind of thing, consider the ever-married rates, by age, among my 2006-2008 sample — a simple cross-section of the current population:

Source: My chart from ACS data from IPUMS.

This shows you how different the Black population is from the other major race-ethnic groups, and it also shows how fast things are changing.** More than 90% of 80-year-old Black women have been married (although note differential survival may be an an issue), but only 50% of those age 33 have been married.

Technically, those 33-year-olds have 47 years to catch up to their grandparents — who got married in the 1950s. And that is one kind of prediction you could make: “Almost all of today’s 80-year-olds married, so today’s youth will, too.” But it seems unlikely. And since there is method — not just math — behind the demographic madness, we don’t do predictions that way. If you can figure it out, though, I’ll devote a blog post to you.

* Note that Goldstein and Kenney anticipated that, if their predictions were off, they were likely to underestimate rather than overestimate marriage rates.

** I say “population” even though the data are for women. That’s an old, sexist demographic convention. Marriage rates for men are pretty similar.


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Black-White employment gaps drag on

Since the recession dropped Black women’s employment rates below White women’s, the new gap persists. And for men it’s widening.

When last we checked, Black women had an employment rate about 1% lower than White women, which was a reversal of their status before the recession. No progress to report.

The news on unemployment doesn’t dwell on this disparity, maybe (charitably) since it’s such old news. As of September, both groups are trending downward, and the gap is 0.7%.

Source: My chart from BLS data.

In contrast, Black men had lower employment rates before the recession (62% v. 72% in October 2008). But the drop has still been greater for Black men.

Source: My chart from BLS data.

Note that, given the uncertainty in unemployment benefits and the propensity to be discouraged during the jobless recovery, I prefer to follow employment rates rather than unemployment (officially searching) rates.

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Marriage and divorce disparities

Pairing up and paring down, by race/ethnicity and class.

Social scientists have been talking about a “retreat from marriage” for at least 20 years. The overall pattern is a decline in marriage and rise in cohabitation, a delay in marriage to later ages, and high rates of divorce (even though overall divorce rates are well below their historic highs, they remain high).

With the possible exception of divorce (for now), the recession seems to be hurrying this process along dramatically, as has been widely reported. As usual, there is a symbolic milestone to point out: never-married 25-34-year-olds now outnumber those currently married for the first time.

Source: My graph from Census data reported here.

The National Center for Marriage and Family Research just released two quick reports based on the latest American Community Survey from the Census Bureau, one on divorce and one on marriage.  To me the most dramatic contrast in those reports is the race-ethnic divide, apparent in both marriage rates, which show African Americans with by far the fewest marriages per never-married woman…

…and by far the highest rates of divorce (expressed as divorces per 1,000 women in first marriages):

These wide race-ethnic disparities are partly explained by income and education differences. A new report from the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) shows that the “retreat from marriage” is much more pronounced among those who haven’t finished college — especially in the last 20 years.

Still, the causal stories are not so simple, as recent academic reviews of both marriage and divorce make clear.

One issue beyond income and education is the within-race gender imbalances in urban areas with high concentrations of African Americans — which, combined with low rates of intermarriage, make for very tough marriage markets for Black women:


Number of Employed, Unmarried Men per 100 Unmarried Women, Ages 25-34: 2009-2011.

Source: American Community Survey data from IPUMS. Note: Whites are single-race and exclude Latinos; Blacks are alone or in combination with other races.

The PRB report is pessimistic about the consequences of this recent rapid change:

…most researchers agree that marriage also has an independent, positive effect on well-being. Therefore, the recent decline in marriage may contribute to worse outcomes for less educated individuals [and their children -PNC], beyond those resulting from the recent recession.

Using politics and policy reverse long-term tides in marriage and family behavior is not effective. And attempting to build/rebuild families to address the consequences of poverty and isolation risks contributing to bad things — including stigmatizing gays/lesbians and single parents, and ignoring the needs of those who have no families. The retreat from marriage is only as harmful as the social circumstances of non-marriage, which are mutable.


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Single, Black and middle class

My friend Kris Marsh, who was a post-doctoral scholar here at UNC and is now on the faculty at U. of Maryland at College Park, is featured in a Washington Post story on the Black middle class in Prince George’s County, MD.

The story is about the growing presence of unmarried Black women in the county’s middle class. Kris is an expert in more ways than one, since her research also tracks the Black middle class.

When she was here, she (along with me and several others) published a paper on the growing presence of “Single And Living Alone” households among the Black middle class.

We counted people as middle class according to these criteria:

  1. Someone in the household graduated 4-year college
  2. Living in own home (not renting)
  3. Per-person income above the Black median.
  4. Highest occupation in household exceeds Black median.

Among the Black middle class defined this way, SALAs are a growing presence, especially among those under 35.

Source: New graph from the paper.

The Post article focuses on the local concentration of SALAs in P.G. County. It’s also good timing for the release of Kris’s latest article (with John Iceland), on residential segregation among SALA households.

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