Tag Archives: black men

African American marital status by age, Du Bois replication edition

At the 1900 Paris Exposition, sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois presented some the work of his students. In The Scholar Denied: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Birth of Modern Sociology, Aldon Morris writes:

Du Bois’s meticulousness as a teacher is apparent in the charts and graphs that he prepared with his students. For example, as part of his gold medal-winning exhibit for the 1900 Paris Exposition, Du Bois and his students produced detailed hand-drawn artistically colored graphs and charts that depicted the journey of black Georgians from slavery to freedom.

Some of collection is shown in this post at the Public Domain Review (shared by Tressie McMillan Cottom yesterday); the full collection is online at the Library of Congress (LOC).

The one that caught my eye was this, showing marital status (“conjugal condition”) by age and sex for the Black population. I can’t find the source details in the LOC record, so I don’t know if it’s Georgia or national, but I presume it’s from tabulations of 1890 decennial census or earlier:


It’s artistic and meticulous and clearly informative, beautiful. So I tried to make a 2015 update to complement it. I used data from the 2015 American Community Survey via IPUMS.org, and did it a little differently.* Most importantly, I added two more conjugal conditions, cohabiting and separated/divorced. Second, I used five-year age groupings all the way up, instead of ten. Third, I detailed the age groups up to age 85. Here’s what I got:

du bois marstat replication.xlsx

Some very big differences: Much smaller proportions of African Americans married now. Also, much later marriage. In the 1900 figure more than 30% of men and 60% of women have been married by age 25; those numbers are 5-6% now. I don’t know how they counted separated/divorced people in 1900, but those numbers are high now at 31% for women and 24% for men at age 60-64. Widowhood is later now, as 42% of women were widowed before age 65 in 1900, compared with only 13% now (of course, that’s off a lower marriage rate, and remarried people are just counted as married). And of course cohabitation, which the chart doesn’t show for 1900. Note I included people in same-sex as well as different-sex couples.

So, thanks for indulging me. I hope you don’t think it’s frivolous. I just love staring at the old charts, and going through the (very different) steps of replicating it was really satisfying. (I also just love that in another 100 years someone might look back on this and say, “Wait, which one was Earth again?”)

Note: If you want to compare them side-by-side, here’s a go at that. The age ranges don’t line up perfectly but you can get the idea (click to enlarge):

* SAS code, ACS data, images, and the spreadsheet used for this post are shared as an Open Science Framework project, here.


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When the map says race but all you can talk about is fatherhood

Raj Chetty and colleagues have a new paper showing that “childhood environments play an important role in shaping gender gaps in adulthood.” Essentially, boys from poor or or single parents are doing worse. Also, this gender difference is greater in Black and poor places.

The tricky thing with this data, and I don’t blame Chetty et al. for this, although I would like them to say more about it, is that they don’t know the race of the children. The data are from tax records, which allow you to know the income and marital status of the parents, but not the race. But they know where they grew up. So if they have a strong effect of the racial composition of the county kids grow up in, but they don’t know the race of the kids, you have to figure a big part of that is race of the kids — and by “you” I mean someone who knows anything about America.

So here’s their map of the gender difference in employment rates associated with having poor parents:


To help make the point, here is their list of local areas at the top and bottom of the map:


I hope that is enough to make the point for the demographically literate reader.

I credit them in this paper for at least using percent Black as a variable, which they oddly omitted from a previous analysis. This allows the careful reader to see that this is the most important local-area variable — which makes perfect sense because it is doing the work of the individual data, which doesn’t include race.



It’s important that these examples are all about employment rates. We know that the penalty for being a Black man is especially large for employment, partly because of the direct effects of mass incarceration, but also because of discrimination, some of which is directly related to incarceration and the rest of which may be affected by its aura. This is not something we measure well. Our employment reporting system does not include prison records. Prisoners are excluded from the Current Population Survey, but then included when they are released. So they show up as jobless (mostly) men.

Whenever you see something about how race affects poor men, you have to think hard about what incarceration is doing there — we can’t just rely on the data in front of us and assume it’s telling the whole story, when we know there is a massive influence not captured in the data.

This is exactly what marriage promoters delight in doing. I give just one example, a blog post by the Brookings Institution’s Richard Reeves, which — amazingly, astoundingly, remarkably, disappointingly, not surprisingly — discusses the effect of growing up poor and “less-educated” in Baltimore (Baltimore!) without once mentioning race or incarceration. Instead, he goes right to this:

Wanted: Fathers

Of course, there is much more to being a man than money: in fact, to define masculinity in breadwinning terms alone is a fatal move. As Barack Obama said on Fathers’ Day seven years ago, fathers are “teachers and coaches. They are mentors and role models.” But as he also said, “too many fathers are missing—missing from too many lives and too many homes.” In its poorest neighborhoods, America faces a fathering deficit, one that will make it even harder for the boys of today to make it as men in the new world.

Fatherhood is important. You could investigate a fathering deficit, but if you really cared about it you want to look at in the context of well-known, massive causes of harm to Black boys in America, chief among them racism and mass incarceration.



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Especially if they’re Black: A shortage of men for poor women to marry

One thing a lot of liberals and conservatives can agree on: not talking about race.

[If you don’t have time for the text, just skip to the figure.]

Liberals are happy when conservatives talk about inequality, which they’re doing a lot more these days. And when they debate marriage as a way to “cure” poverty, neither talks about race. For example, Annie Lowrey writes in the the NYT Magazine:

With Democrats and Republicans pitted against one another in a vicious election-year battle over how to alleviate poverty, marriage is the policy solution du jour.

First, Lowrie makes the now universal mistake in interpreting the famous Chetty et al. result:

In a new study, the economist Raj Chetty and his co-authors found that, in terms of income mobility, nothing matters more for a low-income child than the family structures she sees in her community — not neighborhood segregation, school quality or a host of other factors.

Traditionally in America, when you say “a host of other factors,” that includes race. But the Chetty et al. paper is nearly unique in its avoidance of race, partly because race isn’t specified in tax records. So “nothing matters more” is at best untested, and at worst completely wrong, since race isn’t in the model. (My argument on this is here).

To those of us old enough to remember, or have read stuff from, the 1980s, not including race in this conversation is bizarre. Of course, it is not crazy to talk about poverty as an issue. In that article, Kristi Williams is right when she says:

It isn’t that having a lasting and successful marriage is a cure for living in poverty. Living in poverty is a barrier to having a lasting and successful marriage.

But the article doesn’t address the hard demographic reality that the things that make marriage less available or attractive to poor women — Lowrey lists “globalization, the decline of labor unions, technological change and other tidal economic forces” — have done it much more for Black women, even among the poor. In addition to even worse job prospects, for Black men you need to add incarceration, mortality, and intermarriage rates much higher for men than for women.

Here’s a simple way to see this. Adapting the old formula from William Julius Wilson, I counted up the number of employed, non-married men per non-married woman (employed or not) in the age range 25-34, separately for Blacks and Whites, and by education, for the 50 biggest metropolitan areas (one not shown because of data shortage, one outlier excluded). With intermarriage rates so low for Black women, and the tendency not to marry men without jobs, this is a reasonable approximation of the marriage market for Black women, though it understates the number of men available to White women.

This is the result:


Dots in the green areas show relative surpluses of men. Dots under the red line show better markets for White women than for Black women. It takes a minute to figure out. If your jaw dropped, you got it. With or without college degrees Black women face a shortage of “mariageable” men in every single market except five (Portland OR, Minneapolis, Denver, Salt Lake City, and Providence, which was the outlier not shown). For college graduates Black women are under 75 men per 100 women in all but two markets, non-graduates are under 75 in 40 out of 48.

White women’s market is better than Black women’s in all but six (those five plus Sacramento). In most cases White women graduates have a surplus of men from which to choose.

Poverty is one thing. Race is another. They overlap, but on some questions they can’t be combined. Marriage is one of those issues. So, when you talk about the shortage of men to marry, I recommend remembering race.

Note: After I made this graph, Joanna Pepin and I decided to write a paper together on this. That is still in the pipeline, and I was going to save this for when it’s ready. But there will be plenty more.


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Correction: Black and White marriage pools

Correcting an old figure.

For several years I have been using a figure that shows the disparity in marriage pools for Black versus White women. I’ve used it here and here, and who knows where else (certainly in class). As I was updating it with the latest data I realized I had two of the rows in my – wait for it – Excel spreadsheet reversed, so the ratio for White women was wrong. The old one showed unmarried White women with a surplus of available employed men, compared with a large deficit for Black women. The corrected figure merely shows Black women with a much larger deficit.

So here is it corrected (and I corrected it on the old pages as well).


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

Family Inequality regrets the error.


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Unfreedom update: 2010 incarceration stats

I can’t teach my course on family sociology without these graphs, which show the rise of the unfree population, and the incredible race/ethnic and gender disparities behind them.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics has released Correctional Population in the United States, 2010, which updates my standard figures. First, the total trend toward unfreedom in the population — from less than 2 million in 1980 to more than 7 million 30 years later:

And second, to understand the disparate impact of this change on Black men in young adulthood primarily — and secondarily, Latino men — here are the rates of incarceration for men by age and race/ethnicity (Blacks here exclude Latinos; Asians and American Indians are not included in the statistics):

Just to make sure you read the scale right, that incarceration rate for Black men in their early 30s is 9,892 per 100,000, or 9.9%, or one-in-ten — more than five-times the rate for White men.

I come at this largely from its effects on families. In a nutshell: The overall trend is largely a consequence of how the U.S. has waged its drug war over this period; these policies fit into a web of practices that deny families to millions of people in the U.S. (only a minority of whom have been convicted of crimes), including by simply removing men from communities and increasing the number of single-parent families.

All that said, you may notice the little decline at the end of that long upward trend in the first figure. In fact, for the first time since 1980, there has been a decline in the incarcerated population for two years running. There has been a long-term decline in crime, but I don’t know whether that is more important than the budget crises facing so many states, or the diminished lust for locking people up. In New York, for example, seven incarceration facilities were closed in the last year, after the number of prisoners dropped about one-fifth in the past decade:

The inmate decline followed a 25 percent statewide drop in crime over the past decade and revisions in sentencing laws that allowed earlier releases and alternative programs for nonviolent drug offenders. The number of prisoners in medium-security prisons declined almost 20 percent from 2001 to 2010 while those in minimum-security facilities dropped 57 percent.

The numbers on the charts are still off the charts, meanwhile — and remember these are just those in the system now. Many more people (and their families) live lives permanently hampered by criminal records and the experience of imprisonment.


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Black men’s marriages

An in-depth look at how some Black men see their marriages.

Research on marriage trends, and the reasons behind them, tends to focus on the decline in marriage — especially among African Americans. That’s not crazy, given the dramatic nature of those trends:

Source: My chart from U.S. Census Bureau data.

Now the working paper series from Bowling Green State University’s National Center for Family and Marriage Research features a new paper that examines interviews with about 50 married Black men in Atlanta: how they see the role and meaning of marriage in their lives, how their views have changed, and how they think cultural views have changed around them.

The author, Tera Hurt, who works at the University of Georgia on a project called Promoting Strong Families, describes four (positive) themes in the views of her respondents:

  • Lifelong commitment: “Without my wife, I really don’t know how to live without my wife. She has been there my whole life.”
  • Enhanced life success: “I strongly believe that my wife is the key to my success. She keeps me grounded.”
  • Secure emotional support: “Friendship, meaning my wife is a person who I can sit down and talk with and would come to me and talk about things and we know it’s between us.”
  • Secure attachment: “[I]t means that you won’t be lonely when you get old for one thing, and you can live in the joy and the comfort of knowing that when you get old or dreaming that when you get old, you’re going to have a friend.”

The focus on Black women‘s marriage travails are “becoming grating,” says Ta-Nehisi Coates in Essence,

not because Black women don’t have their share of struggle, but because of the lack of agency that runs through them all, this sense that Black women are there to be acted upon, to wait by the phone. There’s almost an objectifying quality to the whole discussion.

The same could be said for the men’s side of the discussion. But this is a helpful study for keeping the trends in perspective.

Aside: Amazingly, but utterly normally, an in-depth paper on the benefits of marriage doesn’t mention the role of state recognition. Maybe (probably?) none of the men mentioned that aspect of marriage in their interviews. Does that mean it’s not important? It is quite central in the homogamy debate. So that’s just the way normative statuses are (even when marriage has become much less common among African Americans).

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