Black couples & divorce: Why is the divorce rate for Blacks so high in the U.S.?

Why do black couples have such a high rate of divorce and what can be done about this?

When I heard, earlier this year, that there was something called “Black Marriage Day” I was completely taken aback.

Despite grim statistics, Black couples can defy divorce

Why did there need to be a special day for Black couples who are married as compared to any other racial or ethnic group? I mean, how would “White Marriage Day” sound or feel or look? The idea of a day specially reserved for black married couples made me feel more than just a little bit uncomfortable. But then I thought about it, and I read some of the stats – one particularly disturbing one puts the divorce rate for Black couples at close to 70%! – and it’s pretty grim because the divorce rate does not even count the number of black couples who are separated (whether legally or not) but not divorced, and so do not cohabit with each other . It certainly looks like there may be an issue of fact here with regard to, first of all, the rate of marriage among American Blacks as compared to the rest of the population, and then the rate of divorce. Seems there is a lower marriage rate for Black couples, and a higher rate of divorce and these numbers have been deteriorating since the 1970’s. This trend is particularly worrisome for the children of these broken marriages.

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Interestingly, one study even studied the effect of divorce on children and found a difference in how, say, White kids respond to divorce as compared to Black kids. Of course, you can’t believe everything you read and studies done by different researchers can yield diametrically different conclusions. But there was definitely one study I read that concluded that White kids are more affected by divorce than Black kids (would have thought it was the other way around)  since, I guess, there is more to lose when a White father leaves his family, than, say a Black father. It is almost expected that the Black father will leave (assuming he was ever there to begin with) whether because he becomes incarcerated, or because he simply leaves for reasons only he knows and comprehends, or, he and the children’s mother get divorced. Who can deny that there is a stereotype of the single black mother who is left behind by a man, whether he’s her lover or was her husband, to fend for under-parented children?
Notwithstanding the studies that take a contrarian viewpoint about which group is more affected, the grim divorce statistics for black couples is particularly unforgiving to black children. Although, as was mentioned earlier, some researchers find that their economic situation is only marginally worsened when a father leaves, as compared to White children whose economic situation takes a more dramatic hit when a father leaves due to divorce.

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Whatever the true facts are with regard to which racial group of children is more affected by divorce, it is definitely a fact that in the child support part of the typical family court in this country, Black mother’s are over-represented, and Black children are more in need of the court’s intervention, and it is black children who are more often than not the ones to end up, at least proportionately, on the welfare rolls. It is the Black mother (even if she was once married to the father) who will more likely be fighting in court for child support, whereas the average White mother may not be able to live at the same standard she was while married but at least she doesn’t have to fight for child support too. The White father, it appears, is less likely to be a deadbeat dad, post-matrimony. At least, that is the perception if one looks solely at the population of the average family court’s child support part.

Unpleasant statistics. No doubt. But the fact that something like “Black Marriage Day” exists, probably says all that needs to be said about the state of Black marriage and Black traditional families in this country. Black married couples, it appears, are a rare breed and with rising divorce rates across the country and world (2008-2010 saw an overall drop in the divorce rate worldwide) Black married couples may even become an endangered species.
We know the effects. But what is the cause? Many people explain the steep divorce rate among black couples as one of the remnants of slavery. Back in the day, Black families and black couples were a misnomer. Slaves were sold at will of their owners and “families” were routinely broken up. After a few hundred years of this, it somehow got into the DNA that “family” was transient; and so people in the affected group disassociated, distanced themselves and even discouraged building deep bonds for fear that at any moment, their entire world would be snatched away. One cannot completely dismiss this theory. But is it the only reason why black marriage  and divorce rates are what they are? And even so, what can be done about this problem to shore up black couples and encourage more marriages and discourage more divorces among black couples? How can black couples take the power into their own hands to save their own relationships, families and marriages?
Here are ten or so things I would say to a married black couple who was having marriage trouble and was contemplating divorce. Don’t know if it would make a difference and it probably seems preachy but here goes:

1. Black couple: You can do better than this. You have the power within the nucleus of your marital relationship to have a lasting marriage if you commit harder to your marriage.
2. Black couple: You are not alone. Even though the statistics are so grim, there are others like you who are in lasting marriages. If they can do it, so can you.
3. Black couple: If you work on making this marriage work and you refuse to be a part of a negative statistic, it will make the ancestors so proud; they will smile to see that a privilege and a right to marry, that they could never have taken for granted, is held sacrosanct by you. Fight harder, fight harder!
4. Black couple: Shake off the slavery mentality. You can’t change the past but you can free yourself mentally from its shackles and hang on to your family with every fibre in your being. It’s worth the sacrifice and family is good; it’s good for everyone – you, your spouse, your children, society, the world.
5. Black couple: Associate with others like you on a regular basis to reaffirm that committed relationships for people like you are possible and probable and can be achieved. Heck, sign up for Black Marriage Day if you need that additional support.
6. Black couple: Believe in something bigger than yourself. Never cease to pray on your relationship and on your family staying in tact.
7. Black couple: Choose a partner well. It is not enough that your partner is also “black”. Even among those of the same ethnic group, there can be incompatibility. Being black is not enough. It may be an important beginning point, but a successful relationship that lasts will take more than just that the two of you are Black.
8. Black couple: You are lucky. If you manage to find each other at all in this crazy world, you are blessed. Hang on to each other. Own that relationship. Represent. Don’t let go.
9. Black couple: Accept that it is probably true that you will have to work five times as hard to hang on to the relationship/marriage/family but just do it, no excuses.
10.Black couple: Seek help if you need it. As a group you are probably less likely to get marriage counseling but if it will save your marriage it’s worth it. There is nothing wrong with getting help if you need it.
11. Black couple: Invest heavily in the notion that marriage is good for children because it is. If you are going to have children, and you were lucky enough to find a marriage partner to do it with, hang on even tighter because marriage is good for children; it’s much, much better than a one-parent home.
12. Black couple: Believe that there is nothing “unique” or “unusual” about a Black marriage lasting for a lifetime. It happens routinely in other parts of the world, like parts of Africa, the Caribbean and Pan America. In these populations (admittedly monolithically Black in most instances) the divorce rate is well under 50 per cent! So, slavery or not, there is nothing endemic to blacks that makes them less able to sustain a life long, lasting marriage. It is in your DNA to want a cohesive family unit and to be capable of sustaining a cohesive family unit, notwithstanding the very grim statistics that suggest the contrary. BELIEVE. And then, do.

Well, that’s it for my words of wisdom. Hope that helps a little bit. If I think of anything else, I will definitely update this piece. What do you think about this post? Does it make sense? Does it not make sense? Tell us!
NEXT ARTICLE: Is MARRIAGE A Financial Trap for Successful Black Men?
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