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College fails to lower divorce for black women

RUTGERS (US) — A college education is linked to lower divorce rates for white women, but black women are not getting the same benefit, a study shows.

“African-American women don’t seem to enjoy the same degree of protection that education confers on marriage,” says Jeounghee Kim, assistant professor at Rutgers University’s School of Social Work.

“For white Americans, higher education is related to a lower chance of divorce, and this protective effect of education on marriage increased consistently among the recent generations. But for African-American women, higher education is not necessarily related to a lower chance of divorce.”

Previous research shows that the overall divorce rate has leveled off since the 1980s after more than a century-long rise.

But the rate has increasingly diverged by race and socioeconomic class, as measured by educational attainment. The divorce rate has remained steady for white women since 1980, while the trend has been less stable for African-American women.

Changes in education and marriage

Kim separately studied white and African-American women in five-year marriage cohorts starting from 1975 to 1979 and ending in 1995 to 1999. She took into account demographic characteristics including age, motherhood status and post-secondary education (associate degree at minimum) when married, and geographic region.

Kim also measured marital dissolution (within nine years of first marriage) rather than by legal divorce, which many African-American women eschew in favor of a permanent separation.

Kim’s analysis, published in the journal Family Relations, shows that the percentage of white women with some postsecondary education continuously increased throughout the cohorts. This was not the case with African-American women, whose educational attainment peaked in the 1985-1994 cohorts before declining.

She also found the percentage of white women having marital breakups declined throughout the study period, while African-American women experienced an increase in the 1980s’ cohort before declining in the 1990 to 1994 cohort.

Kim’s findings were consistent with much existing literature: women with higher levels of education, and thus greater earning potential, would make more attractive marriage partners than women without in more recent marriage cohorts. Also, their marriages tend to last longer than those of their counterparts—particularly among white women—with less education.

Higher earnings

Kim’s research raises questions as to why African-American women’s higher education does not have a strong marriage protective effect.

“One possibility is that college education does not translate into the higher earnings that would help protect marriage for African Americans,” she says.

“Another could be that educational attainment may be insufficient to address the high levels of economic inequality that even well-educated African Americans experience. Many are the first in their families to have attained a post-secondary education and do not benefit from the cushion of intergenerational wealth possessed by some white families.”

A third possibility involves the gender gap in African Americans’ educational attainment; there are nearly twice as many African-American women college graduates as men. “We see the increasing power of education protecting marriage within the same socioeconomic class,” Kim says.

“Well-educated white women may still have power to select an equally well-educated mate. Then, there may be a synergy factor—higher incomes, better and healthier lives, smarter kids—that helps sustain their marriage.

“On the other hand, the return on higher education may not be the same for many African-American women, who have less chance to marry their educational equals. Also, because they are less likely to marry outside their race, their choices are limited.”

The Silberman Fund Faculty Grant Program supported the research.

Source: Rutgers University

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7 Comments

  1. Tina

    Well, we just need to work harder to earn more income. That’s all.

  2. Joe

    Yikes!

  3. leo kim

    thank you for giving the interesting article about the difference between black and white women that i thought . i wonder how about yellow woman? middle of black and white women ?

  4. NiaTrue

    There is another important factor that this article ignores: Wealthy white women often choose not to divorce in order to protect/maintain their social status, as divorce often results in lower socioeconomic status for women. They simply decide they’d rather be miserably married than live with less money or social status.

  5. Malcolm

    as a black man i have to say many of my black female friends are doing great things…two friends of mine are in medical school, one close friend of mine was just accepted into law school and a few others in graduate school. being a black college educated male i can honestly say that i feel grateful to be here because many of my peers, who were raised with the same love, tools and resources such as i was in my youth, have since strayed and went down different paths that lead to prison, lack of ambition, or the grave. So the brothas have to step it up and also the sistas who are educated don’t forget where you come instill in the youth so that the success will continue through the generations….many of us become successful and forget our plight, our origin and our people…..GOD bless everyone

  6. DEB

    I LOVE HOW THE THE ARTICLE SPOKE ON THE FAILURE OF MARRIAGE AMONG WOMEN BUT LEFT THE MEN OUT AS IT WE WERE IN THE MARRIAGES ALONE. IT TAKES 2 PEOPLE, A MAN AND A WOMEN AND UNTILL YOU CAN STUDY THEM BOTH YOUARE ONLY LOOKING AT 1/2 THE PROBLEM

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