After a recent report by the United Negro College Fund found that black women are enrolling in college at higher rates than every other race/ethnic group, the reaction was mixed. While many were elated to hear that sisters were strapping on their backpacks and hitting campuses across the country, others wondered if the spike in college enrollment was contributing to the lower marriage rates for black women.
Writing for the pro-interracial marriage blog, Beyond Black and White, Jamila Akil argues that instead of trying to get a degree, black women should be trying to snag a husband.
Akil writes: “Such high rates of black women attending college are, at least in part, due to so few black women being married. Perhaps, instead of seeking a degree, more black women should be seeking a husband?”
She goes on to explain:
Let me make myself perfectly clear, though: Black women who graduate from high school and have the aptitude for college-level work should almost certainly enroll in a college with the end goal of completing at least a bachelor’s degree. College degree holders still earn more money and have lower unemployment rates on average than non-college degree holders. Black women also need to attend college to build their social network. Black women with at least a bachelor’s degree are more likely than black women of all other educational levels to get married and stay married. However, attending college in their late 30′s, 40′s, or even later, or attending college to attain a graduate degree that wont boost their chance of being promoted at their current job is probably costing black women far more than they gain.
So let me get this straight: Black women who “have the aptitude for college” should enroll and reap the benefits (increased likelihood of marriage, higher incomes, more opportunities), but all others should just find a man and go at it Good Times style? Scratching and surviving?
By now, we all know statistics can be viewed and interpreted in a myriad of ways. Or as Mark Twain once lamented, “Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.”
And while it’s clear that some have latched onto the increased college enrollment rates of black women as an explanation for why so many sistas are single (uh, what happened to by choice?), I’d argue we should view things a bit differently.
Let’s set aside the personal gains black women receive from getting a college degree (i.e. higher incomes, career advancement, more opportunities) for a second. When it comes to marriage, the numbers of black folks and white folks who get married seems to differ due to one main thing: money.
According to Daniel Schneider, a Princeton University researcher, personal wealth influences who does and does not get married in this country.
According to Schneider’s analysis, about 30 percent of the racial marriage gap can be explained by wealth, while income, employment, and public benefits explains about 20 percent. The wealth effect also explains more than half of the gap in marriage rates between those with people who did not finish high school and those with college degrees.
“In all, I find evidence to support the argument that wealth is an important prerequisite of marriage, especially for men,” Schneider writes.
“What people own, not just what they earn or know, shapes entrance into marriage and so may perpetuate disadvantage across generations.”
So if those who acquire more assets are more likely to get married, shouldn’t we encourage more people to go to college, not less?
Instead of wondering whether or not black women are going to college and making themselves all highfalutin and unmarriageable, we should be making college more affordable and encouraging more people—both men and women—to attend, not telling one group to slow down on the book learning to catch a mate.
After all, two broke people who get married are still broke. But two educated and professional, middle-class, married folks are one step closer to ending generational poverty and helping our kids become successful adults.