I was hanging out with some 26-year olds the other day when one said she was exhausted from going to at least one, sometimes two weddings every month so far this year. That caught my ear because I had heard statistics to the contrary about black marriages and wondered if there was a new trend. Taking consensus from the group, the word seemed to be “marriage is in again,” for young black, college educated couples.
The beautiful and highly competent young lady is about to finish Law School and is in a serious relationship with a male MBA former class mate now working at IBM. Before getting serious, they made a commitment that if they turned their eight year, “best friend” status into dating, it would have to be real. Losing a valuable friendship was not an option.
That’s actually the sentiment expressed by one of their friends, Kamilah who married her husband James in July of 2009 after knowing him since childhood. They were good friends since the sixth grade but only started dating in 2007.
Kamilah said, “We thought about it before we started dating and we knew we would get married because we were such good friends.”
She moved to Texas and they dated long distance for about a year and a half before marrying. James is a firefighter who felt opportunities would be better for both of them in Dallas, Texas. She is a massage therapist at Aveda and James found work quickly because fire stations are constantly being built there as communities grow.
Kamilah felt secure marrying James because he knew her family well. She sites their religious beliefs as being crucial to the happiness of their union. “We’re dedicated to church. I highly recommend the pre-marital counseling we received before marriage. That’s where the hard questions are asked. We wanted to be equally yoked so it was important that our goals, family values, and spiritualism were compatible.” Kamilah, who is 27, plans to enjoy her life with her husband for a few years and then have children when she’s 30.
She said some of their newlywed friends are not faring very well in their marriages. She surmises it’s because they don’t know what James and Kamilah have learned; the first few years of marriage are challenging and very realistic. “Once your partner’s representative (the person they would like you to think they are) has left, you’re there learning about each other on a different level.”
“I counsel couples to be prayerful and marry for the right reason. Then learn how to be considerate of one another,” she concluded.
According to the Pew Research Center, Millennials (those young adults between the ages of (18-29) are less likely to be married now than was the case 20 years ago. Millennials are more likely to be living with other family members (47%), such as their parents, than were the immediate two previous generations at the same age (Gen Xers, 43%; Boomers, 39%). They also are more likely than other previous generations to be cohabiting with a partner or living with a roommate according to their study.
Their hearts are in the right place though. Pew Research found three-in-ten Millennials say having a successful marriage is one of their most important life goals. Among Millennials, whites are more likely than nonwhites to place a high priority on marriage. A third of non-Hispanic whites rank a successful marriage as one of the most important things in their life, compared with 25% of nonwhites.
Roughly a quarter of Millennials (23%) say they are currently married, compared with 59% of Gen Xers and 64% of Boomers. In general, young people are less likely to be married now than was the case 20 years ago according to Pew.
Those statistics didn’t seem to deter Marcus, a 26 year-old manager on the way up the corporate ladder at Target, one of the nation’s largest retailers . He married his girlfriend of four years about two years ago. They live and work in Orlando and plan to continue their corporate careers and grow their family.
Marcus says he got married because he followed his feelings, “We only dated about eight months before I asked her. I had had a lot of girlfriends, but when I found the one I wanted (Ashley), I didn’t want to let her get away.”
When asked why did he get married, Marcus said Ashley was easy to get along with and made him want to settle down. “I was 20 years old. She accepted me broke and in college so I felt she would stick with me when we both became successful.” She is a financial analyst at Lockheed Martin and he plans to go to the University of Florida for his Master’s degree.
When questioned about how “equally yoked” he perceived them to be, Marcus answered, “About as equally yoked as one can be. I actually married someone better than me. She’s the stronger one. After watching the birth of our daughter I had a greater appreciation for her as the woman I love and a greater appreciation for life.”
They plan to have one more child, move into a bigger home and develop their careers. In the future they may use their business acumen to start a business. Watkins praises his company and the people he works with now and sees nothing but bright days ahead.
A year ago, Hampton University convened a “marriage summit” to discuss the state of marriage and talk about how to reverse trends such as high divorce rates and out-of-wedlock births.
“We discussed the current crisis of marriage and parenting and focused on solutions and how to come together to start moving things in a better, more positive direction for families,” according to event coordinator Dr. Linda Malone-Colon, head of Hampton's psychology department.
Hampton University, an historically black university, has a National Center on African-American Marriages and Parenting led by Malone-Colon which conducts research and collects data about issues that affect Black marriages and families.
Dr. W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, said American society has an ever-widening “marriage gap” that largely runs along racial and socioeconomic lines. African-Americans and people of all races who lack college degrees have much higher rates of divorce and unmarried childbearing than White, college-educated people.
And, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics, nearly 40 percent of children born in 2007 had unmarried mothers, up 21 percent from 2002 and 80 percent higher than in 1980. Birth rates for unmarried women rose for all races between 2002 and 2006, with Hispanic and Black women showing the highest out-of-wedlock birth rates in 2006.
The figures are of concern because children born to single mothers generally are at higher risk of health, social and economic difficulties.
President Barack Obama, whose own father left his family when Obama was two, said in a Father’s Day speech, “We need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception. We need them to realize that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child – it’s the courage to raise one.”
Recent marriage trends are partly rooted in economic shifts since the 1970s, as college-educated men have seen their incomes rise modestly while men without college educations have seen earnings fall, Wilcox says. That makes the latter group “less attractive as potential or ongoing husbands, as being a good provider is integrally tied to being good husbands.”
“People are looking for happiness and fulfillment in their lives and relationships in ways that people would not have done two or three generations ago,” he said. “People are expecting a high level of fulfillment in marriages, and it's difficult to sustain that day in and day out. That has increased the fragility of marriage in the U.S.”
In this technology driven age, surveys like the ones conducted by Pew Research and the U.S. Census sometimes fail to reflect what we see on the ground. My conversations with Millennial, black college graduates indicates to me that there will be more than 23% of them married. It's not just a matter of economics (two can live cheaper than one) but the expectation that marriage, if you work at it, brings its own rewards; among them happiness. There is more incentive to graduate from college since it appears that a college degree translates to better life chances for you and your family.