A recent study, published in the journal, Family Relations, found that married couples who have attained higher levels of education are less likely to divorce than less-educated couples, except in the black community. The study found that black women with higher education don’t seem to enjoy the same degree of protection as education confers on married white women with similar education levels.
Jeounghee Kim Ph.D., an assistant professor at Rutgers School of Social Work, who conducted the study, says, “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.” Kim observed that the divorce rate has remained steady for white women since 1980, but the trend has been less stable for black women.
She studied white and African-American women in five-year marriage cohorts starting from 1975 to 1979 and ending in 1995 to 1999. The researcher also took into account demographic characteristics, such as age, geographic region, motherhood status and post-secondary education (associate degree at minimum) when married. She then 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 revealed that the percentage of white women with some post-secondary 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. At the same time, she found the percentage of white women getting divorced declined throughout the study period, while African-American women experienced an increase in the 1980s before declining in the 1990 to 1994 cohort.
What is leading to this trend? The study found:
“One possibility is that college education does not translate into the higher earnings that would help protect marriage for African-Americans,” she said. “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 said. “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.
The reality is that educated black women seem to have “less of a chance to marry their educational equals.” Why? Black women are less likely to marry outside their race, thereby further limiting their choices. I have long been in favor of sisters looking beyond the color of their skin to find true love.