Poor Marriages, Poor Health

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By William Raspberry
Monday, October 24, 2005

Black women are sick of marriage.

Well, lots of them, anyway.

I've just looked at "The Consequences of Marriage for African Americans," a comprehensive review of the most recent literature (since about 1990) on the subject, and the conclusions are generally what you'd expect:

Marriage promotes the economic, social, familial and psychological well-being of black men and women -- as it does for men and women generally. Marriage is wonderful for children, who turn out to be less trouble-prone than their peers from single-parent-households.

The economic benefits of marriage are more pronounced for black couples than for whites, more often keeping their families from slipping below the poverty line.

But when it comes to physical health, marriage is worse than neutral for black women. Listen to the report, newly published by the New York-based Institute for American Values:

"Our research finds that marriage brings small health benefits to black men -- and none to black women. In fact, married black women are significantly less likely to report having excellent health than are unmarried black women."

Understand that the report is from people and organizations who could fairly be called a part of the "marriage movement." Many of those involved have long touted the benefits of marriage -- to men, women and children. The female health finding must have caught them by surprise.

Most of them, anyway. Linda Malone-Colon, one of the five scholars conducting the review, said she wasn't exactly blindsided by the finding.

"Overall, the study shows the smallest benefit to black women -- but it's still an important benefit," said Malone-Colon, a psychologist who is director of the Washington-based National Healthy Marriage Resource Center, a clearinghouse for resources for strengthening marriages.

But a negative consequence for the health of black women?

"I know. There are some dynamics we haven't given a lot of attention to, though one could hypothesize. It probably has to do with the quality of marriage -- self-reported levels of satisfaction with the marriage.


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