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Poor Marriages, Poor Health

"In a number of surveys, African Americans report that they are less satisfied. They also report higher levels of conflict -- even violence. Then there's the matter of domestic justice -- sharing household responsibilities. And infidelity rates are higher among African American men."

Malone-Colon is African American.

David Blankenhorn, who heads the Institute for American Values, will not be pleased with my emphasis on what is perhaps the only negative finding of the study. (Besides Malone-Colon, who is associated with Hampton University, the authors are Lorraine Blackman of Indiana University, Obie Clayton of Morehouse College, Norval Glenn of the University of Texas and Alex Roberts of the Institute for American Values.) But the negative correlation between marriage and health for black women is intriguing -- and surely worthy of further exploration.

Blankenhorn wouldn't disagree with that. But the positive findings are important, too, he insists. "No matter how you look at it, marriage turns out to be a lifeline for African American males," he said.

He believes the review, funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, underscores the case for black marriage, even though the noneconomic benefits may be more pronounced for white couples. White children also benefit somewhat more from their parents' marriage than black children, though both clearly benefit. Black boys benefit more than black girls.

The overall significance of the study, he says, is that marriage does yield important benefits for African Americans.

As the report itself notes: "There is every reason to believe that increased marriage rates, and especially higher numbers of good marriages, would bring significant improvements to black people's lives. To take one example, we have seen in this review that higher marriage rates among African Americans would almost certainly reduce the risks of juvenile delinquency facing young African American males."

Moreover, the scholars conclude, strengthening marriage in black America might be as effective as "any other strategy" in addressing the crisis of black males.

But the implied caveat is that they'd better be good marriages -- non-conflictual, nonviolent and fair.

Black women have seen the other kind of marriage and they are, quite literally, sick of it.

willrasp@washpost.com


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