Has the Need for Marriage Changed Over Time for Some Black Men?

By Sean Copeland, Contributing Writer

Over time, marriage has seen an evolution. In earlier decades, gender roles were more traditional and defined. Men were seen as providers, mostly working outside of the home, and women were viewed as homemakers who oversaw child-rearing.

Today, marriages have taken on different dynamics, with women working more outside of the home while balancing the roles of wives and mothers. Additionally, men are now more active in child-rearing and household duties.

At the beginning of the 20th century, young adults left their parents’ homes to then marry and repeat the cycle by starting their own families, as marriage provided financial stability and emotional support. Upon the arrival of Baby Boomers and Gen X, gender roles began to shift, and people began to marry much later in life than previous generations did. Young adults began to attend college or trade school more regularly after high school, and this trend continues into the current generations of Millennials and Gen Z.

Today, unlike in years past, reasons for marriage vary. Men and women seem to have different motivations for entering a marriage. According to a Forbes survey, one of the top reasons for women to marry was for financial security, at 42 percent. This was also the top reason for people, regardless of gender. For men, the top reason for marrying was for companionship, which came in at 39 percent. Love, formal commitment, starting a family, convenience, medical insurance, legal reasons, and societal/familial pressures rounded out the top reasons for getting married.

Black Men Open Up on Marriage

Recently, reports have surfaced that African Americans have been less likely to marry than other races and genders. As marriage has changed over time, the question persists: has the need for marriage changed over time for some Black men? We interviewed a few Black men with various backgrounds to hear what they had to share on the topic of marriage.

When it comes to the biggest concern about marriage, unsurprisingly, the answer seems to be money. However, the answers varied.

“One of my biggest concerns about marriage is the issue of belief in God, sex, and finances,” shared Joe Farley, a paralegal and entrepreneur based in metro Detroit. Farley specializes in family law and is also a life coach for men.

“Divorce, child custody, and spousal support are my biggest concerns. Money is an issue as well,” said Stephen Thomas, an attorney who specializes in family law and bankruptcy.

“In my third marriage, a concern was to protect my assets. I highly recommend getting a prenup. I didn’t get one with my third wife and it wasn’t a good decision. I’ll never get married again without one,” shared Kevin Little, a mechanical engineer who is also based in Metro Detroit and is divorced.

Finances have routinely been a top contributor to divorce, a trend that will most likely continue. Another major concern that the men had was that marriage doesn’t seem to cater to them specifically as men, especially when it comes to legal matters. If children are produced from a marriage, matters can become even more complicated. Matters of child custody and support, alimony, and spousal support were some of the areas in which they felt that the legal system favored women over men.

As for what they are looking for in a spouse, answers included companionship, respect and honor, and conflict resolution. Thomas, who is currently divorced, shared that he may not get married again, but if he were to walk down the aisle once more, companionship and conversation is what he is most looking for.

“The thing I’m looking for now is conflict resolution. In my last marriage, my wife avoided conflicts. I learned that you have to really have those difficult conversations. If I could get it to where we could fight nice and get through conflict it would be good. Also, it would be us looking to make those deposits into our love bank and do those little things often. Marriage falls under God’s law and the government’s law”, Little shared.

Farley, who is currently in his third marriage, has hopes that it will be his last. For him, spirituality is a major factor for marital success, citing the need for his spouse to understand that he is Christian and wants to honor his faith. He also shared that he wants someone who respects and appreciates him as a man. “I have to fight for respect in the world as a Black man and I’m looking for someone who is respectful and honorable,” he said.

For most couples, communication is a large part of a successful marriage. Talking, spending time with each other, words of affirmation, and romantic gestures are some of the ways that couples may experience forms of communication. Prioritizing your spouse and/or partner is one of the ways that many people can agree that leads to a successful marriage.

However, it can be a big concept to grasp and successfully implement. The question persists: is it something that’s always done?

“I don’t think so. We didn’t specify that we are important. We demanded it but we didn’t say it or have a commitment. We’re not open enough, we’re not spending enough time loving ourselves. We have to be more open about our feelings. We’re just not open and honest so that we can get what we want,” Farley said, reflecting on his previous marriages.

“I feel like I wasn’t made a priority. In counseling, we got better but not enough to sustain the marriage. We had to talk and have those hard conversations to say I don’t feel like a priority. You always have to have a soft start when communicating. Let them know what you need from them. Don’t avoid the conversation. If you do, bad behavior escalates. Hopefully, if they love you, you’ll get the respect, love, and loyalty from your spouse,” Little adds.

Thomas agrees that priority wasn’t present in his marriage either. “I didn’t feel prioritized, we didn’t have a relationship in heart; our hearts and minds weren’t together.” Early family experiences and parental relationships often shape what we expect to find in a partner or spouse.

Research has shown that if someone is raised in a household where parents or guardians are loving and affectionate toward each other, the expectations are often high. Experiencing an upbringing without the effects of physical, emotional, or mental violence is beneficial and creates a positive outlook for what they might expect in their own marriage. In addition, the opposite can be true as well. If someone is raised in a volatile environment where hostility is prevalent, they can be affected by witnessing that behavior.

Farley reflected on how the upbringing inside his household plays a bearing on his current marriage and how there are certain aspects he emulates but shies away from others.

“I feel that upbringing has shaped my views on marriage. I feel my wife expects from me what she saw from her father and mother. Her parents were married, and she expected me to be what is on her list. The influence from my mother and father was that they were married until I was about 8 or 9. From there, my mom raised us, but I spent a lot of time with my father. Holidays, weekends, and anytime I wanted to see him I could,” he said.

“My father was a provider and I feel that I am to be that as well. I feel I should give my wife whatever she desires. However, my father and mother’s relationship had a lot of arguing. In my house, we don’t do that.”

Unfortunately, Thomas’s two-parent household dynamics didn’t repeat the same cycle in his own union. “I had both of my parents and tried to emulate that, but it didn’t translate into my marriage. I wanted to marry someone like my mama. My ex-wife didn’t see that marital relationship at home as she had a single father,” he reflects.

Little expressed the difference between growing up in a patriarchal family versus marrying a woman who was raised in a matriarchal one. In his family, his male role models were in the traditional role of providers and didn’t worry about homemaking. He says that he learned what he lived and that he expected marriage to be what his parents displayed in front of him. However, this difference in household dynamics contributed to a culture clash in his marital pursuits. “That probably contributed to my multiple marriages. I kept living what I learned. I did exactly what my father did. My wife lived what she learned as well,” he says.

So, what is the future of marriage in the Black community? In a September 2023 survey, the Pew Research Center showed that the general American public is pessimistic about the institution of marriage and family. Forty percent say they are very or somewhat pessimistic, while twenty-five percent are very or somewhat optimistic. About three in 10 say they’re neither optimistic nor pessimistic. Sixty-three percent say they are pessimistic about the country’s moral and ethical standards.

When it comes to views on the future of the family dynamic, results vary across demographics. At 43 percent, white people surveyed had higher levels of pessimism regarding marriage and the family, while Black people surveyed at 30 percent and Hispanic people surveyed at 34 percent. Black adults are about twice as likely as other racial and ethnic groups to say they don’t know how they feel about the future of marriage and family dynamics.

However, for the first time since the pre-pandemic era, marriage rates are increasing. In 2022, the U.S. saw over 2 million marriages, the CDC reported in March 2024. That marks the first year this figure has been in existence since 2019.

As marriage has experienced a positive trend in the U.S. overall, the trend of Black marriage remains uncertain. All in all, the topic of Black marriage must be examined more often from studying the past to learning from current trends as marriages have been and will continue to be the cornerstone of Black families.

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