October 18, 2011


Ralph Richard Banks, Is Marriage for White People: How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone (New York: Dutton, 2011) ("Over the past half century, African Americans have become the most unmarried people in our nation. By far. We are the least likely to marry and the most likely to divorce; we maintain fewer committed and enduring relationships than any other group. Not since slavery have black men and women been unpartnered as we are now." Id. at 2. "The paradox of marriage in the United States, then, is that its cultural prominence persists even as it has shed many of the social functions that traditionally prompted people to marry, marriage is more a relationship and less an institution these days. As the meaning of marriage has shifted, so, too, have people's expectations of it. Perhaps more than ever, marriage is understood now as a means of personal fulfillment and individual growth. The primary purpose of marriage, in the view of most Americans, is the establishment of a mutually fulfilling relationship, one in which understanding and emotional intimacy prevail. Marriage now is less a means of building a life and more a means of enjoying one's life. More finish line than starting gate, marriage often comes after other milestones of adulthood have been met: living together, buying a car and hose, having children. People take pride in marriage as an achievement. To enjoy that achievement requires a certain degree o financial stability. According to one nationally representative study conducted in 2001, more that four out of five Americans agreed that ;it is extremely important to be economically set before you get married.' " The new view of marriage is reflected in the findings of a 2007 survey by the Pew Research Center. Throughout history and across different societies children have been pivotal to the prevailing conception of marriage, Yet when respondents to the Pew survey were provided with a list of items and asked to identify which were 'very important' to a successful marriage, they ranked children near the bottom of the list. Practically every other consideration--shared religious beliefs, shared interests, a happy sexual relationship--ranked as more important than children. The survey respondents were even more likely to judge 'sharing household chores' as more important to a successful marriage than children. The American surveyed said by a margin of nearly three to one that 'the main purpose of marriage is . . . the 'mutual happiness and fulfillment' of the couple, rather than the 'bearing and raising of children'. ' " "What better way to find happiness and fulfillment than by marrying one's soul mate?" Id. at 25-26 (italic added).).