Black Essay Family Sociology Study

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There is an amazing story from a family sociology class at the University of Tennessee. I don’t know the whole chronology of the reports, but I read pieces from As It Happens,BET, the local news. The gist of it is that there was an ambiguous quiz question about Black slave families, and when a Black student named Kayla Renee Parker complained, it led to her making a rebuttal presentation to the class, and then the White instructor, Judy Morelock, going on an abusive, racist social media rant and getting fired.

Before the details, my conclusions:

  • Good test questions are important, and as a teacher it’s OK to admit you’re wrong or there is ambiguity.
  • Two things are true: Black families were devastated by slavery and as a generalization most Black children under slavery lived with both parents.
  • There is a line, but not a straight line, between Black families under slavery and those under today’s system of racial domination.
  • Students who do research, honestly engage the material, and bring passionate or political arguments to class should have their courage and commitment encouraged, not punished.
  • Some White people who say they are against racism, and maybe even are against racism, are also racist and hate students.
  • Social media is public, so expect consequences.

The story, and then my approach, follows.

The quiz

Here is the question at issue:

Historical research on African-American families during slavery shows that:

A) Family ties weren’t important in African cultures where the slaves ancestors originated; consequently, family bonds were never strong among slaves.

B) Two-parent families were extremely rare during the slave period.

C) Black family bonds were destroyed by the abuses of slave owners, who regularly sold off family members to other slave owners.

D) Most slave families were headed by two parents.

Parker chose C, but Morelock said the correct answer is D. In a back and forth that Parker put on her Facebook page, she pointed out that the textbook talked about “disruption of families through sale of family members,” and Morelock countered that “bonds were maintained among family members who were geographically separated” referring to people passing information between plantations. These are long-running and unsettled issues in the historical scholarship. If you revise answer C to read “bonds were often destroyed” then it is obviously true. If you take a legalistic approach you could say, “family bonds were destroyed” means all bonds, so C is incorrect. This is not a good argument for a teacher to have. Correct the ambiguity, figure out how to handle the points, take it as a teaching opportunity, and move on.

In fact, there appears to have been one good outcome, which was Parker making a very good presentation to the class (video in the As It Happens story). If that was the end of it, we never would have heard. Maybe it’s good that it wasn’t the end of it, though, because when Morelock’s Facebook posts came out we might agree it’s just as well that the incident led to her being fired. The posts are in the BET story, and include Morelock calling Parker (thought not naming her), “ignorant simple-minded,” and threatening to ruin her reputation after the end of the semester, specifically saying, “I will post her name, her picture, and her bio on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Linkedin. Count on it.” Wow. (She also says Parker was spreading “venomous rumors” about her, which I don’t see reported.)

Many teachers complain about their students on Facebook. If you have reasonable complaints, don’t compromise their identities, don’t reveal or advocate unprofessional or vindictive behavior, and don’t be really racist, I think this is ethically defensible. It’s like a teaching workshop, or talking about your job in the staff lounge. But it’s risky and if you screw up you can get fired (which might or might not be a good thing).

The key thing is always, “If there was a hidden camera here or someone hacked my account, would I be able to defend my behavior?” If the answer is yes, you might still be taking a risk to talk about students, but at least you can live with yourself.

Anyway, as far as what I see in the classroom video and Facebook post of her email exchange, I have nothing but kudos for Parker although I might argue with her a little, too. If she did bad things elsewhere, she shouldn’t have.

Classroom exchange

In Parker’s presentation, she quotes Frederick Douglass saying it was “common custom” where he was born “to part children from their mothers from a very early age.” This is good evidence in favor of Answer C. Obviously experiences varied dramatically across the slave system and over time. Throwing down over a generalization like “most” is not really worth it.

She added, “We continue to see those impacts today and that’s why I believe that family bonds were destroyed.” She says Morelock told her she can’t teach by anecdotes, and she countered that we have to pay attention to the stories of real people affected. This is a really good argument to have, in theory.

Parker recommends The New Jim Crow, and Slavery by Another Name, and she says of the present “it’s by a different name, it’s still slavery in itself. … Slavery is still continuing to destroy the Black family” because of the “prison industrial complex.” She cites an article by Rose Brewer, “Black Families Imperiled by Growth of Nation’s Prisons Industrial Complex.”

Finally Parker says Morelock recommended some books, one of which was a 1998 edition of Minority Families in the United States, by Ronald Taylor, which she said was good but should be more current.

It’s really an excellent presentation. If you care about educating students, this would make you happy (again, not knowing what else may have happened off camera). At the end Parker takes questions, and Morelock pipes up, saying in part (my transcript):

I don’t have a lot of recent books, because the publishers just don’t send us books the way they used to. And I’ve been using [Andrew] Cherlin [Public and Private Families] for many, many years, the book you have in this course. He says the same thing, and that book is in its seventh edition. If there had been additional sociological research since he wrote that book I would think that it would appear in it, but it doesn’t. So I have to go by what my discipline shows, and I understand no matter how much I revere and respect a historical figure like Frederick Douglass, who was absolutely one of the bravest, most articulate persons of his generation, and highly respected, I still have to go with what has been done systematically, the kind of systematic methods that did not exist at that time, when sociology was still in its infancy. So, in the 70s, you know, the research that was done, with historical documents, on Black families demonstrated that people forged bonds, this is written by sociologist Ronald Taylor, he also happens to be African American, I don’t think he would try to minimize the effects of slavery, which I never ever ever would myself, and he talks about studies here [she quotes Taylor on the strong bonds in Black families, and how they maintained them even when they were separated] … Nonetheless, as I said, no one has to accept the sociological point of view. All students in my class, as is always the case, are free to make up their own minds, in fact I encourage it, and I always encourage you to do as Kayla did, do more research, find out more information about a topic, and come to your own conclusions.

Aside from the giant red flag of calling Frederick Douglass “articulate,” this is a reasonable argument. Although it’s sad that Morelock doesn’t keep up with the literature, and her reliance on authority rather than reason and analysis is bad, the truth is her facts are pretty current. Even though she’s racist, it’s not her take on the history that makes her racist. The prison industrial complex is important but it’s not the same thing as slavery breaking up families, it’s a different but related thing. (Incidentally, Cherlin has a good newer book about working class families that addresses some of this; my review is here.)

It’s not surprising we’ve been arguing about this for a century or so. It’s complicated. Here is the trend, back to 1880, in the proportion of Black children ages 0-14 living with married parents. There are issues with the data and measurement, but this basic pattern holds: the share of Black children living with two married parents increased after the end of slavery, and fell a lot more later:

Of course, some students would also get mad if you said, “slavery destroyed all Black families,” which isn’t true either. I don’t agree with the first part of the BET headline, “Professor Denies Slavery Destroyed Black Families And Threatens Student Who Called Her Out,” but because the second part is true I have no interest in defending her.

My version

Anyone who teaches this material should wrestle with this. Here’s what I have in the first edition of my book, in the history chapter (there is much more current material in the subsequent chapter on race and ethnicity). I would be happy to hear your response to this:

Families Enslaved

African families had gone through their own transitions, of course, of a particularly devastating nature. From the arrival of the first slaves in Jamestown in 1619 until the mid-1800s, Africans were forcibly removed from their homelands in western and central Africa and subjected to the unspeakable horrors of the Middle Passage aboard slave ships, slave auctions, and ultimately the hardships of plantation labor in the American South (as well as in the Caribbean and South America). Because they were thrown together from diverse backgrounds, and because their own languages and customs were suppressed by slavery, we do not know how much of slave family life was a reflection of African traditions and how much was an adaptation to their conditions and treatment in America (Taylor 2000).

But there is no doubt that family life was one of the victims of the slave system. The histories that have come down to us feature heart-wrenching stories of family separation, including diaries that tell of children literally ripped from their mothers’ arms by slave traders, mothers taking poison to prevent themselves from being sold, and parents enduring barbaric whippings as punishment for trying to keep their families together (Lerner 1973). In fact, most slaves only had a given name with no family name, which made the formation and recognition of family lineages difficult or impossible (Frazier 1930). Slave marriage and parenthood were not legally recognized by the states, and separation was a constant threat. Any joy in having children was tempered by the recognition that those children were the property of the slave owner and could be sold or transferred away forever.

Nevertheless, most slaves lived in families for some or all of their lives. Most married (if not legally) and had children in young adulthood, and most children lived with both parents. This was especially the case on larger plantations rather than small farms, because slaves could carve out some protection for community life if they were in larger groups, and husbands and wives were more likely to remain together (Coles 2006). Even if they had families, however, African Americans for the most part were excluded from the emerging modern family practices described in the next section until after slavery ended.

Relevant references:

Coles, Roberta L. Race and Family: A Structural Approach. 2006. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Frazier, E. Franklin. 1930. “The Negro Slave Family.” The Journal of Negro History 15(2):198–259.

Lerner, Gerda. 1973. Black Women in White America: A Documentary History. New York: Vintage Books.

Taylor, Ronald L. 2000. “Diversity within African American Families.” In Handbook of Family Diversity, edited by David H. Demo, Katherine R. Allen, and Mark A. Fine, pp. 232–251. New York: Oxford University Press.

And in our teaching materials, we address it this way, with a multiple choice question:

Most African American slave children lived with: A. grandparents. B. unrelated adults.  C. one parent. D. both parents [D is correct].

And an essay question:

Describe the impact of slavery on the family structure of African Americans throughout U.S. history.

Answer guide: Students should address the lost customs and languages of diverse Africans brought as slaves. Social scientists are often unsure which of the resulting cultural features of African American family life are held over from African traditions and which are adaptations to slavery. Family lineage was difficult or impossible to trace. Separation of parents and children was common. After the Civil War, African American families were legally recognized, and some were reunited. Emerging African American families were more egalitarian in gender roles and had strong extended family and kinship networks.

This story has good lessons about a number of things that scare people who teach family sociology (and lots of other people, too): being wrong, being called racist, and getting fired for saying something on Facebook. Good chance to reflect on teaching, which is hard, but also great.

Like this:



The family structure of African-Americans has long been a matter of national public policy interest.[18] A 1965 report by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, known as The Moynihan Report, examined the link between black poverty and family structure.[18] It hypothesized that the destruction of the Black nuclear family structure would hinder further progress toward economic and political equality.[18]

When Moynihan wrote in 1965 on the coming destruction of the black family, the out-of-wedlock birthrate was 25 percent among blacks.[19] In 1991, 68 percent of black children were born outside of marriage.[20] In 2011, 72% of Black babies were born to unwed mothers.[21][22]


According to data extracted from 1910 census manuscripts, compared to white women, black women are more likely to become teenage mothers, stay single and have marriage instability, and are thus much more likely to live in female-headed single-parent homes.[23][24] This pattern has been known as black matriarchy because of the observance of many households headed by women.[24]

The breakdown of the Black family was first brought to national attention in 1965 by sociologist and later Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, in the groundbreaking Moynihan Report (also known as "The Negro Family: The Case For National Action").[25] Moynihan's report made the argument that the relative absence of nuclear families (those having both a father and mother present) in Black America would greatly hinder further Black socioeconomic progress.[25]

The current most widespread African American family structure consisting of a single parent has historical roots dating back to 1880.[26] Data from U.S. Census reports reveal that between 1880 and 1960, married households consisting of two-parent homes were the most widespread form of African American family structures.[26] Although the most popular, married households decreased over this time period. Single-parent homes, on the other hand, remained relatively stable until 1960 when they rose dramatically.[26] A study of 1880 family structures in Philadelphia showed that three-fourths of black families were nuclear families, composed of two parents and children.[27]

In New York City in 1925, 85% of kin-related black households had two parents.[27] When Moynihan warned in his 1965 report on the coming destruction of the black family, however, the out-of-wedlock birthrate had increased to 25% among blacks.[25] This figure continued to rise over time and in 1991, 68% of black children were born outside of marriage.[28] U.S. Census data from 2010 reveal that more African American families consisted of single-parent mothers than married homes with both parents.[29] Most recently, in 2011 it was reported that 72% of black babies were born to unwed mothers.[24]

The African-American family structure has been divided into a twelve-part typology that is used to show the differences in the family structure based on “gender, marital status, and the presence or absence of children, other relatives or nonrelatives."[30] These family sub-structures are divided up into three major structures: nuclear families, extended families, and augmented families.

African-American families at a glance[edit]

African-American nuclear families[edit]

Andrew Billingsley's research on the African-American nuclear family is organized into three groups: Incipient Nuclear, Simple Nuclear, Segmented Nuclear I, and Segmented Nuclear II.[30] In 1992 Paul Glick supplied statistics showing the African-American nuclear family structure consisted of 80% of total African-American families in comparison to 90% of all US families.[31] According to Billingsley, the African-American incipient nuclear family structure is defined as a married couple with no children.[30]

In 1992 47% of African-American families had an incipient nuclear family in comparison to 54% of all US incipient nuclear families.[32] The African-American simple nuclear family structure has been defined as a married couple with children.[30] This is the traditional norm for the composition of African-American families.[33] In 1992 25% of African-American families were simple nuclear families in comparison to 36% of all US families.[32] Almost 70 percent of black children are born to single mothers.

The African-American segmented nuclear I (unmarried mother and children) and II (unmarried father and children) family structures are defined as a parent–child relationship.[30] In 1992, 94% of African-American segmented nuclear families were composed of an unmarried mother and children.[32] Glick's research found that single parent families are twice as prevalent in African-American families as they are in other races, and this gap continues to widen.[31]

African-American extended families[edit]

Billingsley's research continued with the African-American extended family structure, which is composed of primary members plus other relatives.[30] Extended families have the same sub-structures as nuclear families, incipient, simple, segmented I, and segmented II, with the addition of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and additional family members. Billingsley's research found that the extended family structure is predominantly in the segmented I sub-structured families.[30]

In 1992 47% of all African-American extended families were segmented extended family structures, compared to 12% of all other races combined.[34] Billingsley's research shows that in the African-American family the extended relative is often the grandparents.[35]

African-American augmented families[edit]

Billingsley's research revealed another type of African-American family, called the augmented family structure, which is a family composed of the primary members, plus nonrelatives.[30] Billingsley's case study found that this family structure accounted for 8% of Black families in 1990.[36] This family structure is different from the traditional norm family discussed earlier, it combines the nuclear and extended family units with nonrelatives. This structure also has the incipient, simple, segmented I, and segmented II sub-structures.[30]

Non-family households[edit]

Billingsley introduced a new family structure that branches from the augmented family structure.[36] The African-American population is starting to see a new structure known as a non-family household. This non-family household contains no relatives.[37] According to Glick in 1992, 37% of all households in the United States were a nonfamily household, with more than half of this percentage being African-Americans.[38]

African-American family members at a glance[edit]

E. Franklin Frazier has described the current African-American family structure as having two models, one in which the father is viewed as a patriarch and the sole breadwinner, and one where the mother takes on a matriarchal role in the place of a broken household.[39] In defining family, James Stewart describes it as “an institution that interacts with other institutions forming a social network."[33]

Stewart's research concludes that the African-American family has traditionally used this definition to structure institutions that upholds values tied to other black institutions resulting in unique societal standards that deal with “economics, politics, education, health, welfare, law, culture, religion, and the media."[40] Ruggles argues that the modern black U.S. family has seen a change in this tradition and is now viewed as predominantly single parent, specifically black matriarchy.[26]

Father representative[edit]

In 1997, McAdoo stated that African-American families are "frequently regarded as poor, fatherless, dependent of governmental assistance, and involved in producing a multitude of children outside of wedlock."[41] Thomas, Krampe and Newton show that in 2005 39% of African-American children did not live with their biological father and 28% of African-American children did not live with any father representative, compared to 15% of white children who were without a father representative.[42] In the African-American culture, the father representative has historically acted as a role model for two out of every three African-American children.[43] Thomas, Krampe, and Newton relies on a 2002 survey that shows how the father's lack of presence has resulted in several negative effects on children ranging from education performance to teen pregnancy.[44] Whereas the father presence tends to have an opposite effect on children, increasing their chances on having a greater life satisfaction. Thomas, Krampe, and Newton's research shows that 31% of African-American fathers rarely to never visit their children; this is 20% more than white fathers.[42] In 2001, Hamer showed that many African-American youth did not know how to approach their father when in his presence.[45] This survey also concluded that the non resident fathers who did visit their child said that their role consisted of primarily spending time with their children, providing discipline and being a role model.[46] John McAdoo also noted that the residential father role consists of being the provider and decision maker for the household.[47]

Mother representative[edit]

Melvin Wilson suggests that in the African-American family structure a mother's role is determined by her relationship status, is she a single mother or a married mother? [48] According to Wilson, in most African-American married families a mother's roles is dominated by her household responsibilities.[49] Wilson research states that African American married families, in contrast to White families, do not have gender specific roles for household services.[50] The mother and wife is responsible for all household services around the house.[49] According to Wilson, the married mother's tasks around the house is described as a full-time job. This full-time job of household responsibilities is often the second job that an African-American woman takes on.[50] The first job is her regular 8 hour work day that she spends outside of the home. Wilson also notes that this responsibility that the mother has in the married family determines the life satisfaction of the family as a whole.[50]

Melvin Wilson states that the single mother role in the African-American family is played by 94% of African-American single parents.[51] According to Brown, single parent motherhood in the African-American culture is becoming more a "proactive" choice.[52] Melvin Wilson's research shows 62% of single African-American women said this choice is in response to divorce, adoption, or just non marriage compared to 33% of single white women.[53] In this position African-American single mothers see themselves playing the role of the mother and the father.[52] Though the role of a single mother is similar to the role of a married mother, to take care of household responsibilities and work a full-time job, the single mothers' responsibility is greater since she does not have a second party income that a partner would provide for her family members. According to Brown, this lack of a second party income has resulted in the majority of African American children raised in single mother households having a poor upbringing.[54]


In Margaret Spencer's case study on children living in southern metropolitan areas, she shows that children can only grow through enculturation of a particular society.[55] The child's development is dependent on three areas: child-rearing practices, individual heredity, and experienced cultural patterns. Spencer's research also concludes that African-American children have become subject to inconsistencies in society based on their skin color.[56] These inconsistencies continue to place an increased amount of environmental stress on African-American families which result in the failure of most African-American children to reach their full potential.[57] Similar to most races, challenges that African-American families experience are usually dependent on the children's age groups.[58] The African-American families experience a great deal of mortality within the infant and toddler age group. In particular the infant mortality rate is “twice as high for black children as for children in the nation as a whole."[58] The mortality in this age group is accompanied by a significant number of illnesses in the pre- and post-natal care stages, along with the failure to place these children into a positive, progressive learning environment once they become toddlers.[59] This foundation has led to African-American children facing teen pregnancy, juvenile detention, and other behavioral issues because they were not given the proper development to successfully face the world and social inconsistencies they will encounter.[59]

Extended family members[edit]

Jones, Zalot, Foster, Sterrett, and Chester executed a study examining the childrearing assistance given to young adults and African-American single mothers.[60] The majority of extended family members, including aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and occasionally non-relatives, are put into this category.[60]:673 In Jones research she also notes that 97% of single mother's ages 28–40 admitted that they rely on at least one extended family member for assistance in raising their children.[60]:676 Extended family members have an immense amount of responsibility in the majority of African-American families, especially single parent households. According to Jones, the reason these extended family members are included in having a necessary role in the family is because they play a key role in assuring the health and well-being of the children.[60]:673 The extended family members' responsibilities range from child rearing, financial assistance, offering a place to live, and meals.[60]:674


Economic theories[edit]

There are several hypotheses – both social and economic – explaining the persistence of the current African-American family structure. Some researchers theorize that the low economic statuses of the newly freed slaves in 1850 led to the current family structure for African Americans. These researchers suggest that extreme poverty has increased the destabilization of African American families while others point to high female labor participation, few job opportunities for black males, and small differences between wages for men and women that have decreased marriage stability for black families.[26]

Economic status has proved to not always negatively affect single-parent homes, however. Rather, in an 1880 census, there was a positive relationship between the number of black single-parent homes and per-capita county wealth.[26] Moreover, literate young mothers in the 1880 were less likely to reside in a home with a spouse than illiterate mothers.[26] This suggests that economic factors following slavery alone cannot account for the family styles seen by African Americans since blacks who were illiterate and lived in the worst neighborhoods were the most likely to live in a two-parent home.

Traditional African influences[edit]

Other explanations incorporate social mechanisms for the specific patterns of the African American family structure. Some researchers point to differences in norms regarding the need to live with a spouse and with children for African-Americans. Patterns seen in traditional African cultures are also considered a source for the current trends in single-parent homes. As noted by Antonio McDaniel, the reliance of African-American families on kinship networks for financial, emotional, and social support can be traced back to African cultures, where the emphasis was on extended families, rather than the nuclear family.[61]

Some researchers have hypothesized that these African traditions were modified by experiences during slavery, resulting in a current African-American family structure that relies more on extended kin networks.[61] The author notes that slavery caused a unique situation for African slaves in that it alienated them from both true African and white culture so that slaves could not identify completely with either culture. As a result, slaves were culturally adaptive and formed family structures that best suit their environment and situation.[61]

Post-1960s expansion of the U.S. welfare state[edit]

Main articles: Great Society and Social programs in the United States

The American economists Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell argue that the significant expansion of federal welfare under the Great Society programs beginning in the 1960s contributed to the destruction of African American families.[27][62] Sowell has argued that "the black family, which had survived centuries of slavery and discrimination, began rapidly disintegrating in the liberal welfare state that subsidized unwed pregnancy and changed welfare from an emergency rescue to a way of life."[62]

There are several other factors which may have accelerated decline of the black family structure such as 1) The advancement of technology lessening the need for manual labor to more technical know-how labor; and 2) The women's rights movement in general opened up employment positions increasing competition, especially from white women, in many non-traditional areas which skilled blacks may have contributed to maintain their family structure in the midst of the rise of the cost of living.[63]

Decline of black marriages[edit]

See also: Marriage in the United States

The rate of African American marriage is consistently lower than White Americans, and is declining.[64] These trends are so pervasive that families who are married are considered a minority family structure for blacks.[64] In 1970, 64% of adult African Americans were married. This rate was cut in half by 2004, when it was 32%.[64] Conversely, in 2004, 45% of African Americans had never been married compared to only 25% of White Americans.[64]

While research has shown that marriage rates have dropped for African Americans, the birth rate has not. Thus, the number of single-parent homes has risen dramatically for black women.[65] One reason for the low rates of African American marriages is high age of first marriage for many African Americans. For African American women, the marriage rate increases with age compared to White Americans who follow the same trends but marry at younger ages than African Americans.[64]

One study found that the average age of marriage for black women with a high school degree was 21.8 years compared to 20.8 years for white women.[64] Fewer labor force opportunities and a decline in real earnings for black males since 1960 are also recognized as sources of increasing marital instability.[66] As some researchers argue, these two trends have led to a pool of fewer desirable male partners and thus resulted in more divorces.

One type of marriage that has declined is the shotgun marriage.[67] This drop in rate is documented by the number of out-of-wedlock births that now commonly occur.[67] Between 1965 and 1989, three-fourths of white out-of-wedlock births and three-fifths of black out-of-wedlock births could be explained by situations where the parents would have married in the past.[67] This is because, prior to the 1970s, the norm was such that, should a couple have a pregnancy out of wedlock, marriage was inevitable.[67] Cultural norms have since changed, giving women and men more agency to decide whether or when they should get married.[67]

Rise in divorce rates[edit]

See also: Divorce in the United States

For African Americans who do marry, the rate of divorce is higher than White Americans. While the trend is the same for both African Americans and White Americans, with at least half of marriages for the two groups ending in divorce, the rate of divorce tends to be consistently higher for African Americans.[64] African Americans also tend to spend less time married than White Americans. Overall, African Americans are married at a later age, spend less time married and are more likely to be divorced than White Americans.[64]

The decline and low success rate of Black marriages is crucial for study because many African Americans achieve a middle-class status through marriage and the likelihood of children growing up in poverty is tripled for those in single-parent rather than two-parent homes.[64] Some researchers suggest that the reason for the rise in divorce rates is the increasing acceptability of divorces. The decline in social stigma of divorce has led to a decrease in the number of legal barriers of getting a divorce, thus making it easier for couples to divorce.[66]

Black male incarceration and mortality[edit]

See also: Racial inequality in the American criminal justice system

Structural barriers are often listed as the reason for the current trends in the African American family structure, specifically the decline in marriage rates. Imbalanced sex ratios have been cited as one of these barriers since the late nineteenth century, where Census data shows that in 1984, there were 99 black males for every 100 black females within the population.[64] 2003 census data shows there are 91 Black males for every 100 females.[64]

Black male incarceration and higher mortality rates are often pointed to for these imbalanced sex ratios. Although black males make up 6% of the population, they make up 50% of those who are incarcerated.[64] This incarceration rate for black males increased by a rate of more than four between the years of 1980 and 2003. The incarceration rate for African American males is 3,045 out of 100,000 compared to 465 per 100,000 White American males.[64] The chance that black males will be arrested and jailed at least once in their lifetime in many areas around the country is extremely high. For Washington, D.C., this probability is between 80 and 90%.[64]

The mortality rates for African American males are also typically higher than they are for African American females. Between 1980 and 2003, 4,744 to 27,141 more African American males died annually than African American females.[64] This higher incarceration rate and mortality rate helps to explain[original research?] the low marriage rates for many African American females who cannot find black partners.


The Moynihan Report, written by Assistant Secretary of Labor, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, initiated the debate on whether the African-American family structure leads to negative outcomes, such as poverty, teenage pregnancy and gaps in education or whether the reverse is true and the African American family structure is a result of institutional discrimination, poverty and other segregation.[69] Regardless of the causality, researchers have found a consistent relationship between the current African American family structure and poverty, education, and pregnancy.[70] According to C. Eric Lincoln, the Negro family's "enduring sickness" is the absent father from the African-American family structure.[71] C. Eric Lincoln also suggests that the implied American idea that poverty, teen pregnancy, and poor education performance has been the struggle for the African-American community is due to the absent African-American father. According to the Moynihan Report, the failure of a male dominated subculture, which only exist in the African-American culture, and reliance on the matriarchal control has been greatly present in the African-American family structure for the past three centuries.[72] This absence of the father, or "mistreatment", has resulted in the African-American crime rate being higher than the National average, African-American drug addiction being higher than whites, and rates of illegitimacy being at least 25% or higher than whites.[72] A family needs the presence of both parents for the youth to "learn the values and expectations of society."[71]


Further information: African-American middle class § African-American poverty

See also: Race and poverty in the United States and Racial wage gap in the United States

Black single-parent homes headed by women still demonstrate how relevant the feminization of poverty is. Black women often work in low-paying and female-dominated occupations.[73][needs update] Black women also make up a large percentage of poverty-afflicted people.[73] Additionally, the racialization of poverty in combination with its feminization creates further hindrances for youth growing up Black, in single-parent homes, and in poverty.[73] For married couple families in 2007, there was a 5.8% poverty rate.[74]

This number, however, varied when considering race so that 5.4% of all white people,[75] 9.7% of black people,[76] and 14.9% of all Hispanic people lived in poverty.[77] These numbers increased for single-parent homes, with 26.6% of all single-parent families living in poverty,[74] 22.5% of all white single-parent people,[75] 44.0% of all single-parent black people,[76] and 33.4% of all single-parent Hispanic people [77] living in poverty.

While majority opinion tends to center on the increase in poverty as a result of single-parent homes, research has shown that this is not always the case. In one study examining the effects of single-parent homes on parental stress and practices, the researchers found that family structure and marital status were not as big a factor as poverty and the experiences the mothers had while growing up.[78] Furthermore, the authors found little parental dysfunction in parenting styles and efficacy for single-mothers, suggesting that two-parent homes are not always the only type of successful family structures.[78] The authors suggest that focus should also be placed on the poverty that African Americans face as a whole, rather than just those who live in single-parent homes and those who are of the typical African American family structure.[78]

Educational performance[edit]

See also: Racial achievement gap in the United States

There is consensus in the literature about the negative consequences of growing up in single-parent homes on educational attainment and success.[70] Children growing up in single-parent homes are more likely to not finish school and generally obtain fewer years of schooling than those in two-parent homes.[70] Specifically, boys growing up in homes with only their mothers are more likely to receive poorer grades and display behavioral problems.[70]

For black high school students, the African American family structure also affects their educational goals and expectations.[70] Studies on the topic have indicated that children growing up in single-parent homes face disturbances in young childhood, adolescence and young adulthood as well.[70] Although these effects are sometimes minimal and contradictory, it is generally agreed that the family structure a child grows up in is important for their success in the educational sphere.[70] This is particularly important for African American children who have a 50% chance of being born outside of marriages and growing up in a home with a single-parent.[78]

Some arguments for the reasoning behind this drop in attainment for single-parent homes point to the socioeconomic problems that arise from mother-headed homes. Particularly relevant for families centered on black matriarchy, one theory posits that the reason children of female-headed households do worse in education is because of the economic insecurity that results because of single motherhood.[70] Single parent mothers often have lower incomes and thus may be removed from the home and forced to work more hours, and are sometimes forced to move into poorer neighborhoods with fewer educational resources.[70]

Other theories point to the importance of male role models and fathers in particular, for the development of children emotionally and cognitively, especially boys.[70] Even for fathers who may not be in the home, studies have shown that time spent with fathers has a positive relationship with psychological well-being including less depression and anxiety. Additionally, emotional support from fathers is related to fewer delinquency problems and lower drug and marijuana use.[79]

Teen pregnancy[edit]

Teenage and unplanned pregnancies pose threats for those who are affected by them with these unplanned pregnancies leading to greater divorce rates for young individuals who marry after having a child. In one study, 60% of the young married parents had separated within the first five years of marriage.[80] Additionally, as reported in one article, unplanned pregnancies are often cited as a reason for young parents dropping out, resulting in greater economic burdens and instabilities for these teenage parents later on.[80]

Another study found that paternal attitudes towards sexuality and sexual expression at a young age were more likely to determine sexual behaviors by teens regardless of maternal opinions on the matter.[80] For these youths, the opinions of the father affected their behaviors in positive ways, regardless of whether the parent lived in or out of the home and the age of the student.[80] Another study looking at how mother–daughter relationships affect teenage pregnancy found that negative parental relationships led to teenage daughters, dating later, getting pregnant earlier and having more sex partners.[81]

Teens who lived in a married family have been shown to have a lower risk for teenage pregnancy.[82] Teenage girls in single-parent families were six times more likely to get pregnant and 2.8 times more likely to engage in sex at an earlier age than girls in married family homes.[83] For the majority of black youth who live in female-headed households, this finding points to the need for fathers to help curb the teen pregnancy rate and reduce the negative outcomes associated with youth pregnancy and the likelihood of single-parent homes.

Criticism and support[edit]

Cosby and Poussaint's criticism of the single-parent family[edit]

Further information: Pound Cake speech

Bill Cosby has criticised the current state of Black families being dominated by single-parent households. In a speech to the NAACP in 2004, Cosby said "“In the neighborhood that most of us grew up in, parenting is not going on". “You have the pile-up of these sweet beautiful things born by nature—raised by no one."[84]

In Cosby's 2007 book Come On People: On the Path from Victims to Victors, co-authored with psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint, Cosby and Poussaint write that “A house without a father is a challenge," and that “A neighborhood without fathers is a catastrophe."[84] Cosby and Poussaint write that mothers “have difficulty showing a son how to be a man," and that this presents a problem when there are no father figures around to show boys how to channel their natural aggressiveness in constructive ways.[84] Cosby and Poussaint also write, “We wonder if much of these kids' rage was born when their fathers abandoned them."[84]

Cosby and Poussaint state that verbal and emotional abuse of the children is prominent in the parenting style of some Black single mothers, with serious developmental consequences for the children.[84] “Words like 'You're stupid,' 'You're an idiot,' 'I'm sorry you were born,' or 'You'll never amount to anything' can stick a dagger in a child's heart." [84] "Single mothers angry with men, whether their current boyfriends or their children's fathers, regularly transfer their rage to their sons, since they're afraid to take it out on the adult males"[84] Cosby and Poussaint write that this formative parenting environment in the Black single parent family leads to a "wounded anger—of children toward parents, women toward men, men toward their mothers and women in general".[84]

Research on the African-American Family[edit]

The Research on the African-American Family book, written by Robert B. Hill and published in 1968, provides a counterpoint to The Moynihan Report, or The Negro Family: The Case For National Action, which discusses how single-parent homes would be the undoing of the African American people. In this report, Hill writes in support of the African-American family, speaking about both strengths and difficulties in the African-American home, detailing most of the positives of the African American family structure.[85]

In his report, Hill says Black families have five major strengths:[85]

  1. Strong religious orientation
  2. High Aspiration Rate: aspirations to achieve more than they "ought" to aspire considering situation
  3. Role Exchange: women are not afraid to support the family if men are not able.
  4. Kinship Circle: extended family in the black community
  5. Willingness to Work

Policy proposals[edit]

Authors Angela Hattery and Earl Smith have proffered solutions to addressing the high rate of Black children being born out of wedlock.[86](pp285–315) Three of Hattery and Smith's solutions focus on parental support for children, equal access to education, and alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders. According to Hattery and Smith, African-American families are within a system that is “pitted" against them and there are some institutional solutions and individual solutions that America and its citizens can do to reduce implications associated with the African-American family structure.[86](p315)

Parental support for children[edit]

According to Hattery and Smith, around 50% of African-American children are poor because they are dependent on a single mother.[86](p305) In states like Wisconsin, for a child to be the recipient of welfare or receive the "bride fare", their parents must be married.[86](p306) Hattery acknowledges one truth about this law, which is that it recognizes that a child is "entitled" to the financial and emotional support of both parents. One of Hattery and Smith's solutions is found around the idea that an African-American child is entitled to the financial and emotional support of both parents. The government does require the noncustodial parents to pay a percentage to their child every month, but according to Hattery the only way this will help eliminate child poverty is if these policies are actively enforced.[86](p306)

Education equality[edit]

For the past 400 years of America's life many African-Americans have been denied the proper education needed to provide for the traditional American family structure.[86](p308) Hattery suggests that the schools and education resources available to most African-Americans are under-equipped and unable provide their students with the knowledge needed to be college ready.[86](p174) In 2005 The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research report showed that even though integration has been a push more recently, over the past 15 years there has been a 13% decline in integration in public schools.[86](p174)

These same reports also show that in 2002, 56% of African-American students graduated from high school with a diploma, while 78% of whites students graduated. If students do not feel they are learning, they will not continue to go to school. This conclusion is made from the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research report that stated only 23% of African-American students who graduated from public high school felt college-ready.[86](p174) Hatterly suggests that the government invest into the African-American family by investing in the African-American children's education.[86](p308) A solution is found in providing the same resources provided to schools that are predominantly white. According to Hatterly, through education equality the African-American family structure can increase opportunities to prosper with equality in employment, wages, and health insurance.[86](p308)

Alternatives to incarceration[edit]

According to Hattery and Smith 25–33% of African-American men are spending time in jail or prison and according to Thomas, Krampe, and Newton 28% of African-American children do not live with any father representative.[42][86](p310) According to Hatterly, the government can stop this situation that many African-American children experience due to the absence of their father.[86](pp285–315) Hatterly suggests probation or treatment (for alcohol or drugs) as alternatives to incarceration. Incarceration not only continues the negative assumption of the African-American family structure, but perpetuates poverty, single parenthood, and the separation of family units.[86](p310)

See also[edit]


  1. ^Grove, Robert D.; Hetzel, Alice M. (1968). Vital Statistics Rates in the United States 1940-1960(PDF) (Report). Public Health Service Publication. 1677. U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, U.S. Public Health Service, National Center for Health Statistics. p. 185. 
  2. ^Ventura, Stephanie J.; Bachrach, Christine A. (October 18, 2000). Nonmarital Childbearing in the United States, 1940-99(PDF) (Report). National Vital Statistics Reports. 48.16. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System. pp. 28–31. 
  3. ^Martin, Joyce A.; Hamilton, Brady E.; Ventura, Stephanie J.; Menacker, Fay; Park, Melissa M. (February 12, 2002). Births: Final Data for 2000(PDF) (Report). National Vital Statistics Reports. 50.5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System. p. 46. 
  4. ^Martin, Joyce A.; Hamilton, Brady E.; Ventura, Stephanie J.; Menacker, Fay; Park, Melissa M.; Sutton, Paul D. (December 18, 2002). Births: Final Data for 2001(PDF) (Report). National Vital Statistics Reports. 51.2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System. p. 47. 
  5. ^Martin, Joyce A.; Hamilton, Brady E.; Sutton, Paul D.; Ventura, Stephanie J.; Menacker, Fay; Munson, Martha L. (December 17, 2003). Births: Final Data for 2002(PDF) (Report). National Vital Statistics Reports. 52.10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System. p. 57. 
  6. ^Martin, Joyce A.; Hamilton, Brady E.; Sutton, Paul D.; Ventura, Stephanie J.; Menacker, Fay; Munson, Martha L. (September 8, 2005). Births: Final Data for 2003(PDF) (Report). National Vital Statistics Reports. 54.2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System. p. 52. 
  7. ^Martin, Joyce A.; Hamilton, Brady E.; Sutton, Paul D.; Ventura, Stephanie J.; Menacker, Fay; Kirmeyer, Sharon (September 29, 2006). Births: Final Data for 2004(PDF) (Report). National Vital Statistics Reports. 55.1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System. p. 57. 
  8. ^Martin, Joyce A.; Hamilton, Brady E.; Sutton, Paul D.; Ventura, Stephanie J.; Menacker, Fay; Kirmeyer, Sharon; Munson, Martha L. (December 5, 2007). Births: Final Data for 2005(PDF) (Report). National Vital Statistics Reports. 56.6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System. p. 57. 
  9. ^Martin, Joyce A.; Hamilton, Brady E.; Sutton, Paul D.; Ventura, Stephanie J.; Menacker, Fay; Kirmeyer, Sharon; Mathews, T.J. (January 7, 2009). Births: Final Data for 2006(PDF) (Report). National Vital Statistics Reports. 57.7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System. p. 54. 
  10. ^Martin, Joyce A.; Hamilton, Brady E.; Sutton, Paul D.; Ventura, Stephanie J.; Mathews, T.J.; Kirmeyer, Sharon; Osterman, Michelle J.K. (August 9, 2010). Births: Final Data for 2007(PDF) (Report). National Vital Statistics Reports. 58.24. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System. p. 46. 
  11. ^Martin, Joyce A.; Hamilton, Brady E.; Sutton, Paul D.; Ventura, Stephanie J.; Mathews, T.J.; Osterman, Michelle J.K. (December 8, 2010). Births: Final Data for 2008(PDF) (Report). National Vital Statistics Reports. 59.1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System. p. 46.
In 2006 an estimated 4.8% of Black non-Hispanic men were in prison or jail, compared to 1.9% of Hispanic men of any race and 0.7% of White non-Hispanic men. U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.[68]


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