Educated Black Women Have More Divorces Than Educated White Counterparts

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Married couples who have attained higher levels of education are less likely to divorce then less educated couples -- except in the African American community.

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According to research conducted by Dr. Jeounghee Kim, assistant professor at Rutgers School of Social Work, educated African American women have more divorces than educated white women. Generally speaking, married couples who have attained higher levels of education are less likely to divorce than less-educated couples. Unfortunately, in the Black community, education is not enough to sustain a marriage.

African-American women don’t seem to enjoy the same degree of protection that education confers on marriage,” said Dr. Kim. “For white Americans, higher education is related to a lower chance of divorce, and this protective effect of education on marriage increased consistently among the recent generations. But for African-American women, higher education is not necessarily related to a lower chance of divorce.”

During her research Dr. Kim’s analysis revealed that the percentage of white women with some post-secondary education continuously increased throughout the cohorts. This was not the case with African-American women, whose educational attainment peaked in the 1985-1994 cohorts before declining. (Read details about the study here.) Dr. Kim also found the percentage of white women getting divorced declined throughout the study period, while African-American women experienced an increase in the 1980s before declining in the 1990 to 1994 cohort. Dr. Kim said her findings were consistent with much existing literature that says that women with higher levels of education — and greater earning potential — make more attractive marriage partners. Also, their marriages tend to last longer than those of their counterparts — particularly among white women — with less education.

Here are the three possibilities Dr. Kim believes affects educated African American women’s ability to stay married:

1. Depreciating value of college education

“One possibility is that college education does not translate into the higher earnings that would help protect marriage for African-Americans,” Dr. Kim said.

2. Economic disparity in the black community

“Another could be that educational attainment may be insufficient to address the high levels of economic inequality that even well-educated African-Americans experience. Many are the first in their families to have attained a post-secondary education and do not benefit from the cushion of intergenerational wealth possessed by some white families,” Dr. Kim believes.

3. Gender gap in African-American’s educational attainment, with nearly twice as many African-American women college graduates as men

We see the increasing power of education protecting marriage within the same socioeconomic class. Well-educated white women may still have power to select an equally well-educated mate. Then, there may be a synergy factor — higher incomes, better and healthier lives, smarter kids — that helps sustain their marriage,” Dr. Kim said. She continues: “On the other hand, the return on higher education may not be the same for many African-American women, who have less chance to marry their educational equals. Also, because they are less likely to marry outside their race, their choices are limited.”


Why do you believe educated African-American women have more divorces than white educated women?