Thursday, August 10, 2006

Younger blacks are wary of marriage

Vanessa E. Jones:

As African-American teenagers in a Mission Hill conference room talk about their opinions of marriage , their comments reveal a dreary view of the institution.

"I'm not looking forward to marriage," says Nakeeda Burns , a 17-year-old resident of Revere and daughter of a single mother, "and I don't think we [people in general] should be married, because I see how other marriages ended up in my family and on television. It's always a disaster."

Even the married couples these teens know don't seem particularly happy.

"All of my friends who are married, they tell me not to get married," says Anderson Felix , 17, of Dorchester. " 'Wifey is going to keep you on lock.' 'Everywhere you go, she'll call you every five minutes.' I won't be able to deal with that."

Anita Marshall blurts out, "I want a big wedding if I get married," but she doesn't think she'll make it to the altar. Her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother were married; now they're all divorced.

"I don't know anyone who's married, or anybody who is married and stayed married," says Marshall, a 15-year-old from Dorchester. She and the other 10 teens in the room are participants in the organization YPACT (Youth for Prevention, Action and Change Through Thought ), which aims to develop community leaders by teaching teens about social, racial, and health disparities in their neighborhoods.

"When I think of `married,' " Marshall adds, "[I think] `divorce' -- first word."

Their disillusionment mirrors a growing resistance to marriage among African-Americans. In the post-Civil War era, when African-Americans had the option to marry legally for the first time, many did. The 1890 Census showed that 80 percent of African-American families were headed by two parents, according to Andrew Billingsley's 1992 book, "Climbing Jacob's Ladder: The Enduring Legacies of African-American Families."

But in 1970, census figures show ed that only 57 percent of black men and 54 percent of black women were married. By last year those numbers had slipped to 42 percent for men and 35 percent for women. In comparison, 68 percent of white men and 63 percent of white women were married in 1970, vs. 59 percent of men and 57 percent of women in 2005.

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