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Premarital characteristics, selection into marriage, and African American marital disruption

Archived Abstract of Former PSC Researcher

Clarkwest, Andrew. 2006. "Premarital characteristics, selection into marriage, and African American marital disruption." Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 37(3): 361-380.

African Americans have long experienced high marital disruption rates relative to other groups in the United States. Attempts to explain those differences using economic and demographic factors have met with limited success. Using longitudinal data from two waves of the National Survey of Families and Households, I examine the relationship between pre-marital attitudinal factors and the racial gap in marital disruption. I first compare the attitudes of initially unmarried African Americans who went on to marry with those of their non-African American counterparts. I find certain important differences, but on the whole they do not contribute to the African Americans' higher rates of marital disruption. As a group, African Americans who marry are highly religious and hold relatively traditional attitudes towards pre-marital sex and cohabitation. The prevalence of such traits results, in part, from high selectivity into marriage. African Americans who marry differ substantially from those who remain single in ways that are generally associated with a lower risk of marital disruption. Stated otherwise, African American singles who would tend to face the highest risk of divorce disproportionately decide not to marry. Among non-African Americans, by contrast, individuals who marry are much more representative of the initial marriage pool as a whole. Were African Americans who marry not such a highly selected group with respect to their attitudinal characteristics, the racial gap in marital disruption would be substantially larger than it is.

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