April 15, 2010

Why Is It So Hard To Find A Good Black Man To Marry?

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uh oh

Prologue here.


I.

From The Economist:

Imagine that the world consists of 20 men and 20 women. Since the numbers are even, everyone can find a partner. But what happens if you take away one man? You might not think this would make much difference. You would be wrong... With 20 women pursuing 19 men, one woman faces the prospect of spinsterhood. So she ups her game. Perhaps she dresses more seductively. Perhaps she makes an extra effort to be obliging. Somehow or other, she "steals" a man from one of her fellow women. That newly single woman then ups her game, too, to steal a man from someone else. A chain reaction ensues...

1 in 9 black men in their 20s is in jail.  And only a third of black women 30-44 are married.    The study, Male Incarceration, The Marriage Market, and Female Outcomes, from which the above hypothetical is drawn estimates that for every percent of incarcerated men, there's a 2.4% drop in marriage rates.

You might say that the educated black women are not likely to marry the kind of men who are being incarcerated.   Maybe, but besides the point: the key statistic is that 96% of black women marry black men, and if 10% are in jail, well, what is she supposed to do?

II.

Actually, it's not besides the point, it is the point. Other studies have tried to correlate the quality of eligible men to the overall marriage rate-- i.e. where are all the "good" black men?  (Un)Surprisingly, they have mostly found little overall effect, with no explanation.  In a normally functioning economy with a dwindling supply, women would be predicted to... settle.  But the marriage rate would be high.

This paper is unique, however, because it correlates the actual number of men-- indeed, men precisely not high on the list of choice mates.  Their absence has an effect not on the women, but on the men. There's less incentive to try harder.  Or try at all.

Here's the missing sentence from The Economist quote:

A chain reaction ensues.Before long, every woman has to try harder, and every man can relax a little.


III.

Do I need to bring up the fact that a lot of (black) people spend months, sometimes years, in jail-- pre trial?  Only to have a bench trial with a public defender who does not know their name, and who urges them to take the plea with time served?

IV.

Here's an illustrative example: 70% of black babies are born out of wedlock.  They're obviously not all sired by inmates, so how does this happen?  According to the study, the decreased pool of men- any men-- means the ones left become more valuable independent of their actual "quality" (as defined by behavior eligibility, etc.) 

"I thought I was a catch," sighs an attractive black female doctor at a hospital in Washington, DC. Black men with good jobs know they are "a hot commodity", she observes. When there are six women chasing one man, "It's like, what are you going to do extra, to get his attention?" Some women offer sex on the first date, she says, which makes life harder for those who prefer to combine romance with commitment.


V.

There's also the problem of contagion.  A black baby may be born into a loving set of educated parents, but what is the effect of simply knowing that a close relative-- say an uncle-- has been in the joint?  Or, more commonly, that there are female relatives who have no choice but to raise a child on their own; and there are male relatives who don't have to live with their kids?

When a parent does something, it makes that action a potentiality in the world of the child.   A parent who publishes a book-- even one that no one ever reads-- has, at least, placed writing a book into the range of possibilities.  It works both ways.
 


A.

Behavioral economics is so much fun because by reducing the human condition to the impulses of inanimate objects, or at best rhesus monkeys, you get to ignore all that confusing stuff, like pornography, and its obviously non-existent effect on human desires.  "They were maximizing a utility function!"   And how.

Anyone else a little nervous about reducing black men to a commodity with binary utility?  No?  Just me?  Sweet.


B. 

If you didn't like that thought, you're going to hate this one: why does the black female doctor quoted above think she's "a catch?"  Don't yell at me, all Glocks down-- what makes her a catch?

Because she's a doctor?  But I don't know (m)any white women who think being a doctor increases their chances of finding a husband, makes them more appealing.  Go over to the med school and ask the women what they think they're doing to their marrigeability.  "A lot of men don't want a woman who's away all the time."  "They're threatened."  Or, my personal favorite: "oh my god, all they want are the nurses."

The answer is that since black women have been able to take on the very qualities they want in a man, they assume that the men would value these things in the same way.  You may need to revisit that assumption.


C.

You may not be interested in TV, but TV is certainly interested in you.  If black men of a certain type are taking their cues from media images, it's safe to assume the same for women.  Right?

So what do we have?  The unique, mandatory role for all black female personalities-- from Oprah to Wanda Sykes-- is to say  "oh no you didn't" and move her neck back and forth sideways.  Each woman may do it to varying degrees, and they are certainly allowed to do other things, but it is mandatory that they "keep it real" at least once per broadcast. 

For fiction-- always more powerful-- we have: the spectrum of hoes in music videos;  there's the strong, quietly suffering, approaching middle age and beyond, and, of course, solitary  black woman; and the educated and attractive black woman-- wherein "educated" is a descriptive proxy for "controlling" or "insane bitch." Something on the order of Why Did I Get Married Too?- let's-break-some-shit-because-he-lied bananas.

Let's say that media portrayals of "educated black women that can't get a man to commit"-- that's a brand-- storming over to his job and smashing things because of alleged infidelity does NOT make real women more likely to do this themselves.  Fine.  What I am certain it does do, however, is make that behavior less terrifying to black men.  "Oh well, that's just what they do.  She'll get over it."

The First Lady isn't any of these stereotypes, but suffers from the problem of being an actual person and not on CSI or a reality show, and thus can't be a role model.  Sorry, I don't make the rules.  So young girls can choose between Anita Van Buren or Omarosa.  I'll say what you're all thinking: yikes.


black tv ratings 11-09.JPG...they're just like us?...




But aren't the black women in prime time strong and noble, even if there are only four types?  On every medical drama on TV-- ER, Private Practice, Grey's, etc-- the only attractive, well educated females who aren't serially bedding/flooring men with Wicked rapidity are the black women.  Every week, the black women struggle with/over the same man; and those men are always the best at what they do, the chiefs, the leaders.  At some point, the men inevitably fall for a white woman.  Not permanently, of course; nothing is permanently on TV.

Unfortunately for black women, these shows are scripted by white women.  If black girls are watching TV, then they're getting their options from white women.  The message is: our lot is to have a series of chaotic relationships in the search of a non-existent ideal; yours is to suffer over one. 

IV.

The cycle-- for blacks and whites-- only ever gets broken in one of two ways.  One is that this  generation grows old and dies, and the next one gets its shot.

The second is that generation 1 stops raising generation 2 by proxy. Accept that what you do is more important than who you tell them you are.  "I'm taking you to church right after I finish yelling at your mother." Ok, Dad.  I'll be in the car.

V.

If a paucity of black men cause women to "up their game," settle, and be alone; and men to assume a cavalier, non-committal posture, one might ask what happens to a society with too many men.

Apparently, not the opposite.  Why hasn't it become true that Chinese women are protected, elevated, catered to?  That Chinese men have to "up their game" or settle?

It's an interesting question, one that will likely require a Chinese academic researcher to perform a similar study in her own country on her own people.


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---

http://twitter.com/thelastpsych







Comments

I just read about this on r... (Below threshold)

April 15, 2010 10:05 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I just read about this on reddit today. Sweet!

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -17 (37 votes cast)
"Imagine that the world con... (Below threshold)

April 15, 2010 10:23 AM | Posted by Ben: | Reply

"Imagine that the world consists of 20 men and 20 women. Since the numbers are even, everyone can find a partner."
So it'd be 18 men and 18 women looking since, statistically, 2 of each gender would be somewhere on the GLBT spectrum. I'm surprised the Economist uses such a blunt, heteronormative set up to make the point. But whatevs.

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I had the same thought too.... (Below threshold)

April 15, 2010 11:34 AM | Posted, in reply to Ben's comment, by Lynne Skysong: | Reply

I had the same thought too. Not to mention I know people who have "open relationships" or are bisexual. Once you take all that into account, it doesn't remain as a simple 20 men and 20 women = 20 monogamous relationships equation.

Also (and this is 2nd hand, so I'm not sure how accurate it is) I've heard that women in China ARE valued highly as a "marriage commodity." (Just not as babies apparently...)

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Fascinating. It w... (Below threshold)

April 15, 2010 11:39 AM | Posted by Annie: | Reply

Fascinating.

It would help if women - black and white - would stop trying to invent demand through 'telling them what you are' and try getting down to some real work, where 'work' is not based on a television/movie model. This isn't the movie Rudy, where someone is filming your hard work, with a soundtrack sweeping in the background. Horrendously unglamorous, maybe boring perhaps, but ultimately more attractive, in my opinion. That goes for guys too (or especially).

When my girlfriends bitch about men (and lack thereof), I tell them to stop focusing on the male supply. Instead start doing the things that are engaging and produce some level of happiness, no matter who is along for the ride. Try a dance class. Cook a few pies. Whatever. Happy people with full lives tend to be the most attractive. The barrier to this approach is the perception that a decline in self-promotion can lead to one being mistaken for boring.

"...accept that what you do is more important than who you tell them you are." Best thing I've read all day.

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Why the asymmetry in what h... (Below threshold)

April 15, 2010 11:39 AM | Posted by Julian Morrison: | Reply

Why the asymmetry in what happens when there are too many men? My guess is that they aren't culturally expected to compete on "game". In a very-recently-third-world country, they compete on money and power.

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III: Yes you did need to me... (Below threshold)

April 15, 2010 11:57 AM | Posted by countingdaisies: | Reply

III: Yes you did need to mention that.

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Howdy, Ben! (cue ominous mu... (Below threshold)

April 15, 2010 12:01 PM | Posted by Ben: | Reply

Howdy, Ben! (cue ominous music ... or are we the same commenter?)

-'Anyone else a little nervous about reducing black men to a commodity with binary utility?'
Fair enough. I'm sure that the authors would tell you that each individual is a complex array of thoughts, beliefs, feelings, experiences, desires, and chemical impulses. But Mr. Charles (Kofi-Charles?) works for the NBER. While that institution isn't always on the mark (low interest rates forever? can't go wrong!), it at least aspires to be policy relevant. If policy is *supposed* to solve problems, it makes sense to figure out how big a problem is, and it's difficult to make a dataset that reflects complexity and remains useful. Analysis is impossible if some kind of focus isn't built into the data collection. As a consequence, we'll probably never know who, among the vast numbers of hemorrhoid sufferers, has the most complete Led Zeppelin collection, even if that might just be the right question to ask. If you want to count them, you need to reduce 'them' to something countable.
(Mr. Charles is also black, and he appears to be more than just Obama-census black. It's not unlikely that he's related to several of the commodity units with binary utility he's counted. It's a reasonable bet that he deserves the benefit of the doubt.)

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This all very interesting a... (Below threshold)

April 15, 2010 12:04 PM | Posted by Jim: | Reply

This all very interesting and all, but you seriously buried the lede.

How do I go about getting introduced to all these single female doctors who are having trouble finding mates?

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But I don't know (... (Below threshold)

April 15, 2010 1:31 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

But I don't know (m)any white women who think being a doctor increases their chances of finding a husband, makes them more appealing.

Your statement is so myopic it makes me wonder if this blog was written after a night of too many single malt whiskeys. Do you really think (m)any women are going to volunteer information even close to that anecdotal story (unattributed, btw)? You know ... in passing?

Gee, Alone, outside this article, which uses an economist's (!) riff (arbitrary intro of women pursuing men for marriage as an example-ignoring all mediating variables by the way) and the author of this article in a mag called "The Economist," how many African-American women do you know? I mean, seriously know? Is this what you'd call ... oh, I don't know ... a representative sampling?

Even though the unattributed money quote

I thought I was a catch,” sighs an attractive black female doctor at a hospital in Washington, DC.
is unattributed, I'd guess it came from the hard science of Audrey Chapman
a relationship counsellor and the author of several books with titles such as “Getting Good Loving”. Her advice to single black women is pragmatic: love yourself, communicate better and so on.

And so on, indeed, Alone. And on and on and so on, indeed.

Your post conflates this soft quote with the study you cite at the beginning. That's either poor or misleading writing. But if you were to write it more clearly, your lede would be destroyed. That would be unfortunate, indeed. Vonnegut needs a rewrite: "And so it stays."

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Facebook. Twitter. And if a... (Below threshold)

April 15, 2010 2:37 PM | Posted, in reply to Jim's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Facebook. Twitter. And if all else fails, get sick.

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So the lyric should go, "If... (Below threshold)

April 15, 2010 3:34 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

So the lyric should go, "If you like it I better pray you put a ring on it."

This is clearly an example of systemic racism dating back eons. What's wrong with black women finding white or Asian men? Why does anyone care what color they're fucking in the first place? In a few generations we'll all be brown to some extent so this blacks for blacks business is only furthering future racial conflicts along color borders. Unless we keep fucking till we're all the same color (or our personalities stop being copies of copies of media) we'll just keep fighting the same boring battles.

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Before you consider dating ... (Below threshold)

April 15, 2010 4:05 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Before you consider dating a doctor, this might be helpful.

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From an evolutionary and ec... (Below threshold)

April 15, 2010 5:03 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

From an evolutionary and economic perspective, it's been argued that women would fare best under polygamy. This allows multiple women to share the genes and resources of a single "alpha" male, instead of "settling" for the leftovers. Married men with kept women are a demonstration of the idea that half of the king is better than all of the pauper. This is the worst situation for most men, however, which is arguably why men have outlawed it.

Alone's point about the math is true, regardless of how you spin it. It's a lot like the labor market. If there are fewer accountants than accounting jobs, accountants can be pickier. From their perspective, getting a job is easy, so they can exert less effort finding and maintaining a job, and may switch jobs more frequently. There's simply less competition.

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I knew you were going to ge... (Below threshold)

April 15, 2010 5:13 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I knew you were going to get called a racist just for writing this blog post. But really, who cares about black people? Why does 13% of the population take up 50% or more of our attention? Obama is simply a manifestation of our obsessive desire to relieve our guilt of feeling that we are racist.

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what is the effect of si... (Below threshold)

April 15, 2010 5:39 PM | Posted by Eddie Sylvano: | Reply

what is the effect of simply knowing that a close relative-- say an uncle-- has been in the joint? Or, more commonly, that there are female relatives who have no choice but to raise a child on their own

True, and hopeless. Even if some percentage of the group manage to define their own reality, the rest of the group is still enforcing the status quo. They may be able to publish a book, but they can't get their peers to read it. It reminds me of bloggers who rail against the promotion of skinny girls as the attractive ideal. You can rail all you want, maybe even get people to agree with you, but it doesn't change the fact that guys pass on you because you're a fattie. Like he said, only an entire cultural shift can touch that. How long does that take?

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Obama is simply a manife... (Below threshold)

April 15, 2010 5:50 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Obama is simply a manifestation of our obsessive desire to relieve our guilt of feeling that we are racist.

It certainly hasn't hurt him. Still, Republican as I am, I think Obama was simply the more articulate, charismatic, plausible choice. Would Alan Keyes or Jesse Jackson have had a chance? Was McCain a better alternative? Besides, the presidency is somewhat of a emotional role. How else did Bush get elected? I'll be more impressed when we have a black Fed Chief.

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Unfortunately for black ... (Below threshold)

April 15, 2010 8:14 PM | Posted by FunPsych: | Reply

Unfortunately for black women, these shows are scripted by white women.

Are you calling Shonda Rhimes white?

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Are you calling Shonda Rhim... (Below threshold)

April 16, 2010 1:09 AM | Posted, in reply to FunPsych's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Are you calling Shonda Rhimes white?

No, but I'm calling her one of three or four Black women writing for television.

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From an evolutionary an... (Below threshold)

April 16, 2010 11:49 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by syntaxfree: | Reply

From an evolutionary and economic perspective, it's been argued that women would fare best under polygamy. This allows multiple women to share the genes and resources of a single "alpha" male,

Yes. That makes sense if (1) there's a measurable teleology in evolution and (2) one can always infer genes from behavior.

If the overall goal of evolution is producing a stronger (smarter, whatever) ape, and the stronger, smarter ape will always climb to pack leadership, yes, you're right.

On the other hand, if evolution has no clear goal, if the goals change with time (changing environment), then it becomes hard to offer a judgement on what "being better off from an evolutionary viewpoint" means.

Besides, if pack leadership ("alpha male") was the sole determinant of sexual attraction, our group of apes would soon evolve into an ultraviolent, brutish species. It's really not clear how an inclination to cooperate or even belong to a group could have evolved from that.

What I'm trying to say here is that (1) what you said fails to be even a coherent hypothesis and (2) genetic diversity is important to group fitness -- because of the complexity of the "fitness function", which has many local optima, and because endogamy causes problems. So we've evolved, as humans, on a number of different characters: some of us are stronger, some of us are smarter, some of us are OCD and somehow make the world safer, some of us are raving lunatics, like Socrates, and invent the idea of "knowledge".

And if you want to talk economics, wanna start with the efficiency gains from the division of labor between many different "kinds" of "beta" males?

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Anon - "From an evolutionar... (Below threshold)

April 16, 2010 12:57 PM | Posted, in reply to syntaxfree's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

Anon - "From an evolutionary and economic perspective, it's been argued that women would fare best under polygamy. This allows multiple women to share the genes and resources of a single "alpha" male,"

I agree with SyntaxTree.

I love it when people whip out evolution with no regard for how things actually work in nature and who think polygamy automatically means one guy with lots of wives. (Darwin's survival of the fittest doesn't mean the strongest or most brutal and rapacious, despite how many people have tried to use this misunderstanding to promote their own shitty, antisocial actions and economic greed.) Also, from both an economic and evolutionary perspective, women are better off with many husbands (multiple incomes/resources all directed towards her offspring, sperm competition that ensures that the best sperm wins). The main purpose of the alpha male is to protect the tribe from attack, and once someone better for the job comes along he's generally kicked out of the tribe to wander alone or hang out with other old Alphas. Non-alpha males not only sire and help raise offspring, they also usually remain with the tribe until they die. Female chimps actively go out of their way to get it on with non-Alpha males.

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"Unfortunately for black wo... (Below threshold)

April 16, 2010 2:37 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

"Unfortunately for black women, these shows are scripted by white women. If black girls are watching TV, then they're getting their options from white women."

Vs.

"But if you want to say that narcissism didn't play the crucial role because-- I'm white, or single, or drunk; then you're trapped in the generational circuit of illogicity that is the very point of this blog."

Ideas, not identities, right?

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I'm surprised it's not more... (Below threshold)

April 16, 2010 3:41 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I'm surprised it's not more frequent to see black women dating outside of their pigmentation level. It seems to me that black women in interracial couples are very rare.

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I think you mean "racial so... (Below threshold)

April 16, 2010 6:21 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

I think you mean "racial solidarity" not "racism" given the context, but sure what's the difference?

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Anon - "It seems to me that... (Below threshold)

April 16, 2010 6:42 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by brainchild: | Reply

Anon - "It seems to me that black women in interracial couples are very rare."

Not in Canada but I suspect things are a bit different up here than in the US. Racism certainly exists here but interracial dating and marriage isn't a big deal generally speaking.

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Do read the Chapter "Is Div... (Below threshold)

April 16, 2010 11:44 PM | Posted by Ambuj Saxena: | Reply

Do read the Chapter "Is Divorce Over-rated" in "The Logic of Life" by Tim Harford. He uses much better examples to illustrate the idea of scarcity power.

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I think it's interesting th... (Below threshold)