Voices of Black Women A Feature Story Exploring the Black woman’s Perspective of Career Success and Declining Marriage Rates Among Educated African-American Women

“I think that I was partnered with someone who was exact opposite which made me realize exactly how driven I was. He lacked confidence, had insecurities about making decisions about his life, he was a little afraid to pursue what he loved and had been kind of told what to do. So, those two personalities kind of clashed,” says Martin.

Kameelah Martin, an associate professor of English at Savannah State University.

Martin married Keith Samuel shortly after receiving her Ph.D. from Florida State University. It was in this marriage that she realized how driven she was about her career. After being married for four and a half years, Martin and her husband divorced. It was her husband’s lack of confidence and ambition and her dedication to her career that caused the couple to drift apart. She became increasingly focused on being a great professor, a great scholar and writing her book, Conjuring Moments in African-American Literature: Women, Spirit Work and Other Such Hoodoo. Her marriage responsibilities faded to the background.

In a 2014 study by US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health titled “Married Black Men’s Opinions As To Why Black women Are Disproportionately Single: A Qualitative Study,” 52 married black men were interviewed to share their opinions as to why black women continue to be disproportionately single in comparison to others.

“I want them to get married, but who are they going to get married to? Roscoe from down the street who don’t have a plan for his life, you know, there are not as many successful Black guys as there are successful Black girls,” said Eddie, who was a participant in the study, noting Black women’s greater economic progress relative to Black men’s, and how they might factor into relationships and marriage.

Martin’s career success began to blur the gender line of her household as she began taking on most of the obligations- something that she had not signed up for. The incompatibility of her and her husband by educational attainment, personality and financial fortitude weighed heavily on the marriage.

Although Martin was perfectly capable and able to make decisions it was still important to have balance when it came to her relationship. In her marriage, she had to wear the pants in the relationship- something that she had not signed up for.

“He simply didn't know how to make decisions about life insurance, building credit, homeownership, etc. I could not rely on my partner to make rational life decisions. Also, I could not trust him to be responsible. It was like I was mothering a grown child instead of having a partner. That meant all the decisions and all the responsibility fell on me,” said Martin.

“I learned to respect certain gender roles and understand why they can be necessary for a successful relationship. I was making more money than him; I was running the household; [and] I was making decisions as if I were the leader of the household. I never signed up for that. I never wanted to wear the pants in the relationship so the fact that I ended up having to wear the pants in the relationship, I did it and I was supportive but then when I realized that that was what the relationship was and that it wasn’t going to change that was not something that I was ready to continue,” says Martin.

When men are socialized to be the breadwinner and the provider and the dominate person in the relationship if he’s not able to do those things and if his whole definition of manhood depends on that then being in a relationship with an assertive black woman can be intimidating and less appealing.


Traditionally having it all is defined as having a professional career, loving spouse and children but for educated African-American women it can be difficult to achieve. Educated black women are subject to much more scrutiny, stereotypes and less privilege, they find it much more difficult to be successful than white educated women.

“The success of white women is rooted in that of their family or their husband. White privilege is their success it doesn’t compare. Period,” says Ja’Andra Wheeler, a current Africana Studies graduate student at Howard University, in a brief interview.

A 1995 study published by National Council on Family Relations titled, “Racial Differences in Men's Attitudes about Women's Gender Roles” investigates three aspects of male gender role development – (a) race differences between African-American and white men's attitudes about women's gender roles, (b) changes in gender role attitudes across time, and (c) maternal and life course influences on gender. Gender roles among African-Americans are more complex than those of white because of a difference in life experiences. According to the study, even the process through which mothers socialize daughters into gender roles attitudes is racially specific. The attitudes of white daughters are influenced significantly by their mothers' attitudes but not by mothers' employment history; for African-American daughters, it is maternal employment but not attitudes that affect gender role attitudes.

Societal norms have painted marriage as a distant dream for college educated black women. An April 2015 article published on The Atlantic, reported statistics from a study by Pew Research stating that 49 percent of college-educated black women marry a well-educated man, in comparison to the 84 percent of college-educated white women. For black women, this means that they are more than 50 percent less likely to be married to a well-educated man.

Marriage has been depicted by society as a pivotal part of the American Dream. Black women are redefining what it means to be successful by transcending barriers, reaching career success and finding happiness in other things, such as children and hobbies. Black women are much more likely to obtain advanced degrees than their male counterparts. According to an article by The Journal of Black in Higher Education, there are 1,874,000 black women with a bachelor’s degree compared to the 1,341,000 black men who have bachelor’s degrees.

DeChristian Guthrie, a senior chemistry major at SSU, does not worry about the possibility of getting married because there are men that admire having a successful, educated black woman rather than being intimidated. She does admit that marriage is an important factor in her overall success.

“Marriage is an important factor for me because I do want a family and I would like to establish a healthy relationship before having children,” says Guthrie.


Bertice Berry, Ph.D., a bestselling author and lecturer, considers herself successful not only for her career success, but mostly the joy she feels seeing her children’s achievements. Berry divorced her husband within the same year of the marriage. She raised five children, her sister’s children and children from another family that were born fetal alcohol syndrome and crack addicted.

“When they achieve I get to celebrate,” said Berry.

It is often questioned whether women can successfully balance a demanding career and children. Berry recently traveled to Chicago for business and while there she remembered that Hamilton, the Broadway show was playing. She went up to the concierge desk and asked if there were any more tickets available for the show.

“The woman is like well they’re a little bit expensive and the guy next to me was like maybe I should change my car service and stay longer and go to Hamilton with her. That happens daily.” says Berry with a laugh, in an interview.

The guy proceeded to ask for her phone number saying that he wanted her to talk to his son who wants to be an anthropologist. In Berry’s words, it was the most creative way that anyone had asked for her number. It was clearly a pickup line.

“Then I realized I needed to drag my daughter here because if I go to see Hamilton without her there will be no ending with her. Those kinds of choices are mine, right, wrong or indifferent. They’re my choice and I also think there is a tremendous amount of power in being a single mother that what happens is on me. I got to figure it out and as long as I have the diligence that not only raises the child, but raises me my children will get and have gotten more opportunities that I had,” said Berry.

Stacy Hawkins Adams, a veteran storyteller and journalist, was married for 18 years before she and her husband divorced. Hawkins and her ex-husband have two children together, an 18-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old son. As any divorced parent, Adams worries about the effects the divorce could have on her children.

“I just made an effort to make sure that they always knew that they had both parents. Their father and I have joint custody, we co-parent and they have always had the freewill to go back-and-forth between our houses,” said Adams.

When their daughter went off to college both Adams and her ex-husband moved her in to her dorm. They both try to make sure that they are very present as a reminder to them that their divorce stemmed from issues they had with each other and are not the children’s fault.

“During the 70s, when the psychological literature first discussed the effects of divorce on children, the general view was that divorce doesn't have to harm children. But, it does. Children, even intelligent ones or older ones, often think it is their fault. There is a lot of self-blame. Grades suffer,” said Jann Gumbiner, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and clinical professor at the University of California, Irvine College of Medicine.

She and her ex-husband are active in their children’s lives to combat the negative effects that divorce can have on children.

“I always just try to be there for them, talk to them and make sure that they had access to both parents,” said Adams.


For career-driven black women it can become difficult to find partners who meet or exceed their educational and financial expectations. The pool of black men for black women to choose from becomes only a pond due to that criteria. The financial stability and educational disparities between black women and black men cause a decrease in marriage rates also.

A 2015 study by Princeton University titled “The Growing Racial and Ethnic Divide in U.S. Marriage Patterns” by R. Kelly Raley, Megan W. Sweeney, and Danielle Wondra, says that studies have documented important racial differences in the economic returns to schooling. As young adults, black men have more trouble transitioning into stable full-time employment than white men do, and this racial difference is particularly pronounced among men with lower levels of education. In early adulthood, even college- educated black men earn less than white men. These differences in career entry alone help explain why black men are slower to marry than white men.

“I think a lot of it has to do with gaining success, having a terminal degree puts you in a different tax bracket, it puts you in a different frame of mind. Then average men, average black men in particularly, not that there are not black men who are financially successful and have terminal degrees because there are plenty of them but I don’t know where they are,” says Martin.


Self-help and relationship books have encouraged African-American women to date outside of their race. In a book titled, “Is Marriage for White People: How the African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone,” by Richard T. Banks, he writes that black women open themselves up to be willing to enter serious relationships with men of other races and backgrounds arguing that it will improve black women and men.

Bertice Berry believes that attaining a high level of success allows men and women to have a choice when dating.

“The more successful you are [the more] you get to choose. You don’t have to wait for somebody to choose you or hope that you get picked. The more you think for yourself the more you go ‘I don’t like these pickings’ and you can pick all over the place. It’s not what I am proposing but people make it seem like all the black men are in jail or their gay or they are already married and ain’t nobody else for you. No there are Indian men, Asian men you know what I’m saying. There are other people in the world if I choose to choose from there. More importantly I can be happy by myself. “I find that that whole thing that if you don’t have somebody you aren’t somebody does people a disservice particularly when marriage leads to divorce,” says Berry, in an interview.

However, black women are either much more reluctant to marry outside their race, or do not have the opportunity to do so.

“I think that you do what is going to fulfill you. If it’s dating outside of your race I think that’s fine. I think people make a big deal out of that, what’s for you is what’s for you. For me I’m not opposed to it but I know that I’m a strong personality. I know I am very committed to black culture and black history unapologetically. So, anyone who wants my time and attention is going to have to deal with that because that’s who I am. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not compatible with someone outside of my race,” says Martin.


Bobbi Bowman of McLean, Va. the former diversity director for the American Society of News Editors and reporter for the Washington Post believes that a lack of compatibility in past relationships was the reason she never married.

Growing up in a household that stressed the importance of education rather than marriage allowed Bowman to find success and happiness in her career and making a difference in the lives of others. It is what defines her as a woman.

When it relates to her personal life, Bowman has mastered the art of sharing just enough, but no more. According to Bowman, there is no correlation between educational attainment and a woman’s desire to be married.

“I just never felt that I had someone that I was compatible with. That is the major reason that women in general don’t marry,” say Bowman, with a laugh.

Bowman has committed herself to her work and it is where she finds joy. She defines success as being happy with what you and being able to make a difference in people’s lives. Her career as a journalist has allowed her to make a difference.

I have written stories that have gotten people out of jail and that have bought awareness to important issues,” says Bowman, in a phone interview.


There was a time when women felt they had to marry for status, just because everybody was married but women are not feeling that pressure anymore.

Steve Weinman, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Savannah, Georgia, pressure to get married can cause marriage for the sake of a title as opposed to finding a suitable life partner leading to behaviors, such as overlooking verbal, emotional, physical and sexual abuse.

“If the goal is to get married as opposed to have a marriage, divorce is more likely because the goal has already been reached on the wedding day,” says Weinman.

Angela Tuck, a communications manager for the division of child support services for the state of Georgia, has been married for 29 years to her husband Joe Tuck. She admits that her marriage has had its challenges because her husband’s career has taken a backseat to hers. However, he has still been very supportive of her career, helping with their daughters when she travels.

There are men who are not wrapped up in ideas about masculinity and gender roles that they can share responsibilities or take on tasks that are not defined as masculine.

Joe Tuck says that he has never had a problem maneuvering and readjusting due to his wife’s career success.

“Both of us have demanding jobs. I work nights and weekends. I have worked in retail for years. I now work two jobs, Sam’s Club and the Atlanta Journal Constitution. I have been willing to relocate when she has gotten job offers. I support her career and she supports mine. I am looking forward to retiring in a few years and so is she. Things are much easier now since our daughters are grown and on their own,” said Joe.

He admits that there were times that they had to rely on friends and family to babysit when their daughters were younger.

However, there are men who do not find it emasculating or demeaning to who they are as men.

Isaiah, a man quoted in a study at Georgia State University titled, ‘Married Black Men’s Opinions as to why Black Women Are Disproportionately Single’, said “I applaud the women out there whose been that far herself and educated and all, and she is looking for her mate to say, “Hey you know, I feel comfortable with you.” She is looking for someone who is compatible with her.”

For women success, can solely defined by their career achievement, relationship status, wealth, materialistic items, personal relationship, family ties or a conjunction of them all. Specifically, for college-educated black women their success is defined by their career achievements and their ability to give back, their family and being able do what they love.

“I do not believe that me being or not being married will hider me from being successful. That’s completely up to me regardless of who is in what role in my life,” said Alana Green, a recent college graduate from Savannah State University.


The Huffington Post

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