By: Chelsea Davis M. Ed.
Statistics has shown that marriage among Black men has declined over the years. There are many factors that contribute to this, however there was one study that was conducted to better understand the meaning of marriage among Black men. This study focused on interview data from 52 participants who were participants of the Pathways to Marriage Project. These participants were recruited from the Program for Strong African American Marriages (ProSAAM) as quoted “The purpose of this investigation was to uncover the underlying processes that support marriage formation and maintenance among Black men.”
The research was conducted by Tera Jordan, an assistant professor of human development and family studies at Iowa State University, in collaboration with Jeffrey Shears, director of the Joint Masters of Social Work Program at the University of North Carolina Greensboro and North Carolina A&T State University, Maggie O’Connor, a graduate research assistant at Iowa State University, and Sharon Brooks Hodge, executive director of Black Family Preservation Group, Inc.
According to Sharon, she stated, “This new research is important because we are not aware of any other studies that have analyzed Black men’s memories regarding their fathers’ lessons about being a husband. Black men are significantly understudied in academic literature on marriage and marriage relationships.” In addition, Jeffrey stated, “Black males don’t necessarily view marriage as a healthy option. We don’t talk about the benefits of marriage to males…how we learn and how we process and even our value system is certainly influenced by our parents our families of origin and our communities.
So how are black men viewed in our society today? “There are some strengths…but they are really struggling with a lot of stereotypes…there’s an uphill battle…that look at black men as being less than before they open their mouths and before they walk through the door, stated Tera Jordan.
Four themes were found in the meaning of marriage that included; secure emotional support, lifelong commitment, enhanced life success, and secure attachment. In addition, there were two themes that were in a result to important influences that contributed to the meaning relative to marriage, which included faith, and the dynamics of give and take. “Responses among the men concerning the change in marriage over time related to transitions in American marriages and a deepened respect for marriage.”
The couples that participated in the study resided from northeastern Georgia and metropolitan Atlanta. In order to participate in the study, couples had to meet the following criteria:
- Be at least 21 years of age
- Be willing to participate with their mate
- Be legally married and living together or have definite plans to marry within 12 months
- Agree to attend an educational program session that meets on three Saturday mornings
- Be willing to pray and have others pray for them as a couple
In the study, “Census estimates, only 32% of Black adults were married in 2009 as compared with 51% of adults from all races (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). Although some Blacks have retreated from marriage, scholars note that the desire to marry and the high regard for marriage have not waned over time in the general population (Edin & Reed, 2005; Marks et al., 2008).” Even though marriage has declined among Black Men, in regards to all races in the general population, people are still getting married.
In the two hours each man was interviewed, they were asked “about the meaning of marriage, marital socialization, their motivations for marrying and staying married, factors that help encourage and sustain marriage, barriers to or challenges in staying married, commitment attitudes, and their participation in ProSAAM.”
The following below are only some things that were found in the study:
The Meaning of Marriage
According to the study, in regards to the meaning of marriage, “54% of the sample described it as a lifelong partnership.” Several themes were derived from marriage being viewed as a lifelong partnership such as, secure emotional support, lifelong commitment, enhanced life success, and secure attachment.
Secure emotional support- “Their wives often complemented them, providing support and strength in areas where they were less dominant; moreover, their wives often provided the men a safe space in which to express their psychological and emotional concerns on a consistent basis.”
Lifelong commitment- “The men reflected on the significance of shared memories and emphasized nurturing their intimacy with their wives, whom they viewed as companions and confidantes on their life’s journey.”
Enhanced life success- “Marriage serving as an organizing and centering force in the men’s lives.”
Secure attachment- “The men confided that it was reassuring to know that their wives cared about them, when it seemed as though no one else in the world did.”
Influences on the Construction of Meaning
There were two themes that were found in regards to influences on the construction of meaning, which are faith and the dynamics of give and take.
Faith- “Thirty-eight percent of the sample reported that the meaning of marriage was related to faith, inclusive of religion and spirituality. The men recognized marriage as an institution created by God and viewed it as a gift from God. For these men, marriage was also deemed a reflection of their intimate relationship with God.”
They dynamics of give and take- “Thirty-seven percent of the men focused on marital dynamics as they assessed what marriage meant to them. Marriage meant adjusting to their wives’ and families’ needs on a continuous basis, and their marital commitment reflected their willingness to accept this constant challenge in their lives and their diligence in working to meet the needs of the household.”
Change in Marriage Over Time
Transitions in American marriages- “(42%) cited ways in which marriage in American society had changed. A couple of men felt that mankind had changed the purpose of marriage from what God intended it to be, “from a covenant to a contract.”
“Yet two other men believed that individuals were marrying for the wrong reasons (e.g., to cope with loneliness, settling for a partner just to be married; or that people had not properly prepared for marriage (e.g., lack of marriage models and mentors, failing to treat marriage as a serious step in their lives, not setting goals with their partners before marriage.”
Deepened Respect for Marriage- “23% of the men pointed out how their own personal respect for marriage has deepened. As compared with when they were first married, a few men stated that they now had a more serious regard for their marriage, the process of uniting and working together with their wives, and the investment and responsibility that marriage required. This conclusion was attributable to the passage of time a lack of maturity, or not having a good understanding of marriage because one’s parents were not together throughout one’s childhood.”
This study was used to understand the meaning of marriage among Black Men. Marriage is not an easy thing to do and requires couples to constantly work hard in order to keep their marriage together. Marriage is more than just love; it requires patience, sacrifices, compromising, and working with someone who you may not always agree with. This study exposed the contributing factors of men learning how to be husbands from role models, and from their childhood experiences. All of this important research can be found in current edition of the journal Personal Relationships, which can be found at this website: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/pere.12171/full.