When examined through the marriage lens, other differentials in American life can be understood as flowing from this most basic of human relationships. Marriage confers not just health and longevity, but wealth, life satisfaction, community engagement and other social goods. There is a large income gap between white and black Americans. But the marriage rate among African-Americans has been significantly below that of others for several generations — though the white and Hispanic rates of unmarried parenting are sharply increasing. According to 2010 Census data, African-American two-earner married couples had mean incomes above the national average for married couples.
The results of the retreat from marriage have been evident in the black community for some time — but were co-morbid with other things. Were the high crime rates and poor school performance the result of the collapse of marriage or the residue of slavery and Jim Crow? Were the higher rates of diseases such as diabetes and heart disease in the African-American community related to family structure or poverty — and if the latter, was the poverty the cause or the effect of family structure?
With the Hispanic and white populations now retreating from marriage as well, many of the pathologies that had been politely called “inner city” woes — widespread drug abuse, joblessness, mental illness and school failure — are on the upswing among whites. And now there is no comparable history of discrimination to cloud the picture.