Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Marriage benefits black families and can even make a difference in whether a family with children lives in poverty, but has little or no impact on a couple’s health, according to a new study.

These benefits, however, are not always evenly distributed within the black family. It appears that men and children — especially boys — are helped more from marriage than women, said Linda Malone-Colon, co-author of “The Consequences of Marriage for African Americans.”

The study was released this week by the Institute of American Values (IAV).

While both husbands and wives report more satisfaction with their lives, compared with singles, she said husbands register far greater satisfaction with family life than wives.

“A lot more research needs to be done” on these and other issues, said Mrs. Malone-Colon, who is the director of the new National Healthy Marriage Resource Center, a clearinghouse for marriage information supported by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and private funders.

The Bush administration has made strengthening marriage one of its domestic policy goals. To date, HHS has spent more than $25 million on healthy-marriage projects around the country.

The state of the black family concerns many scholars. Census data show that 34 percent of black families are headed by married couples. This is a substantial reversal from 1950, when almost 80 percent of black families were headed by married couples.

The IAV report sought to answer questions about this shift by reviewing 125 social science articles and national survey data on how marriage affects black families.

The five researchers found that, on average, married black men and women were wealthier and happier than their unmarried peers.

Economically, having a spouse — and often a second income — brought substantial dividends. One study reviewed in the report found that family incomes of black single parents (usually mothers) grew by 81 percent when they married.

Marriage also benefited children, especially boys.

“[W]hen African-American boys live with their father in the home — particularly their married father — they typically receive substantially more parental support,” the report said. As a result, black boys of married parents tend to do better in school and markedly are less likely to become delinquent.

However, in the area of health — where marriage usually brings strong benefits to married couples — data was meager and inconclusive.

“Our research finds that marriage brings small health benefits to black men and none to black women,” said Mrs. Malone-Colon and her co-authors Lorraine Blackman of Indiana University, Obie Clayton of Morehouse College, Norval Glenn of the University of Texas at Austin and Alex Roberts of IAV.

“These findings are unexpected and beg for explanation,” they said.

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