State of the Black Family

Fifty years ago Daniel Patrick Moynihan published his groundbreaking federal study, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.1) In his introduction Moynihan stated, “At the heart of the deterioration of the fabric of Negro society is the deterioration of the Negro family.” Since then, that deterioration has accelerated dramatically. Today, only 17 percent of black teenagers reach age 17 in a family with both their biological parents married.2) In no state does family intactness exceed 30 percent.

States in Rank Order by Family Belonging Index among Blacks

U.S. social norms and culture traditionally have shaped behavior in a different and much healthier way. In 2006, eminent social scientists Mick Cunningham and Arland Thornton put it like this:

Historically, marriage in the United States constituted a unified set of ideas about appropriate adult behavior. Marriage conferred adult status and set the boundaries for sexual activity, childbearing, and living arrangements with a sexual partner. Marriage defined the kinds of work performed by husbands and wives and was viewed as a lifelong endeavor. In recent decades, however, marriage has been largely deinstitutionalized; its meaning is no longer broadly shared, and the package of behaviors that were associated with marriage in the past have become much less closely linked. Behaviors such as premarital sex, cohabitation, childbearing outside of marriage, extended singlehood, and divorce have become much more common in recent years, and they have also become more widely accepted.3)

1. Sexuality

All families are the fruit of sexual intercourse. In the black family, sexual intimacy usually is achieved early and without the benefit of marriage.

1.1 Sexual Patterns

Sexual patterns among the African American community are mixed. On the one hand, the percentage of African American high schoolers who have had sexual intercourse has decreased since 1991 (first graph below). Correspondingly, the out-of-wedlock birthrate for black teenage women has also decreased (second graph below).

High School Students in the U.S. Who Have Had Sexual Intercourse by Race/ Ethnicity

U.S. Out-of-Wedlock Birth Rate of Teenage Women by Race/ Ethnicity

However, black youth are still far more likely than Hispanic or white youth to have had sexual intercourse. According to the Center of Disease Control’s “Youth Risk Behavior Surveys,” in 2011 about 41 percent of black (non-Hispanic) adolescents have had sex compared to 33.5 percent of Hispanic teenagers and 32.4 percent of white (non-Hispanic) teenagers. Similarly, black teenage women are most likely to give birth out-of-wedlock—slightly more than Hispanic teenagers, and significantly more than white teenagers.4)

Not surprising, given their high rate of sexual activity, black individuals are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with an HIV than people of other races/ ethnicities.

New HIV Diagnosis in the U.S. by Race

These sexual patterns persist into adulthood. According to the NCHS National Vital Statistics Report, it is more likely for an unmarried black woman than a married black woman to become pregnant.

U.S. Pregnancy Rate of Married and Unmarried Women by Race/ Ethnicity

Unmarried black women are significantly more likely to abort their child than are married black women, and the high rate of abortions amongst black women is at least partially due to this high rate of pregnancies among unmarried women.

U.S. Abortion Rate of Unmarried Women by Race/ Ethnicity

1.2 Effects of Sexual Patterns

These sexual trends are especially alarming because they set the foundation for relationship stability. The below chart shows the status of American marriages five years into the marriage. Among both men and women who have never had any sexual partner other than their spouse (ie. they were totally monogamous), 97 percent of women and 99 percent of men were still married. For women who had one extra sexual partner (for most, before marriage) only 64 percent were still married—a drop of 33 percent, which is twice the rate of men. For those women who had two sexual partners outside of marriage, only 55 percent were still married five years down the road.

Clearly, the more sexual partners an individual has, the less he/ she is capable of sustaining marriage. This is especially true for women, who experience a steeper and more significant reduction in marital security with each additional non-marital or extra-marital partner.

Men and Women in First Marriage by Number of Sexual Partners

2. Family Structure

The intact, married black family is rapidly disappearing. According to 2008-2012 data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, only 17 percent of black teenagers have been raised by their married, biological parents.5) )) This is less than half the number of black children raised in intact families in 1950.

1950 versus 2012: Change in Family Belonging in White and Black Families

Family intactness has decreased across every age group for every race; however, black children are significantly more likely to experience family brokenness than children of other races/ ethnicities.

1950 versus 2012: Family Intactness by Child's Age & Race

3. Education

Black females aged 35-40 who are in intact married families are most likely to have graduated from college; conversely, black women who dropped out of high school are most likely to be single.

Female Education Attainment by Family Structure

Black males exhibit similar trends: most college graduates are in intact marriages, whereas most high school dropouts are, and always have been, single.

Male Education Attainment by Family Structure

4. Income

According to the 2012 Statistical Abstracts of the United States, black families have a significantly lower median family income than all other races/ ethnicities.

Median Family Income by Race/ Ethnicity

The below chart, based on analysis of the American Community Survey by the Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI), helps clarify the low median income among the black community. More than half of black women (56 percent) and black men (51 percent) who live in poverty have always been single. Coming in a far-behind second is divorced black women (19 percent) and cohabiting black men (18 percent).

Black Men and Women Living in Poverty

Correspondingly, as the below chart shows, 50 percent of black children living in poverty are being raised by an always-single parent.

Black Children Living in Poverty

Black adults who forgo marriage and black children who are not raised by their married parents tend to face a wide range of financial obstacles, and very frequently end up in poverty.

5. Government Dependency

The majority of black welfare recipients come from non-intact families. Sixty-one percent of always-single black women and fifty-one percent of always-single black men receive TANF or welfare, followed by 19 percent of divorced black men and women.

Black Adults Receiving TANF or Welfare

Similarly, black children with always-single parents are most likely rely on food stamps (49 percent), followed by black children whose parents are divorced (16 percent).

Black Children Household's Use of Food Stamps

Daniel P. Moynihan, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action (1965),” African American Male Research (1997). Available at
Mark Cunningham and Arland Thornton, “The Influence of Parent’s Marital Quality on Adult Children’s Attitudes toward Marriage and Its Alternatives: Main and Moderating Effects,” Demography 43, no.4 (2006): 659–672.
Patrick F. Fagan and Christina Hadford, The Fifth Annual Index of Family Belonging and Rejection, Marriage and Religion Research Institute, 2015. Available at

This entry draws heavily from The Fifth Annual Index of Belonging and Rejection and The State of the Black Family.