Professional black women faced with dwindling pool of compatible black men

August 21, 1991|By Leah Krakinowski | Leah Krakinowski,Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- At 28, Carolyn Sawyer has already achieved a style of life that millions of women envy: College-educated, she works as an anchor-reporter at a Boston television station and owns a town house overlooking a private golf course on Cape Cod Bay.

But she is depressed and disillusioned.

Like many other black professional women, she has no man in her life. And she worries that a shrinking pool of black professional men means that her chances of meeting -- and marrying -- one are increasingly slim.

"My weekends are spent in my $200,000 house with a crystal flute of champagne in hand, and I walk the stairs to my bedroom alone," said Ms. Sawyer, a self-proclaimed workaholic who rarely dates.

Ms. Sawyer and thousands of other upwardly mobile black women are the victims of a discouraging demographic trend: Even as black women have made giant leaps forward both professionally and economically in the last 10 years, black men haven't kept pace. As a result, say these women, there aren't enough to go around.

Kim Gee, a 35-year-old sales trainer from Adelphi, Md., said: "I probably have a greater chance of being the victim of a homicide than I do of finding a marriageable man. It has gotten to where I feel a sense of fear of the fact that I may have to live my life alone."

Statistics lend weight to that fear:

* The number of black men enrolled in college in the past 10 years decreased by 5 percent -- and continues falling -- while black women's enrollment has grown by 7 percent.

* Only 13 percent of black men in the labor force hold professional and managerial jobs, compared with 19 percent of black women.

* One in four black men between the ages of 20 and 29 is on parole, on probation or in jail.

* Seven out of 10 interracial marriages in 1990 were between black men and white women.

* Even if all black men were eligible bachelors, there wouldn't be enough to go around. For every 100 black women between the ages of 20 and 49, there are 89 black men, according to the Population Reference Bureau, a private organization that studies demographic trends.

Subtract the men who decide not to attend college, who are incarcerated, murdered, on drugs or dying of AIDS, and the pool of potentially middle-class black men dwindles even further.

"It's harder to find each other anyway when you consider that blacks are only 12 percent of the population," said Bart Landry, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland and the author of a book called "The New Black Middle Class." "But the difficulty in meeting and marrying comparable black men goes up astronomically with education and income."

What's more, he and others say, these distinctions of class and income are compounded by the breakup of black communities as middle-class blacks head for the suburbs.

"The black middle class is more segregated from the black lower class than in the past," said Reynolds Farley, a demographer at the University of Michigan's Population Studies Center. "The postman no longer lives a block away from the doctor, and the colleges aren't turning out enough black male college grads to go around."

All this, Mr. Landry said, may be showing itself in the declining marriage rate among black women: While people are generally marrying later in life, the rate of unmarried black women has increased nearly threefold in the past 20 years.

In 1990, more than half of all black women ages 25 to 29, and 35 percent of those 30 to 34, had never married. That is more than twice the rate for white women, the Census Bureau reported. Even by age 40, 17 percent of black women remained unmarried, compared with only 7 percent in 1970.

Ms. Sawyer said she rarely comes in contact with black professional men -- the two at her TV station are both married -- and is tired of being told to settle for someone less accomplished than she is.

"You can lower your economic and educational standards, and what you often encounter is a different moral upbringing and standards," she said.

She and Ms. Gee, part of a growing number of affluent blacks who earn $50,000 or more a year, are not simply looking for any black man to marry; they are seeking someone who is educated and financially self-sufficient who shares compatible values -- someone like themselves.

That is why Ruby Peters, a 36-year-old account executive for Apple Computer in the District of Columbia, has begun a quest for suitable dates for herself and a tight-knit circle of single, black professional women.

"I know there's a man out there with my father's standards," said Ms. Peters, who with her two sisters was raised in a Harlem housing project by her Barbados-born father after her mother died.

Ms. Peters' current search for the right man began with a transfer from the predominantly white city of Stamford, Conn., to Prince George's County, where there is a higher percentage of middle-income blacks.

Her next step was to make socializing with black professionals a deliberate task -- beginning with a twilight barbecue at her town house.

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