Marriage Promotion and Missing Men: African American Women in a Demographic Double Bind

Abstract

Since 1996, state legislators, members of the U.S. Congress, and more recently President George W. Bush, have called for the protection of monogamous, heterosexual marriage and the promotion of marriage among poor women. The thrust of this policy making is directed at African American families, among which female headship doubled between 1965 and 1990. This doubling is temporally associated with enacting the legislation directed toward the War on Drugs, which resulted in a tripling of the African American prison population. In Syracuse, New York, the swelling African American population behind bars has resulted in a skewed sex ratio, in which women significantly outnumber men. The authors use national, state, and local epidemiological, environmental, and ethnographic data to argue that the proliferation of marriage-promotion policies is heterosexist and blames African American women for demographic realities over which they have little control.