Code Switch
5:16 pm
Tue June 4, 2013

For Black Singles, A Big Gender Split On Views Of Long-Term Relationships

Originally published on Thu June 6, 2013 5:19 pm

The numbers go like this: Very few single black women — just a quarter of those surveyed — said they were looking for long-term relationships, or LTRs. But on the flip side, nearly 43 percent of single black men said they're looking for a long-term partner.

That's according to a new poll of nearly 1,100 African-Americans out today from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health. The survey asked questions about a wide range of topics, including communities, finance and dating. Respondents between 18 and 49 years old who were divorced, widowed or never married were asked whether they were currently seeking a long-term romantic commitment, and therein lay the gender skew.

It's important to note that the majority of both sexes — 57 percent — said they were not looking for long-term relationships.

When that data on dating is shared with Kristin McDonald, she is incredulous. "Shut the front door!" she says. McDonald is gathered with her black women's book club at a popular eatery in Brooklyn. Like McDonald, the members are all in their 30s and mostly single.

McDonald and the other women in the group say that they interpreted the term "long-term relationship" as meaning a prelude to marriage.

"I think that a lot of men think that they want to get married," she says. "Men see it as a sense of accomplishment. 'Once I get married, I can check something off the list in the things I want to accomplish in my life.' "

But why are so few women looking? McDonald says a lot of her girlfriends were raised by single moms; marriage wasn't modeled in their homes, and today it seems unlikely.

"Who wants to say they want something that they don't feel like they could ever achieve? It just makes you feel like, 'Damn!' you know?" McDonald says.

Dannette Hargraves says she wants to go the distance with someone. "Some people give up on marriage, like, 'I'm never going to find a guy who has a job, makes as much as I do, who's cute, that I can't pick up and spin around!' " she says.

According to Robert Blendon, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health who co-directed the survey, economic considerations might explain part of the gap. He says African-Americans are more likely than whites to want financial security in their long-term partners.

"The African-American community that we interviewed report a lot of financial insecurity about things that could go wrong in the future — losing jobs, not being able to pay medical bills, etc.," he says. "It's been reported a number of times: On the average, African-American women are staying in school longer than men. That also affects the choice for long-term partner."

And Blendon says these figures could have some real implications for the future of black families. "As generations move forward in African-American communities, there are going to be less LTRs, and it will shape what communities look like for the next few decades if people don't develop long-term partnerships here."

So what do men think of these numbers? A few neighborhoods over in Crown Heights, a group of guys — all 30-somethings — are sitting at a pub.

Milton Appling is single and looking for something long-term. But, he insists, it depends on what you mean by "long term."

"If 'long-term relationship' means headed to marriage as a final step, as opposed to X years and we'll see what happens, then that's very different," he says. "Men in general, when they hear that term, do not necessarily mean 'marriage.' Marriage is marriage."

Brook Stephenson, who is also single and looking, says he feels that most men don't have a good opinion of marriage but are still looking forward to long-term relationships.

"They may just not have found a woman they feel that strongly about," he says. "They want to be with her, but no one said anything about marriage. They just want to be with her. For however long that rocks, you know?"

But Serge Negri says he's on the path to a long-term relationship; he's found someone he really likes and things are getting pretty serious. "So I'm trying something new," he says. "I'm enjoying it, but it's not easy. It's been six months, so one milestone. So, no more questions about long-term relationships!"

But the guys keep talking about long-term relationships for more than an hour.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We've been digging into findings of a survey of African-Americans' views on communities, their finance and dating. The survey was conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health. We talked to more than a thousand men and women over the age of 18. One finding of note: More men than women said they were looking for long-term relationships.

But as Christopher Johnson reports, it turns out that men and women mean different things when they say long-term.

CHRISTOPHER JOHNSON, BYLINE: The numbers go like this: very few women - just a quarter of those surveyed - said they were looking for long-term relationships, and nearly twice as many black men said they were looking to go long-term.

KRISTIN MCDONALD: (unintelligible)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You know they're not.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNSON: I lay the data on Kristin McDonald and her black women's book club, gathered at a restaurant in Brooklyn. They're all in their 30's, mostly single. And to every woman here, the term long-term relationship equals a prelude to marriage. That's the lens McDonald used to interpret the survey numbers.

MCDONALD: I think that a lot of men think that they want to get married. I think men see it as a sense of accomplishment. Like, once I get married, I've checked something else off the list of the things that I want to accomplish in my life.

JOHNSON: Okay. But then, why are so few women looking? McDonald says a lot of her girlfriends were raised by single moms. Marriage wasn't modeled in their homes, and today it seems like a realm beyond possibility.

MCDONALD: Who wants to say they want something that they don't feel like they'll ever achieve? It just makes you feel like, damn, you know?

JOHNSON: So some black women just throw in the towel, says Dannette Hargraves, who is single, but wants to go the distance with someone.

DANNETTE HARGRAVES: Some people give up, like, I'm never going to get married so whatever. I'm never going to find a guy who has a job, who makes as much money as I do, who can live to my - who's cute, that I can't pick up and spin around.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERT BLENDON: The African-American community that we interviewed report a lot of financial insecurity about things that could go wrong in the future - losing jobs, not being able to pay medical bills, et cetera.

JOHNSON: Robert Blendon co-directed the survey. He teaches at the Harvard School of Public Health. He says African-Americans are more likely than whites to want financial security in their long-term partners.

BLENDON: And it's been reported a number of times, on the average, African-American women are staying in school longer, for lots of reasons, than men. That also affects the choice of a long-term partner.

JOHNSON: And what do black men think of the survey numbers?

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNSON: A group of guys, all 30-somethings, are sitting in a pub in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Milton Appling is single and looking for something long-term.

MILTON APPLING: A long-term relationship means headed towards marriage or as a final step, as opposed to X years, and we'll see what happens. Yeah, that's very different. You know, men in general when they hear that term do not necessarily mean marriage. Marriage is marriage.

BROOK STEPHENSON: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I think they may not necessarily have a good view of marriage, you know.

JOHNSON: Brook Stephenson, also single and searching for a girlfriend, says although guys may steer away from marriage, many are still enthusiastic about long-term relationships.

STEPHENSON: They may just not have found a woman they feel that strongly about. They want to be with her, but no one ever said anything about marriage. They just want to be with her, you know what I mean? For however long that rides, you know?

JOHNSON: It's important to note this, too. The majority of both sexes, 57 percent, said they were not looking for long-term relationships. Survey co-director Robert Blendon says that figure could have some real implications for the future of black families.

BLENDON: As generations move forward, there are going to be less long-term relationships, and it will shape what communities look like for the next few decades if people don't develop long-term partnerships here.

JOHNSON: Back at the beer garden in Crown Heights, Serge Negri says he's on the path to a long-term relationship. He's found someone he really likes and things are getting pretty serious.

SERGE NEGRI: So I'm trying something new. I'm enjoying it, but it's not easy. It's been six months, so, you know, we're at one milestone. So, no more questions about long-term relationships.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNSON: But the guys did keep talking about long-term relationships for more than an hour. For NPR News, I'm Christopher Johnson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.