II. Romantic Preferences' Effects on Children

For most of U.S. history, non-marital children suffered significant legal and societal discrimination. Most, although not all, of the legal disabilities have been eliminated as a result of U.S. Supreme Court decisions striking down laws denying non-marital children the same rights enjoyed by marital children. Societal disapproval of non-marital families has also decreased as children are increasingly raised by cohabitating or single parents. Despite these changes, non-marital children *124 are disadvantaged relative to their marital counterparts in many ways. First, as I have described in prior work, the law continues to places heavier burdens on non-marital children in a number of areas, including parental support for college, intestate succession, and paternal transmission of U.S. citizenship. Second, non-marital children continue to experience societal disapproval. The majority of Americans, including African-Americans and Latinos, believe that non-marital childbearing is a significant social problem and that unmarried women should not have children Although the majority of non-marital children do not receive government benefits, society presumes that they will rely on public assistance for their support which contributes to their stigmatization. Non-marital African-American children face greater disapproval than White children, especially when they are poor.

Non-marital children are disadvantaged in virtually every measure, with consequences that extend into adulthood. Numerous studies have shown that children who grow up in a single-parent home or with cohabitating parents are more likely than children raised by married parents to be poor, underachieve *125 academically, become teen parents, abuse drugs, engage in delinquent behavior, experience behavioral problems, and earn lower wages as adults. They are also less likely to attend college or receive financial support as children or as adults. Researchers cannot completely explain the reasons for these poorer outcomes, but many argue that fewer resources--rather than growing up in a home with two married parents--are the source of these disadvantages. Indeed, the law's preference for marital childbearing and the legal benefits it grants to married couples may explain the differences in outcomes. With the possible exception of academic achievement, these outcomes disproportionately affect African-American and Latino children who are more likely to be raised in single-parent families. While a close relationship with both parents may reduce these risks, divorced and non-marital fathers disengage from their children at alarmingly high rates.

*126 Marriage is not the solution to the potential disadvantages experienced by non-marital and disproportionately African-American and Latino children. These disadvantages are the result of social inequality, lack of resources, residential segregation, and an educational system that fails children in poor and minority neighborhoods. Yet, the advantages and opportunities available to marital children are increasingly significant and have created a divide of haves versus have nots along marital lines. Low-income and working class individuals (who are disproportionately African-American or Latino/a) increasingly postpone or forego marriage but not childbearing. As a result, single and cohabitating parents are disproportionately poor and have few resources to invest in their children. In contrast, college-educated individuals postpone marriage and childbearing until they are financially stable. This latter group invests more resources in their children than prior generations ever have. Assortative mating has magnified the inequality between marital and non-marital children as highly educated and successful individuals marry and have children with highly educated and successful partners, leaving low-income individuals to create “fragile families.”

While the class inequality exacerbated by assortative mating is troubling, this Essay focuses on the racial inequality created by preferences in the dating and marriage market. Consequently, it focuses on the dating market for college-educated African-American women since their children are most affected by racial preferences in the marriage market. While racial preferences may also disadvantage the children of low-income African-American mothers, their children are much more disadvantaged by poverty, family instability, and lack of access to adequate schools and safe neighborhoods--problems that will not be remedied by eliminating racial preferences in the romantic marketplace.

The number of children affected by racial preferences in the dating and marriage market is small as compared to the number of African-American children in “fragile families.” These children are amongst the most privileged, as their mothers are college-educated and likely to be financially stable. These children are also likely to attend quality schools and to reside in desirable neighborhoods. Given their relative privilege, one might ask whether it is worthwhile to explore how racial preferences limit their access to resources and opportunities when so many children have significantly fewer advantages. I contend that it is. When we examine opportunities for children, we should not focus only on the most disadvantaged *127 children but should also address barriers that prevent all children from taking advantage of opportunities available to a select few. For example, it is not enough for all children to attend adequate schools if some children have opportunities to attend superior schools because of their race. Similarly, it is troubling if children of college-educated Asian-Americans mothers have greater access to resources and opportunities than the children of college-educated African-American women, if those advantages are the result of racial preferences.

In the United States, marriage has historically been a mechanism for women's economic security. Even today, some women rely on marriage as a tool for economic security and upward mobility. Historically, marriage has not provided these economic benefits to African-American women who married African-American men, as the earnings of African-American men have always been much lower than those of White men. This remains true today, as African-American women are twice as likely as their male counterparts to graduate from college and almost three times as likely to obtain a post-graduate degree. However, minority women who intermarry with White men enjoy significantly higher family incomes and wealth than those who marry in. For example, in 2010, the median family income of White/Latino/a marriages was $57,900 as compared to $35,578 for Latino/Latina marriages. Asian-Americans who intermarried with Whites earned higher combined incomes than all other couples--same-race or interracial. Minority women who intermarry with Whites live in wealthier neighborhoods and are more likely to have access to intergenerational transfers of wealth than minority women in same-race marriages.

The children of White/non-White marriages tend to enjoy greater access to safe neighborhoods, high quality schools, economic resources, and intergenerational transfers of wealth than the children of minority couples. They also enjoy the intangible benefits of access to networks that rarely include minorities. For example, a child who resides in a wealthier neighborhood with high quality schools-- *128 neighborhoods that are disproportionately White--may have greater access to coveted internships and academic opportunities not available is less privileged neighborhoods and schools. Some of these opportunities are formal--the school in the wealthier neighborhood may have more guidance counselors who search for opportunities and help students secure them. Other opportunities are informal and can only be described as networks or as one single mother described “access to power.” These networks help individuals obtain jobs, internships, and clients, opportunities that are not available to individuals outside the network.

Racial preferences limit the pool of potential partners available to African-American women and reduce the likelihood that their children will be raised in financially secure, two-parent homes and have access to the resources and opportunities available to the children of interracial marriages. When highly educated and financially successful men--who are disproportionately White or Asian-American--exclude African-American women as potential romantic and ultimately marriage partners, African-American women may end up marrying men with lower levels of educational attainment and income. Those marriages will not only have fewer resources, but are also at higher risk of divorce. Consequently, the children of those marriages may be more likely to grow up with fewer resources and to spend part of their childhood in a single parent home.

One might not be sympathetic to an African-American college-educated woman who rejects a same-race partner with an average income because she would prefer a higher income partner. But African-American women are not rejecting same-race partners with average incomes. They are rejecting partners with low incomes or no income at all. The pool of employed African-American men is so thin that African-American women may find it difficult to find a same-race partner who is employed period. For example, one recent study reported that there are *129 “51 employed young black men for every 100 young black women,” ages 25-34. In contrast, “[a]mong never-married white, Hispanic and Asian American young adults, the ratio of employed men to women is roughly equal--100 men for every 100 women.” The pool is even more limited for African-American women seeking a college-educated same-race partner as African-American women graduate from college at twice the rate of their male counterparts. Successful African-American men are more likely than African-American women to intermarry, thereby decreasing the pool of marriageable African-American men available to African-American women.

Given the limited pool of marriageable African-American men, some middle class African-American women will not find a same-race partner. Their own racial preferences for African-American men and those of non-Black men for non-Black women, further limit African-American women's opportunities to marry. Indeed, African-American women are more than three times as likely as white women to never marry. Given their limited prospects for marriage, the African-American community's greater acceptance of non-marital childbearing, and society's increased acceptance of single-parent families, it is not surprising that some *130 college-educated African-American women choose to raise a child without a spouse.

The children of college-educated African-American “single mothers by choice” are unlikely to experience the increased risk of poor outcomes faced by children of low-income single mothers. However, they are unlikely to enjoy all of the advantages of children raised by two college-educated parents. First, most families need two-incomes to maintain a home in a desirable neighborhood with high quality schools, and access to extracurricular and cultural activities that are increasingly necessary for children to compete when applying to college or summer internships. Second, most families need two incomes to save for a child's college education. Single parents, even those who are financially stable, are less likely than married parents to be able to afford to pay for a child's college education. Third, single parents “have no one with whom to share the financial, logistical, or emotional burdens of being a parent.” As a result, single mothers, albeit privileged single mothers, will likely have fewer resources--financial, emotional, and time--to expend on their children and cultivate opportunities for their success. Finally, single parents, and by extension their children, may be excluded from networks that married parents inhabit. Given the single-mother hierarchy, African-American single mothers are more likely than White single mothers to be excluded from these networks. As one divorced woman observed “as an African-American woman - even with an Ivy League education and a middle-class income - [she] was still subject to the stereotypical perception of ‘the black single mother’.”

*131 For many college-educated single mothers, an increased pool of marriageable men would not have altered their decision to raise a child without a partner despite the challenges discussed above. However, at least some women who are raising children alone might have preferred to do so with a partner had they found the “right” partner. There are many reasons individuals do not find a marriage partner, but African-American women face greater challenges due to a limited pool of marriageable African-American men and racial preferences that decrease their likelihood of partnering with men of other races as college-educated Asian-American and Latina women often do. As a result, the children of college-educated African-American women are unlikely to have access to the benefits available to the children of similarly educated Asian-American and Latina women. What, if anything, should the law do to help children who are not disadvantaged relative to the most vulnerable African-American families, but are less advantaged than the children of two parent families? Before we attempt to answer this question, we should first explore the law's role in shaping racial preferences.