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Despite research on the dramatic changes in marriage, there is a dearth of research on the correlates of marriage and romantic involvement among older African Americans.

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This is an important omission because although the marriage decline is universal, African Americans show the steepest decline in marriage rates. Based on data from the National Survey of American Life, multinomial logistic regression analysis is used to identify demographic and health correlates of: 1 being married or cohabiting, 2 having a romantic involvement, 3 not having a romantic involvement but desiring one, and lastly, 4 not having and not desiring a romantic involvement. More men than women are married or cohabiting, a gap that increases with advanced age. Across all age groups, African American women are more likely than their male counterparts to report that they neither have nor desire a romantic relationship.

Findings support social exchange theories and the importance of an unbalanced sex ratio. Furthermore, the suggest that singlehood among older African Americans especially women is not necessarily an involuntary status. Nonetheless, this group is at higher risk of economic and health problems as they age. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attributionwhich permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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It has been downloaded over 1, times and can be analyzed online. Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist. The drastic decline in U. Marriage decline, along with older age at first marriage [ 2 ], growth of non-marital cohabitation [ 3 ], and increases in remarriage rates [ 4 ], reflect important demographic trends in marriage and relationship behaviors. ificant demographic changes also impact older adults, a population that is expected to double between and [ 5 ].


Roughly one-third of Baby Boomers born between — are currently unmarried [ 7 ]. Therefore, findings from marriage and relationship research using predominantly White samples cannot be generalized to African Americans. We seek to remedy this gap by investigating the sociodemographic and health correlates of marriage, romantic involvement, and desire for a romantic union among a national sample of older African Americans.

A major emphasis of this study is also examining non-marital romantic relationships among older African Americans. However, it is important to note that in the early s, Tucker and colleagues [ 12 ] examined this issue among older African Americans. Theoretical perspectives on relationship formation and marriage identify several factors that potential partners consider before entering romantic unions.

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The present analysis is framed by two related perspectives on marital and relationship behaviors— social exchange theory assessments of costs and benefits of unions and the sex ratio imbalance disparities in the proportion of females and males. These perspectives operate in a complementary manner in characterizing the broader context within which opportunities, constraints, and decisions about marriage and relationship formation for African Americans occur.

Individuals employ a rational choice approach in deciding whether to enter a romantic relationship by weighing both economic and non-economic advantages and disadvantages. If the costs of investing in a social relationship exceed the expected benefits, individuals often decide not to engage. If a satisfactory balance of costs and rewards e.

If the cost-reward balance shifts over the course of a social relationship, individuals may choose to disengage. Perceived alternatives to the current partner is another factor influencing decisions to initiate and maintain relationships [ 15 ]. Individuals may decide to invest in an alternative relationship given a perceived opportunity to attain a more favorable cost-reward balance e.

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Applied to marriage and romantic involvement, social exchange theory can be used to understand how demographic e. Consistent with social exchange theory, prior research indicates that sociodemographic characteristics are important correlates of marriage and romantic involvement. Marriage is strongly associated with socioeconomic status; persons of higher SES are more likely to become and remain married [ 21617 ]. Age is also inversely associated with dating, marriage, and the desire for marriage and remarriage [ 218 — 20 ].

Good health status increases the likelihood of entering into and remaining in an intimate partnership [ 2122 ]. Black Americans also have higher divorce rates and lower remarriage rates than Whites [ 424 ]. These disparate marriage patterns are associated with the disproportionate sex ratio i. The sex ratio imbalance itself is associated with two main factors impacting Black men—reduced health status and life expectancy and mass incarceration.

First, Black men have a life expectancy of only Black men live 6. Second, as a consequence of mass incarceration policies, Black men are incarcerated at a rate that is six times higher than that of White men [ 26 ], resulting in their systematic physical removal from dating and marriage markets.

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Viewed over the life course, this in their exclusion from dating and marriage markets during early and middle adulthood, which are typical ages for relationship formation. These two factors are important in shaping marriage and dating contexts and have implications for how social exchange theories operate in relation to African American marriage and relationship behaviors. Poor health profiles and decreased life expectancy, coupled with high rates of incarceration, reduces the availability of Black men as potential marriage partners.

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According to social exchange theory, the resulting sex ratio imbalance shifts the advantage in finding a partner to Black men rather than Black women. However, for those men who have experienced incarceration, its long-term effects including reduced job and employment prospects, lower earned income, and housing restrictions [ 27 ] severely limit their attractiveness as dating and marriage prospects.

For example, women strongly prefer to date and marry men with stable employment and high levels of education and income [ 29 ]—a preference that is especially prominent among Black women [ 30 ].

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However, studies of socioeconomic attainment indicate that Black men still experience higher levels of unemployment and lower median income than White men with comparable levels of education and are less likely to benefit from investments in education [ 31 ]. With respect to the marriage context for older African Americans, Tucker and colleagues [ 12 ] examined demographic age, gender, education, and incomeeconomic, and structural perspectives on marital and relationships behaviors among persons 55 years and older from the nationally representative National Survey of Black Americans — Their work indicated that, for older African Americans in particular, relationship status and formation occur within a distinctive context of a skewed female-male gender ratio that affects dating and marriage markets [ 1232 ].

Further, the marriage decline continued to accelerate after the years in which these data were collected. The present study seeks to investigate these relationships with more recent data, in light of rapidly changing demographic patterns. In sum, social exchange theory and related research on the correlates of marital and relationship behaviors must be viewed within the demographic e. Taken together, this information indicates that research on marriage and relationship status among older African Americans should consider how contemporary demographic and social context factors are associated with marriage and relationship attitudes and outcomes marriage, cohabitation, romantically involved.

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Specific demographic i. The present study builds upon research on intimate relationship status of older African Americans using nationally representative data on African American adults aged 55 and older from the National Survey of American Life — Multinomial logistic regression analyses are used to examine sociodemographic and health factors associated with having a romantic involvement, being unpartnered and desiring a romantic involvement, and being unpartnered and not desiring a romantic involvement.

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We expect that, similar to findings [ 12 ] and consistent with social exchange theory, younger age and male gender will be associated with being partnered married or in a romantic union as well as desiring a romantic union.

For unpartnered respondents who do not desire a romantic union, female gender and older age will be associated with this preference. Further, because this analysis seeks to understand the ways in which both gender and age are associated with marriage, romantic involvement, and desire for a romantic union, we explore interactive effects of age and gender for several relationships. findings [ 12 ] for income and education effects among older African Americans are mixed, with income being positively associated with having a romantic involvement but negatively associated with marriage, while education is negatively associated with a current romantic union but unrelated to marriage.

Given a more traditional and religious milieu and culture [ 3536 ] that supports marriage, we expect that residence in the South will be associated with higher likelihood of marriage as compared to non-South regions.

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Finally, due to shortened life expectancy for African Americans especially menhealth status will be a ificant factor for intimate relationship behaviors and intentions such that better health will be associated with marriage or having a romantic relationship. A total of 6, interviews were conducted with adults aged 18 or older, including 3, African Americans.

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In this study, we focus only on the sub-sample of older African Americans aged 55 years or older. After ing for missing data, the analytic sample for this analysis is The NSAL sample utilized a national multi-stage probability de with an overall response rate of Data collection was conducted from to and respondents were compensated for their time; a more detailed discussion of the NSAL sample can be found elsewhere [ 37 ]. Marital status was assessed using a single item that asked respondents if they were currently: married, living with a partner, separated, divorced, widowed, or never married.

All currently unmarried, non-cohabiting respondents were additionally asked whether they were currently involved in a romantic relationship. Several demographic and health factors were included as control variables.

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Both age and educational attainment were measured in of years. For the total NSAL sample, missing data for household income were imputed for cases Material hardship was a summary score of seven items assessing whether or not respondents: could meet basic expenses, could pay full rent or mortgage, could pay full utilities, had utilities disconnected, had telephone disconnected, were evicted for non-payment, or could not afford leisure activities in the past 12 months.

Seventy-one respondents with missing data on any variables were excluded from analyses. Descriptive statistics are presented as weighted proportions based on the distribution of African Americans in the population.

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Bivariate analyses used the Rao-Scott chi-square, a complex de-corrected measure of association. Multinomial logistic regression was used to conduct the multivariate analyses. Multinomial logistic regression is appropriate for the four-level polytomous response outcome variable used in this study i. The focus on five unique comparisons. Three of the comparisons involve individuals who are married or cohabiting: 1 romantically involved vs.

Another two unique comparisons were made for the sample of respondents who neither have nor desire a main romantic involvement: 1 romantically involved vs. Based upon findings from the bivariate analyses, all multinomial logistic regression analyses include an interaction term between age and gender. The analyses were conducted using SAS 9.

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All statistical analyses utilize analytic weights to obtain that are generalizable to the African American population. All analyses also for the complex multistage clustered de of the NSAL sample, unequal probabilities of selection, nonresponse, and post-stratification to calculate weighted, nationally representative population estimates and standard errors.

Descriptive data for all variables are presented in Table 1. Roughly Average years of educational attainment was The mean level of material hardship was 0. Respondents generally averaged good self-rated health mean: 3. In terms of romantic involvement, Roughly 9. Gender was strongly associated with patterns of romantic involvement and desire among older African Americans Table 2. For example, more than half Conversely, almost half of older African American women