The relevance of marriage for African American emerging adults
Barr, Ashley Brooke
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This dissertation addresses conflicting representations of the import of marriage in the lives of African Americans during the transition to adulthood. Larger demographic trends and racialized rhetoric about the declining significance of marriage suggest that marriage matters very little to young Blacks. Scholars of inequality suggest, however, that marriage is a central organizing principle in the lives and relationships of young Blacks, a proposition that is shared by marital horizon theorists. The four studies of this dissertation attend to these divergent claims by examining how African Americans come to view marriage as they embark on the transition to adulthood and how these marital perspectives shape their experiences across this transition. More specifically, these studies address four specific aims: (1) to explore the multiple contexts that give rise to young Blacks’ varied perspectives on marriage, (2) to test the extent to which these early marital perspectives predict relationship formation experiences, educational outcomes, and risk-taking behaviors across the transition to adulthood, (3) to assess the extent to which marital perspectives change throughout young adulthood in response to relationship experiences, and (4) to investigate the role that marital perspectives play in shaping experiences within non-marital relationships. The study of marriage has been increasingly detached from the study of young adulthood, particularly among Blacks. Given racialized debates surrounding marriage and its presumed declining significance, along with the extensive efforts by the U.S. government to target African Americans in its marriage promotion efforts, this development is lamentable. This dissertation integrates and expands two seemingly disparate literatures, that of critical race and gender scholars and that of marital horizon theorists, via a life course framework to address the construction and implications of marital perspectives in the lives of African Americans during the transition to adulthood. In doing so, this work attends to broad theoretical questions and omnipresent concerns among sociologists about the link between structure and agency. Further, it contextualizes young African Americans lives and relationships in a way that sharpens our understanding of intersecting gender and racial inequalities. In doing so, it challenges common misconceptions about the importance of marriage among young African Americans today.