Most people know that the proportion of black Americans who are married has dropped rapidly in the last several decades (it looks like the Census changed how they collected the data in 1989, causing a particularly huge fall in the numbers, but the overall trend is still there):
And in the meantime, both black women and white women’s earnings have risen steadily, with white women exceeding black men in wages (even treating those out of the workforce as having zero earnings) in the late 90s:
But while the racial earnings gap has risen for both men and women…
…this increase is much less dramatic for married than for all men:
For example, in 1979 white men on average earned 42% more than black men, and in 2015 white men earned 62% more than black men. On the other hand, in 1979 white married men earned 40% more than black married men, and in 2015 white married men still only earned 48% more than black married men:
This obviously isn’t solely or even mostly causal.
- Men who get and stay married likely to have exactly the kind of personal characteristics and preferences that would be helpful in our economy (ie, lots of patience, not much impulsivity).
- Factors that disrupt marriages are disproportionately likely to harm earnings (ie, going to jail).
- Income itself (and particularly high relative income compared to potential spouses) is likely to be necessary for men to get and stay married.
Nevertheless, it is at least worth considering the possibility that declining marriage rates are a cause as well as an effect of increasing racial inequality in earnings for adults (similarly to how declining marriage rates are likely a contributor to , and not just a confound of, racial inequality in child outcomes.)
Needless to say, such declines also contribute directly to increasing racial gaps in household incomes, since fewer black households have two earners and fewer children grow up in a home with a male earner. Via this quite good Freddie DeBoer post on increasing racial inequality, household figures show still larger and more rapidly increasing gaps:
Data source for the graphs above here.