The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Fall
2012

How the Single Life Cuts African-American Lives Short


Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson


Why are African Americans much less likely to live to age 70 than are American whites? According to a team of Stanford medical scholars, the evisceration of wedlock as a social institution within the black community is a depressingly relevant reason that far too few African Americans live out their biblical “three score and ten” years.

To clarify social patterns in longevity, the Stanford researchers extracted data from the Compressed Mortality Files maintained by the Center for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics. With these data, they calculated the probability of survival to age 70 for white males, white females, black males, and black females. These calculations highlight a disturbing inequity: African Americans are 17 percent less likely to live to age 70 than are white Americans. It particularly unsettles the researchers that a disparate number of African Americans die while still “in the prime, economically productive years of life.”

When the researchers bring more sophisticated statistical tools to bear on the data, they find that “most of the black-white gap” in survival rates can be traced to “differences in these well-known socio-economic and environmental variables, with poverty, low education and single marital status appearing particularly disparate between the races.” The racial gap in marital status particularly attracted the attention of the researchers, who report: “In multiple-regression statistical models, marital status was a significant (p < 0.01) predictor of likelihood of living to age 70 for males and females, blacks and whites.” The researchers acknowledge that “the impact of marital status [on longevity] is not a new observation”; it is, in fact, an observation “highly consistent with expectations from prior work.” Nonetheless, the Stanford scholars still believe “the consistency of the [marital-status] effect across race and sex groups is noteworthy.”

Progressives like to style themselves as the defenders of minorities. But they may shrink from the implications of this study, as these same progressive thinkers have led the way in dismantling wedlock as a vital American social institution, exposing all Americans—especially blacks—to the lethal perils of life without wedlock.

(Mark R. Cullen, Clint Cummins, and Victor R. Fuchs, “Geographic and Racial Variation in Premature Mortality in the U.S.: Analyzing the Disparities,” PLoS One 7.4 [April 17, 2012]: e32930.)

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