Why aren't college-educated Black women meeting their match?
Bias and stereotypes lead to college-educated Black women facing greater challenges in the dating market.
Black women are among the highest educated female demographic in America.
Students and experts told Insider that predominantly white college campuses don't create a fair playing field for Black women when dating.
A viral TikTok of white, female college graduates showcasing their engagement rings while waiting to receive their degrees sparked a conversation online about the pressure on young women at southern colleges and universities to get engaged before graduation.
The phenomenon has many names, but is perhaps most commonly trademarked as "ring by spring" or obtaining an "MRS degree." While the terms can have a negative connotation — implying that a young woman's main intention in attending college is to find a partner – it sheds light on the very real experience of young, white women finding their life partners on campus.
It isn't comparable to the experience of college-educated Black women who are 53% less likely to marry a well-educated man (with at least some post-secondary education) than their white counterparts.
"For Black women attending college, we're really striving to level the playing field or become economically stable. Our goal is to secure a career, and in turn, secure our families," said Anjerrika Bean, the assistant director of Howard University's Center for Women, Gender and Global Leadership. "Securing a spouse isn't the ultimate agenda for us. That doesn't mean we aren't interested in it, but it isn't the reason we are choosing to further our education at said institution."
'The marriage squeeze'
Whether dating to marry or focusing on dating at all is a priority for Black women in college, uncontrollable factors like systematic racism, preference, and stigma in a society influenced by western beauty standards play into the experience of singlehood amongst Black female college students.
According to the book "The Dating Divide: Race and Desire in the Era of Online Romance," young Black women, like most everyone else, want to marry someone who's similarly educated. But in a society where Black women are among the highest educated female demographic in America (in terms of post-secondary education) and only 36% of Black male students complete a bachelor's degree within six years, the dating pool drastically decreases for college Black women seeking an equal on campus.
"We have an economic system that creates real inequality, in particular for Black men. And so you have a situation known as the marriage squeeze, where Black women tend to be more highly educated than Black men because of the different ways in which a racist society impacts men versus women," said Jennifer Lundquist, professor of Sociology and Senior Associate Dean of Research & Faculty Development at the University of Massachusetts, and co-author of "The Dating Divide."
Issues like a higher mortality rate among Black men — both for health reasons, but also systematic violence — including police brutality, affects the gender proportions in the Black community. In terms of challenges surrounding completion of secondary education, factors like being a first-generation college student, needing to work a full-time job while in school, or not having the savings or financial support to afford tuition slow down the rate at which Black men graduate.
A hostile dating environment
While Black women have the lowest rates of dating across race lines, predominantly white institutions don't necessarily create an inviting environment for those who are open to pursuing love outside their race. "These are Black women in an institution that is increasingly hostile towards people of color, particularly Black women," said Celeste Currington, an assistant professor of sociology at Boston University and co-author of "The Dating Divide."
"Black women often don't feel comfortable or welcome in what is the pervasive romantic scene, which is the hookup scene — the parties, the drinking, fraternities. Those are often white men's territory on campus," Lundquist added.
Long standing images and stereotypes assigned to Black femininity that devalues it as something that is deviant and undesirable also plays a role in why Black women are being approached less on campuses.
"These white supremacist initiatives throughout history paint Black women as aggressive or hypersexual on the one end, but also non-feminine on the other hand. A lot of people internalize these images and of course they're also pinned against white femininity," Currington said. "Blackness, particularly gendered blackness, was not framed as something that is beautiful, that can be desirable. And this impacts people's experiences." On dating apps, Black women with a college degree are more likely to be passed on by non-Black men than a white woman with less education.
"A lot of my roommates were white and they were always quickly getting into a relationship, even as freshmen. Whereas I was on that same campus for four years and never found anyone," said Lauryn Craine, a recent graduate from Missouri Valley College. Craine, who dated intra- and interracially, said she had several experiences where she would casually date men who would tell her they weren't looking for something serious, only to see them in a relationship with a non-Black woman later. "They pretty much only wanted sex when it came to me," she said.
'I was not used to being overlooked instead of being celebrated'
Stereotypes of Black women as hypersexual and not worthy of commitment are still prevalent. Kierra Grayson, a 26-year-old consultant who attended Cornell University for undergraduate school, detailed a similar experience. "I talked to a couple of guys, but it never got to be anything serious because I just don't think I quite frankly fit into the category of women that they were looking for," she said.
While Grayson didn't date outside her race during her time in undergrad, she felt the landscape of a predominantly white institution (PWI) put Black women in competition with non-Black women and Black women from wealthy backgrounds to find a partner. "I had a very isolating and discomforting experience because I don't think PWIs are ready to accept the multiple ways that Black people can appear. They are prepared to accept elite Blacks who know how to do these elite things and are accepted in these elite circles versus people who have to learn how to do that," said Grayson.
Grayson said she had never felt discriminated against by her own community until she went to a PWI. "I was not used to being overlooked instead of being celebrated. There was a huge point in my freshman year where I became very insecure and just felt like, maybe I wasn't attractive or maybe I was doing something wrong because suddenly guys weren't into me," she said.
Tension from other community members also plays a part. "Black women often face a double standard when they date outside their race because sexuality and intimate decisions are more policed among other Black community members, Black men for example. Whereas Black men might not face the same type of gendered policing that Black women do," Currington said, noting that Black men are more likely to interracially date on campus.
But just because college-educated Black women aren't reporting being married at large rates doesn't mean they aren't experiencing intimate relationships. "Maybe marriage is not the goal for some, but it doesn't necessarily mean they don't have relationships," said Currington. Lindquist adds: "Marriage has increasingly become an institution that is tied to social class, like expensive proposals, rings, and weddings — all very white behaviors. So I think it's important often to spread the category to be about cohabitating partners as well. There's still differences, but they do look a lot more similar, across race and education when we factor in other forms of relationships."
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