There are simple arguments for why so many black women have children without marriage.
The legacy of segregation, the logic goes, means blacks are more likely to attend inferior schools. This creates a high proportion of blacks unprepared to compete for jobs in today’s economy, where middle-class industrial work for unskilled laborers has largely disappeared.
The drug epidemic sent disproportionate numbers of black men to prison and crushed the job opportunities for those who served their time. Women do not want to marry men who cannot provide for their families, and welfare laws created a financial incentive for poor mothers to stay single.
If you remove these inequalities, some say, the 72 percent will decrease.
“It’s all connected. The question should be, how has the black family survived at all?” says Maria Kefalas, co-author of “Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage.”
The book is based on interviews with 162 low-income single mothers. One of its conclusions is that these women see motherhood as one of life’s most fulfilling roles, a rare opportunity for love and joy, husband or no husband.
Sitting in Carroll’s waiting room, Sherhonda Mouton watches all the babies with the tender expression of a first-time mother, even though she is about to have her fourth child. Inside her purse is a datebook containing a handwritten ode to her children, titled “One and Only.” It concludes:
“You make the hardest tasks seem light with everything you do.
“How blessed I am, how thankful for my one and only you.”
Mouton, 30, works full time as a fast-food manager on the 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift. She’s starting classes to become a food inspector.