Newswise — For generations, social scientists have defined the black
middle class in family terms, as married couples with children. But
a study from the
that a growing percentage of the black middle class are young single
people living alone.
"We've dispelled the assumption among scholars that blacks have to
be married to be middle class," said Kris Marsh, Ph.D., a post-
doctoral scholar at UNC's
the study, which appears in the December issue of the journal Social
Pop culture already reflects this trend. In her study, Marsh names
single middle-class blacks the Love Jones cohort, borrowing the
title of a 1997 movie about a similar group.
And, in the acronymic spirit of social science, which gave us DINKs
(dual-income, no kids) and DEWKs (dual-earners with kids), Marsh
coined the phrase SALA for people in all income brackets who are
single (never married) and living alone, which includes Oprah
Winfrey, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and radio and TV
personality Tavis Smiley.
Marsh and her colleagues studied
1980, 1990 and 2000. The data show that among the black middle
class, ages 25 to 44, the Love Jones cohort more than doubled its
share between 1980 and 2000, from 5.8 percent to more than 14
percent. Meanwhile, the percentage of married couples, living
together, with children declined from 64.6 percent to 48 percent in
that same time period.
By following the data through three decades, the study also
confirmed that SALAs, and especially the Love Jones cohort, do not
simply delay marriage but remain single and continue to accumulate
This contradicts previous research that said a reduction in marriage
and childbearing has created a black middle class in stagnation or
in decline. Instead, Marsh said, her work reveals a vibrant
population, but the composition is changing.
"Numerous studies suggest that the black middle class has been
losing economic ground – objectively and relative to whites," said
Karyn Lacy, an assistant professor of sociology at the
"Marsh's innovative study makes clear that scholars reached this
conclusion because they've been focusing on the wrong people. By
looking exclusively at married couples, scholars miss the group,
which is slowly becoming a fixture in the black middle class –
single black professionals who do not marry or become parents. Their
status as single and middle class challenges just about everything
that we think we know about life in the middle and will demand new
research on the consumption patterns, housing preferences and
lifestyles of this influential group," Lacy said.
Acknowledging the rise of the Love Jones cohort, and the decline in
married-with-children households, also challenges a neoconservative
perspective that marriage is the way into middle class. It also
challenges policies that support marriage, which could be an issue
in the 2008 presidential election.
"Identifying SALAs as a legitimate and growing population could have
policy implications for home ownership, health care programs and
income," Marsh said.
SALAs and the Love Jones cohort have been largely overlooked by
academics, Marsh said, because it is conceptually easier to think in
terms of families, and in American culture single people are
generally not considered a family.
And while income is generally a measure of status, and dual-income
households are more easily middle-class, that does not necessarily
translate into higher per-person income. So Marsh looked a little
deeper and included home ownership as a measure of wealth.
One question that remains unanswered is what social scientists call
the "intergenerational transference of wealth" – basically, without
children, what will happen with their money and property?
It is not an alarming problem, Marsh said, but something people need
to be aware of. "SALAs might transfer their wealth to nieces and
nephews, cousins or even siblings," Marsh said.
She said her future studies will seek to determine where SALAs are
living and if they are living happily, and to find differences
between blacks and whites and between men and women.
Co-authors on the study are Philip Cohen of UNC; William Darity and
Danielle Salters of Duke University; and Lynne Casper of the
The black middle class is changing. This article gives me perspective as I look around at my buppie colleagues. Most of who are single and never married. Many which are pass the age of 27. This article gives evidence to the growing number of singles in the buppie community. As the article states, were does this wealth go? I think the very foundation of this single issue boils down to the lack of Black love in the community. I credit this to disparity in the genders. Black women are excelling far from black men. In the last 6 months, I know over 5 buppie women who have purchased there 1st home on their own including myself. I know of one male. I hypothesize that this changing black middle class, when thinking of the single component, majority are SBF.
Beyond that the real threat is the lack of intergeneration transference of wealth! White people excel the way they do because they had an whopping 400 year head start on us to pass down wealth. Once blacks do acquire money, how many of us truly know how to pass that on? It is not ingrained in us, but any Buppie who reads understands the importance of “buying some land”, Investments, wills, etc. Within single epidemic the community needs guidance on ways we covey this wealth that we are just now coming upon…