Single Black Women

Fictive Kinships of Single Black Women: Challenging Assumptions About Marriage And Equality

One expert says fictive kinships have increasingly been practiced by single middle-class Black Americans.

According to a 2017 study, Black women had lower levels of wealth and higher levels of kinlessness as they age, but a new report from Fortune casts some doubt on the study.

Kris Marsh, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, said the earlier study draws fails to account for the social safety net tBlack women build over their lifetimes. In her book, The Loves Jones Cohort, Marsh argues that fictive kinships, or the practice of creating kinship with people who you do not share blood with, have increasingly been practiced by single middle-class Black Americans. 

The classifications that determine who gets coverage under Social Security and health insurance coverage, for example, according to Marsh and other experts, fails to account for the networks created by most Americans. Policy around singleness as it currently exists is detrimental to the economic well-being of American adults, but experts like Jessica Moorman, a professor at Wayne State University who specializes in Black women’s single socialization, say that policy solutions are simple and could lead to increased political engagement.

Marital policies exacerbated [an] already grim economic reality. I would argue that because more than half of this country is unmarried, that is one of the largest political causes of voters we could possibly have, right” Moorman told Fortune. “All you need is half of all singles to get on the same page politically about something.” 

According to Moorman, Black women know their status and actively seek to create kinships out of friendships. “The women in my interviews were cognizant of the fact that they did not have a marital partner,” and sought to build “intentional communities of found family,” said Moorman.

Carlene Davis, a 57-year-old Black woman from Los Angeles, exemplifies Moorman’s identification of a trend among Black women. “My healthcare power of attorney is a friend who I’ve known since kindergarten,” Davis told Fortune. “I have a list in my trust of people to whom I have given HIPAA authorization.”

Bella DePaulo, a psychologist who studies the single experience, said “research shows that single people are more likely than married people to stay in touch with their friends, parents, siblings, and neighbors and exchange help with them.” While married people tend to insulate themselves, DePaulo said singles conceptualize their lives around friends.

As it relates to marriage, Geoffrey Sanzebacher, an economics professor at Boston University, said it reinforces the system of inequality that birthed it, telling Fortune, “Marriage is a result of inequality and then perpetuates that inequality going forward.”

Sanzebacher added that employers that treat marriage with regard to health insurance and Social Security disadvantages singles. “Right off the bat, you have this systemic choice to reward marriage because we allow two people, instead of one, to take advantage of this employer-sponsored benefit. Single people aren’t getting the same bang for their buck out of their social security contributions that a married person would.”

In California, in 2019 Davis co-founded Sistahs Aging With Grace and Elegance, a public policy project that focuses on Black women that is part of California’s Master Plan for Aging, the state’s guiding document regarding the support of Californians 60 years of age and older. Davis says her inspiration came from her desire to see more equity for aging Californians.

DePaulo told Fortune that the de facto link between marriage and better protections within systems like health insurance and social security benefits needs to change, because it is discriminatory based on arbitrary factors like marriage status.

“Everyone deserves the basics of human dignity,” she said. “A person’s value is not defined by their marital or romantic relationship status, and their rights, benefits, and protections should not be linked to those statuses.”

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