Such myriad factors severely decrease the number of black men able and willing to marry and support families, many experts say. Thus, fewer black women will marry, and the number of households headed by black females will increase as some women choose to have children without a spouse.
No husband or second income means a life of poverty for many single mothers. Nearly 80% of poor black families are headed by black women with no spouse in the home, while 51.2% of all black households headed by women are living below the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Ultimately, the declining marriage rate spawns economic repercussions that have an impact on the entire black community, researchers say.
"The defining feature of the black middle-class is marriage," says Mincy, explaining that dual-income households are essential for the community's economic status to rise.
"Having to meet the expenses of life, and having little money to put away, inhibits our ability to own businesses, to buy property. . . . One reason the black community has so little wealth is we haven't pooled our incomes despite the fact black women have been working for as long as we can remember."
What Might Have Been
Lady Cage has struggled alone. And she has little sympathy for divorced women who complain they cannot find new mates when many, like her, have never walked down the aisle.
An aspiring businesswoman in her 30s, Cage won't give her age, but acknowledges that in some men's eyes, she's no longer young.
Searching, but not desperate, Cage sometimes ponders what might have been: Kind and loving guys she let go because they didn't fulfill fantasy; marriage proposals in college that she declined.
"Maybe I should have jumped then," she says, laughing. Sometimes "you do regret it." But Cage has not given up hope. She now dates men she once might not have considered. And in the meantime, a job, volunteer work and an exercise routine fill her days.
"I'd rather have a husband and a family," she admits. "But you don't dwell on it. It'll happen. Even with this dwindling pool, it will happen."
Middle- to upper-income black women may be less adversely affected than their lower-income counterparts, but experts say both groups wind up drawing from the same shrunken pool.
And that competition, many women say, makes some single black men less willing to settle down with one woman.
"When you talk to guys, a lot feel there's so many black women out here looking for a black man, they don't have to act right," says Lynda Lucas, a 37-year-old divorcee who last December joined a black dating service. "If you don't want them, Mary down the hall (does), and (she'll) do whatever to keep him."
Audrey Chapman tells of moving from Connecticut to Washington: "In Washington the rumor is 7 (females) to 1 (male). I said, 'People are crazy. There are men all over the place.' But a guy would say that to give himself leverage."
A relationship counselor, Chapman says she understands why some black males trumpet such numbers, regardless of the truth. "I think black men are always seeking some kind of power in this society, and the (people) they seek it with (are) black women," she explains. "They don't have power anywhere else."
Fantasy and Reality
To be sure, there are single women who enjoy their independence and have no desire to pursue the stuff of fairy-tales and TV sitcoms.
Yet, many women want to marry, no matter their color. "We mirror the larger society," says Barbara Miles, editor of Chocolate Singles, a lifestyle magazine for unmarried blacks. "We raise little girls from the cradle to start picking out their wedding gowns. . . . If they don't live out the fantasy, they get very frustrated."
For a growing number of Americans, the fantasy is simply not reality. From 1970 to 1991, the percentage of married adults nationally dropped from 72 to 61, according to the Census Bureau. The percentages dropped from 73 to 64 for whites and from 62 to 61 for Latinos.
But blacks had the biggest decline--from 64% in 1970 to 44% in 1991.
In some age groups, the number of never-married black women is more than twice that of their white and Latina counterparts. Last year, 41% of black women age 34 and younger had never married, compared to 15% of whites and 20% of Latinas, according to federal statistics.
While noting the effects that violence, incarceration, and unemployment have on limiting the pool of available black men, some experts say the declining marriage rate in the black community simply mirrors the overall decline of matrimony in the U. S. Professionals postponing marriage while pursuing careers, and the growing acceptance of being single also contribute to the decline, they say. Mincy adds that some men may be reluctant to marry women who already have children.
Others, however, contend that some black women limit their own chances at marriage by wanting their potential mates to meet unrealistic expectations.