Attitudes Toward Pre-Marital Sex, Non-Marital Childbearing,

Cohabitation, and Marriage among Blacks and Whites

Wendy Y. Carter


In light of the well-documented behavioral differences between blacks and whites, the present study uses the National Survey of Family and Households to examine racial differences in attitudes toward premarital sex, non-marital childbearing, cohabitation, and marriage. As marriage has become less associated with the transition to adulthood, it is important to study the social context in which alternative avenues to adulthood exist. This paper estimates the odds of approval for each area of interest, controlling for race, age, sex, income, education, and marital status. Despite the marked differences in behaviors between blacks and whites, racial differences in attitudes are small, with the exception of attitudes on non-marital childbearing.

More important than race in determining attitudes are age, gender, and marital status. The importance of each of these variables depends on the issue examined. Racial differences in attitudes toward premarital sex are substantially influenced by gender and age. While whites are more likely than blacks to approve of premarital sex, white men and women tend to differ considerably in their views. Whereas young white males are more likely to approve of premarital sex than any other group, older white females are least likely to approve. On the issue of non-marital childbearing, while most people do not approve, blacks are more likely to approve than whites. However, approval of non-marital childbearing depends on whether or not an individual is married.

Regarding cohabitation, we find that whites are more likely to approve of cohabitation than blacks when other socioeconomic factors are controlled for. Nevertheless, the gender gap proves to be more significant for attitudes on cohabitation than does the race difference. In addition, the source of the racial differences in attitudes on this issue and the preference for marriage stem from the differences in marital status. Whereas blacks are less tolerant of singleness as a preferred adult status than whites, men are more likely than women to agree that is better to be married than to remain single. Blacks and whites who are not married are likely to share similar views on many family issues discussed here.