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Single Black Women Rely On Fictive Kinships As They Age

Single Black Women

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

A 2017 study says that Black women have lower levels of wealth and higher levels of kinlessness as they age, but a new report from Fortune casts some doubt on the study. According to a sociologist at the University of Maryland, Kris Marsh, the conclusion the earlier study draws fails to account for the social safety net that Black women build over their lifetimes. In Marsh’s book, “The Loves Jones Cohort,” she 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. Moorman told Fortune, “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? 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, telling Fortune, “My healthcare power of attorney is a friend who I’ve known since kindergarten,” Davis said, “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, says that “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 says that singles conceptualize their lives around friends. “Single people…have ‘The Ones’ rather than ‘The One,’” she says. DePaulo says that singles are generally “tending to their bonds with the people who matter to them.”

As it relates to marriage, Geoffrey Sanzebacher, an economics professor at Boston University, says that 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 also says the way that employers 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,” he notes. Sanzebacher says, “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, located within 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, telling Fortune, “I wanted to think about what would equity in aging look like for Black women in California.”

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, saying, “Everyone deserves the basics of human dignity. 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.”

RELATED CONTENT: 37% Of Single Black Women Homeowners Live Alone, Why?

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