Choosing a Rich Partner or a Fair One: When African Americans Economically Assess Premarital Romantic Partners

Averil Clarke, Suffolk University

This paper uses qualitative data from college-educated black women and connects their economic evaluations of premarital romantic partners to their marital outcomes. It addresses literature describing spouses’ matched traits, studies maintaining that black marriage disadvantage is caused by male employment problems, and research tying women’s alternative sources of economic support to marriage postponement. The study finds that almost 1/4 of the 58 sampled women’s 202 romantic relationships included decisions to invest or disinvest in romance based on their evaluation of partners’ economic traits. A minority of these decisions reflected women’s preference for men with high economic status; an equivalent number demonstrated the importance of partners’ class cultural compatibility in romance maintenance or demise. The majority (52%) reflected partners’ efforts to avoid exploitative gender relations in romance and marriage. The paper concludes by explaining how subjects’ concern with compatibility and exploitation expose problems with prior scholarly descriptions of premarital romantic relations.

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Presented in Session 153: Mate Selection in Sexual and Romantic Relationships