Copyright ©2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We've been digging into findings of a survey of African-Americans' views on communities, their finance and dating. The survey was conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health. We talked to more than a thousand men and women over the age of 18. One finding of note: More men than women said they were looking for long-term relationships.

But as Christopher Johnson reports, it turns out that men and women mean different things when they say long-term.

CHRISTOPHER JOHNSON, BYLINE: The numbers go like this: very few women - just a quarter of those surveyed - said they were looking for long-term relationships, and nearly twice as many black men said they were looking to go long-term.

KRISTIN MCDONALD: (unintelligible)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You know they're not.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNSON: I lay the data on Kristin McDonald and her black women's book club, gathered at a restaurant in Brooklyn. They're all in their 30's, mostly single. And to every woman here, the term long-term relationship equals a prelude to marriage. That's the lens McDonald used to interpret the survey numbers.

MCDONALD: I think that a lot of men think that they want to get married. I think men see it as a sense of accomplishment. Like, once I get married, I've checked something else off the list of the things that I want to accomplish in my life.

JOHNSON: Okay. But then, why are so few women looking? McDonald says a lot of her girlfriends were raised by single moms. Marriage wasn't modeled in their homes, and today it seems like a realm beyond possibility.

MCDONALD: Who wants to say they want something that they don't feel like they'll ever achieve? It just makes you feel like, damn, you know?

JOHNSON: So some black women just throw in the towel, says Dannette Hargraves, who is single, but wants to go the distance with someone.

DANNETTE HARGRAVES: Some people give up, like, I'm never going to get married so whatever. I'm never going to find a guy who has a job, who makes as much money as I do, who can live to my - who's cute, that I can't pick up and spin around.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBERT BLENDON: The African-American community that we interviewed report a lot of financial insecurity about things that could go wrong in the future - losing jobs, not being able to pay medical bills, et cetera.

JOHNSON: Robert Blendon co-directed the survey. He teaches at the Harvard School of Public Health. He says African-Americans are more likely than whites to want financial security in their long-term partners.

BLENDON: And it's been reported a number of times, on the average, African-American women are staying in school longer, for lots of reasons, than men. That also affects the choice of a long-term partner.

JOHNSON: And what do black men think of the survey numbers?

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNSON: A group of guys, all 30-somethings, are sitting in a pub in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Milton Appling is single and looking for something long-term.

MILTON APPLING: A long-term relationship means headed towards marriage or as a final step, as opposed to X years, and we'll see what happens. Yeah, that's very different. You know, men in general when they hear that term do not necessarily mean marriage. Marriage is marriage.

BROOK STEPHENSON: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I think they may not necessarily have a good view of marriage, you know.

JOHNSON: Brook Stephenson, also single and searching for a girlfriend, says although guys may steer away from marriage, many are still enthusiastic about long-term relationships.

STEPHENSON: They may just not have found a woman they feel that strongly about. They want to be with her, but no one ever said anything about marriage. They just want to be with her, you know what I mean? For however long that rides, you know?

JOHNSON: It's important to note this, too. The majority of both sexes, 57 percent, said they were not looking for long-term relationships. Survey co-director Robert Blendon says that figure could have some real implications for the future of black families.

BLENDON: As generations move forward, there are going to be less long-term relationships, and it will shape what communities look like for the next few decades if people don't develop long-term partnerships here.

JOHNSON: Back at the beer garden in Crown Heights, Serge Negri says he's on the path to a long-term relationship. He's found someone he really likes and things are getting pretty serious.

SERGE NEGRI: So I'm trying something new. I'm enjoying it, but it's not easy. It's been six months, so, you know, we're at one milestone. So, no more questions about long-term relationships.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNSON: But the guys did keep talking about long-term relationships for more than an hour. For NPR News, I'm Christopher Johnson.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Discussions about race, ethnicity and culture tend to get dicey quickly, so we hold our commenters on Code Switch to an especially high bar. We may delete comments we think might derail the conversation. If you're new to Code Switch, please read over our FAQ and NPR's Community Guidelines before commenting. We try to notify commenters individually when we remove their comments, but given that we receive a high volume of comments, we may not always be able to get in touch. If we've removed a comment you felt was a thoughtful and valuable addition to the conversation, please don't hesitate to get in touch with us by emailing codeswitch@npr.org.

Support comes from: