From Barack Obama to Rand Paul, Ta-Nehisi Coates to Jason Riley: Across the ideological spectrum, scholars, pundits, and politicians seem to agree that black men are floundering. As the president observed in 2014, “by almost every measure, the group that is facing some of the most severe challenges in the 21st century in this country are boys and young men of color.”
In some ways, Obama is right. Rates of poverty, unemployment, and incarceration are higher among black men than among white men. Young African Americans are also far more likely than young white men to become victims of violent crime. But the conversation about black men often glosses over the fact that most African American men are not poor, out of work, or destined to spend time in prison.
Why do some black men flourish while others struggle? One answer is faith. African American men attend church at rates notably above the national average: 37 percent of those aged 18 to 60 attend several times a month or more, compared to 30 percent of non-black men, according to the 2008-2014 General Social Survey. And compared to their less religious peers, these 6 million or so black men are significantly more likely to thrive. Our new book, Soul Mates: Religion, Sex, Love and Marriage Among African Americans and Latinos, shows they are more likely to be working, avoid crime and incarceration, and get married.