Reprinted from Council on Contemporary Families Press Release 10/31/2022

Why does family structure—aka marriage–remain such an enduring explanation for Black-White inequality in the US? That’s the central question in a new article, “Racism, Family Structure, and Black Families,” made available this week as an open-access preprint shared at SocArxiv. The article has been accepted for the forthcoming Council on Contemporary Families anthology, Families as They Really Are published by Norton Books.  

Lead author, University of Tennessee sociologist Deadric Williams, has a detailed answer you can read in the new chapter. But he also has an answer to the central question in brief: “The belief that marriage is an inequality reducing mechanism serves as a racial ideology maintaining the status quo.”

The new article brings the receipts. In particular, Williams’ article, coauthored by Caroline Sanner (Virginia Tech), Todd Jensen (UNC-Chapel Hill), and Laura Simon (Mercer University), offers a history of claims that family structure is to blame for inequality, starting with the Moynihan Report of 1965. The authors review evidence for its limitations and set forward an alternative way to understand the many varieties of families that exist.

Dr. Williams explains: “We know that when compared to White Americans, African Americans are less likely to marry and more likely to experience a non-marital birth.” He continues, “Yet prior studies show that family formations do not account for the Black-White inequality gap.” The authors show how the benefits of family structure are not equally distributed between Black and White families when it comes to child outcomes. These patterns parallel results in education, health, and wealth accumulation outcomes, to name a few.

“With scant evidence, family formations remain an enduring explanation for scholars, layperson, and policymakers alike. Entire foundations and grants programs are built around supporting this line of thinking. Acting as if people are already on equal footing, and that ‘these days’ everyone starts with equal chances, can help people make sense of racial inequality as something that is the consequence of personal choices. But repeating that story again and again doesn’t make it so,” notes Virginia Rutter, CCF senior scholar and editor of the new edition of Families as They Really Are.

Dr. Williams and his colleagues note: “Family structure is a racial ideology based on the erroneous notion that (1) race is an essentialist characteristic and (2) individual-level characteristics (e.g., family structure) account for racial inequality. We conclude the chapter by championing Critical Race Theory as a powerful tool for charting a path forward for understanding African American families.”


REFERENCE: Williams, D. T., Sanner, C., Jensen, T. M., & Simon, L. (2022, October 7). Racism, Family Structure, and Black Families.


Deadric T. Williams, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Dr. Williams is a keynote speaker at the NCFR annual conference, November 18, 2022, on Bringing Racism out of the Shadows in Family Science.”

To learn more about Families as They Really Are and the forthcoming 3rd edition, contact:

Virginia Rutter, Professor (retired), Department of Sociology, Framingham State University, Dr. Rutter is editor, with Kristi Williams (Ohio State University) and Barbara Risman (University of Illinois at Chicago).


The Council on Contemporary Families, based at the University of Texas-Austin, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of family researchers and practitioners that seeks to further a national understanding of how America’s families are changing and what is known about the strengths and weaknesses of different family forms and various family interventions. 

The Council helps keep journalists informed of notable work on family-related issues via the CCF Network. To join the CCF Network, or for further media assistance, please contact Stephanie Coontz, Director of Research and Public Education, at, cell 360-556-9223.