Op-ed submission by Project 21

Adam Smith, the 18th century philosopher/economist, articulated the “Diamond-Water Paradox”. While water is essential, Smith said, it has a relatively low transaction value. Conversely, and illogically, diamonds have a higher transaction value and little practical use to the average person.

Examples can be found in the black community that parallel Smith’s theory.

For instance, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2008 Consumer Expenditure Survey shows that black American households annually spent an average of $1,983 on clothes and shoes — more than the general population’s average of $1,801. At the same time, however, only $47 was spent on reading materials (as opposed to $116 for everybody).

Even without making comparisons to other ethnic groups, there’s no doubt we could have spent less on clothes — which serve a key but very low-level function — and spent more on books. Books, after all, provide knowledge from which enormous benefits can be derived.

But what about a “Marriage-Job Paradox?” It is not precisely parallel to Smith’s Diamond-Water paradox, but it has similar overall implications in the black community.

For youth, there is emphasis put on occupational aspirations. Kids are asked: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We spend a considerable portion of our formative years trying to figure out the answer. We study and often spend tens of thousands of dollars — maybe even hundreds of thousands — to attain our occupational goals.  

Despite its importance, a job is most often not as important as our most cherished human relationship — marriage. Yet, how often is someone asked about his or her ambition to find the perfect mate and create a relationship to last a lifetime? How often do black American parents talk to their kids about the science of selecting a marriage partner? How many young adults seriously study the implications of selecting a marriage partner before taking this giant step?

Choosing a marriage partner is likely the most important decision a person ever makes. It seems logical that an important ingredient to a successful life for a man or a woman is to have a good partner. Even if someone successfully reaches his or her vocational goal, a failed marriage will — at least for a time — affect job performance and disrupt wealth creation efforts. It can turn a life topsy-turvy.

We often spend considerable amounts on planning the actual wedding event, but how much do we invest in learning the science of choosing the perfect partner? Even if we invest months or years in getting to know a prospective partner, how many of us learn in advance how to conduct the process in order to ensure our final decision is foolproof?  

Not long ago, arranged marriages were still in vogue. Though the practice of arranging marriages is not extinct, romance-themed television programs and movies led our society away from that practice. We exchanged the wisdom of the elders for a kiss or a sex test from a magazine or a web site.

Consequently, for that and other reasons, black marriages, the black family and — most importantly — black children are suffering.  

As young adults head off to colleges in August, consider gifting to them a good book on the science of selecting marriage partners in addition to purchasing all of the required paraphernalia for their new life on campus. Better yet, set aside time with your child to teach them the keys to a successful marriage. Parents may also be able to offer some advice on the type of marriage partner that may be best suited for their child. If a parent can’t, let a grandparent provide instruction on selecting a suitable mate.

To be truly successful, one must be successful in a multi-dimensional sense. To help ensure such success, we need to undo the “Marriage-Job Paradox” by investing early and often in our younger generation’s knowledge of the science of selecting the correct partner for marriage.

When we do this, our investments to help our youth qualify for, and capture, the correct job will be truly successful.

B.B. Robinson, Ph.D. is a member of the national advisory council of the black leadership network Project 21. You can visit his website at http://www.blackeconomics.org