To the Editor:
James Q. Wilson is wrong in claiming that slavery contributed to the rampant rise in illegitimacy in the black community [“Sex and the Marriage Market,” March]. In 1940, the first year for which such data exist, only 17 percent of the black children born in the United States were illegitimate. It was not until the mid-1960’s that the black illegitimacy rate exceeded 25 percent, and 1976 marked the first year in which a majority of the black children born were illegitimate. Clearly, slavery has had nothing to do with this trend.
Albany, New York
James Q. Wilson writes:
Joel Margolis should not content himself with a quick glance at the 1940 Census report but should do some real research. Steven Ruggles (American Sociological Review, 1994) reports that from 1880 through 1960, black children were two to three times as likely as white children to live with only one parent. Herbert Gutman’s 1975 book, The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, has city data that show pretty much the same thing—for 1860! S. Philip Morgan and his colleagues (American Journal of Sociology, 1993) find the same for 1910, as does Frank Furstenberg (Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 1975) for the city of Philadelphia in 1850. Orlando Patterson’s book, Rituals of Blood (1999), is a compelling account of how slavery affected blacks. Why does Mr. Margolis doubt what virtually every competent scholar has established?