, Volume 52, Issue 5, pp 1409–1430 | Cite as

Tenancy and African American Marriage in the Postbellum South

  • Deirdre BloomeEmail author
  • Christopher MullerEmail author


The pervasiveness of tenancy in the postbellum South had countervailing effects on marriage between African Americans. Tenancy placed severe constraints on African American women’s ability to find independent agricultural work. Freedwomen confronted not only planters’ reluctance to contract directly with women but also whites’ refusal to sell land to African Americans. Marriage consequently became one of African American women’s few viable routes into the agricultural labor market. We find that the more counties relied on tenant farming, the more common was marriage among their youngest and oldest African American residents. However, many freedwomen resented their subordinate status within tenant marriages. Thus, we find that tenancy contributed to union dissolution as well as union formation among freedpeople. Microdata tracing individuals’ marital transitions are consistent with these county-level results.


Marriage Divorce Racial inequality Economic history Economic institutions 



Authorship is alphabetical to reflect equal contributions. We thank Stanley Engerman, Claudia Goldin, Rosalind King, Suresh Naidu, Anthony Paik, Orlando Patterson, Stewart Tolnay, Melissa Weiner, Christopher Winship, William Julius Wilson, and anonymous Demography reviewers for helpful comments on previous drafts. We presented previous versions of this article at Harvard University’s Research in Economic History workshop and the annual meetings of the Population Association of America, the American Sociological Association, and the Social Science History Association.


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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology, Population Studies Center, and Survey Research CenterUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.Robert Wood Johnson Health & Society Scholars ProgramColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA

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