In the past forty years we’ve seen dramatic changes in the way people date and marry. Sexuality has become more permissive andÂ young adults are putting off marriage longer and longer. And a lot of ink has been spilt in an effort to explain exactly why. People talk about factors such as changing values and the changing economy.
My guest today has a different take on the subject: he argues that it’sÂ perhaps changing demographics that have really transformedÂ mating patterns in the West. His name is Jon Birger and he’s the author of the bookÂ Date-onomics:Â How Dating Became a Lopsided Numbers Game.Â Today on the podcast Jon and I discuss what effectÂ changing sex ratios, particularly on college campuses, hasÂ had on courtship, male and female behavior, and marriage.
- How the ratio of males to females in a populationÂ affects the behavior ofÂ both men and women
- How the increase of college educated women may be aÂ factor inÂ looser rules about hooking up and having sex
- Why men may be less ambitious when part of a population where there are more females than males
- How locations with more men than women encourage monogamy and hard-working men
- Why the “Man Deficit” is a boon for men who want as many relationships with women as possible
- The places and colleges in America where there are more women than men
- The places and colleges where there are more men than women
- How the increasing number of women and decreasing number of men on college campuses may be contributing to potentially rising numbers of sexual assaults
- How skewed sex ratios are particularly affecting Mormons and Orthodox Jews
- And much more!
Date-onomicsÂ is aÂ fascinating and entertaining read about the world of modern dating. If you’ve spent any time in the dating scene, you’ll definitely get some insights that may help you make sense of some of the anecdotal observations you’ve made on your own.Â It’s also a source of tips for men and women alike on where to live so the demographics will favor your relationship goals. And it’s just plain interesting for anyone interested in theories on theÂ dynamics of modern culture and sociology.
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Brett McKay:Â Brett McKay here. Welcome to another addition of the Art of Manliness podcast. In the past few decades there’s been a lot of ink spilled about the changing mores in the world of romance in the Western world. A lot of social critics have been sounding alarm about the hookup culture, the declining rates of marriage, and the rise of cohabitation. There’s often times a lot of the reasons put out there why these shifts are happening is changing values in the western world.
Well, my guest today on the podcast has just published a book where he says it’s not so much changing values as changing demographics that’s underlying the shift in dating and marriage behaviors. His name is Jon Birger. He’s the author of the book Date-onomics: How Dating Became a Lopsided Numbers Game. Today on the podcast we discuss the research that Jon highlights in his book about how sex ratios, that is the number of men to women or women to men can affect dating behavior, mating behavior in men and women. It’s a really fascinating discussion about dating. If you are in the dating world right now, you’re going to find a lot of insights. Even if you’re not, you might find some insights as a parent that you’ve probably seen and you’ve wondered why, what’s going on here and now you will understand, maybe have a new way to understand what’s going on. Without further ado, Date-onomics with Jon Birger.
Jon Birger, welcome to the show.
Jon Birger: Brett, thanks for having me on.
Brett McKay: You just published a really interesting book. It’s called Date-onomics and it takes a really interesting approach to dating and love life and romance and marriage. It looks at demographics and almost takes an economic approach. This led you to these interesting sociological, even Darwinian theories about how sex ratios or demographics can affect, I guess we’ll call it mating behavior or dating behavior. What are some of these theories about how sex ratios can affect how men and women mate or partner up?
Jon Birger: Well, there’s been a surprising amount of social science and behavioral science on gender ratios. Actually, most of it grew out of animal studies out of zoology. Zoologists who’ve looked at species that are nominally monogamous or at least monogamous during mating season, one of the things that they found is that the odds of the male abandoning his female mate tend to rise and fall depending upon the prevailing sex ratio in the mating population. Sociologists and psychologists use the animal research to look at human behavior. What they found is that when men are the ones in oversupply the whole dating culture is likely to emphasize monogamy and courtship and romance and marriage rates are higher, that kind of thing. When women are in oversupply the dating culture does not emphasize monogamy. There’s kind of a more freewheeling sexuality, marriage rates go down, divorce rates go up, out of wedlock births go up, and basically the whole culture becomes more sexualized because men are in no rush to settle down.
Brett McKay: Right. This is where the economics angle comes in at it. I guess when there’s more women available there’s more opportunity for men, there’s really no reason to settle down and you can cast your wild oats. For a man it’s more in their self interest to do that than to settle down with just one woman.
Jon Birger: Right. No, exactly. I should preface this by saying, overall in the US there are just as many women as men. The problem I write about in the book specifically refers to college-educated people.
Brett McKay: Right. This is what you mean by “the man deficit”.
Jon Birger: Right. Right. Obviously the US is not China. We’re not India. There isn’t like this structural imbalance where you actually have more men than women overall because of female infanticide or sex selection or things like that. Overall, our numbers are about the same. The problem is that women have been attending college at a much higher rate than men going back … For the past 10 years it’s been 4 women graduating for every 3 men. 20 years ago it was about 5 women for every 4 men. Basically for millennials you have about 35% more female college graduates than male college graduates.
This might not matter if we were all more open-minded about whom we date and marry but at the same time this has happened there’s been an increase in what sociologists like to call “assortative mating”, which is a fancy way of saying we tend to marry our own type. In other words, college grads tend to marry other college grads. People have become more rigid about this over time. The odds of a college grad marrying a non-college grad are lower today than at any point over the past 50 years. For men, I guess you could call it classism or closed-mindedness; it doesn’t really penalize them because there’s such a big oversupply of women. For college-educated women it has two effects; one, by limiting their dating pool to only college-educated men, they’re making it statistically harder for them to find a match, but they’re also kind of giving those college grad men too much leverage. They’re kind of giving them the ability to act badly because these guys know they’re in high demand.
Brett McKay: Yeah. There’s a lot to unpack there. Why have fewer men been going to college? Why have more women been going to college than men? Is it a matter of … is it economics … there’s more of a payoff to just go to work right away than to go to college or is it just the changing economy? What’s going on there?
Jon Birger: Well, you could interview 10 people on this and you might get 10 different answers. I’ll give you my answer but I’m going to preface it by saying there are other thoughts on this. I don’t think it’s the economy. I think this basically boils down to some child development issues, which we all need to focus on more.
If we’d had this conversation in the ’50s, the numbers would have essentially been reversed. It would have been about 60 men in college for every 40 women. Obviously, 50 years ago there were different things going on. Public school curricula advantaged boys and discriminated against girls. Certainly colleges, when it came to admissions, were clearly discriminating against female applicants because there was this silly embedded idea out there that women only went to college to get their MRS degree. The passage of Title IX in the ’70s leveled the playing field. It made discrimination in education illegal. Over time, that leveled the playing field. By the early ’80s we got to 50/50 when it comes to college enrollment.
The question is, how do we get from equal numbers of men and women attending college in the early ’80s to 35% more women than men today? My argument is that the old discrimination that used to exist against women, it obscured a fundamental biological truth and that is that boys’ brains lag about a year behind girls’ brains when it comes to intellectual and social maturity.
If you’re a parent … we all kind of intuit this and feel this. I have teenage boys and hopefully they won’t listen to this but maybe they probably know it as well. If you are around teenagers you kind of know that a 16 or 17 year old girl is essentially a young woman while a 16 year old boy is still very much a boy. This comes out in education. Researchers and neurologists who’ve studied this will tell you that the brain of say a 10 year old girl is close to that of an 11 year old boy when it comes to development and brain development. The boys are lagging a year behind the girls. That’s why when it comes to actual schoolwork and college preparation the girls are better at it.
Brett McKay: Got you. More boys aren’t going to college. They’re just not ready for it.
Jon Birger: Right. Well, they’re falling behind in school. 70% of high school valedictorians last year were girls. Girls get better grades, they have fewer behavioral problems when it comes to school. When it comes to primary and secondary education, boys are falling behind. The fact that they’re falling behind, one of the consequences is that girls are attending college at a higher rate.
Brett McKay: Got you. Got you. That makes sense. One of the solutions and we probably better talk about it at the end is possibly holding boys back in school.
Jon Birger: Yes.
Brett McKay: Right. We’ll talk more in detail about that in a bit. Let’s go back to this assortative of mating. I think it’s interesting. There’s been a lot of writing, ink spilled about this topic that the rich are marrying the rich while the poor are marrying the poor, where there was a time in our country’s history where there’s a lot more inter cross-social relationships. I think it’s interesting. Wasn’t that primarily men who would marry … college-educated men who would marry women who didn’t have a college education? I guess, is it like women are … like there’s something going on there either because we’re conditioned socially where there’s this tendency not to want to marry “down”, right?
Jon Birger: I think the trend has been that way for both men and women.
Brett McKay: Oh, it’s for both men and women. Okay.
Jon Birger: Yeah. Men are less likely to marry down. I don’t love that …
Brett McKay: I hate that phrase but it’s the only way to convey it.
Jon Birger: Men are less likely … A college-educated man is also less likely to marry somebody lacking a college degree compared to 50 years ago. As I said, the man who is closed-minded about dating, he’s not penalized in the same way the woman is because the supply of college-educated women is so great. The trend has been the same for men and women in terms of this increase in assortative mating. It just affects the women differently.
Brett McKay: Got you. You talk about there’s pockets in the country where this man deficit is pretty extreme. Where are some of those pockets? Maybe you can highlight some of the stories you’ve heard, I don’t know what you’d want to call it but just debauchery or men who are just going out and basically having a great time, while it’s really hard for women.
Jon Birger: Yeah. Well, let’s start with the geography. I have to admit, when I began work on the book I thought my research was going to end up some place different from where it did. Initially, I assumed what I call “the men deficit” was some kind of a phenomenon unique to big cosmopolitan cities like New York or L.A. or Chicago or London, places like that. What was so interesting was that this is not a big city phenomenon. In fact, the man deficit in say Montana is bigger than it is New York City. There are lots of rural states where the dating market is much more lopsided than what you find in big cities. Montana has 52% more college grad women than men who are aged 22 to 29, Oklahoma it’s 45%, Texas 40%, West Virginia 61%, New York state it’s 30%, which is still big. What’s interesting is that some of these more rural states, the dating market is even more lopsided when it comes to college-educated people than in New York or California.
To your question about behavior, let me just say from the start that I try hard in the book and when talking about the book not to come across like the morality police.
Brett McKay: Yeah. I noticed that. You did a good job with that.
Jon Birger: Yeah. I’m not trying to shame people about their sex lives or say that only men are into the hookup culture or no men want to get married or women can’t enjoy sexual freedoms. I’m not even endorsing marriage for that matter. Sometimes when I tell these stories it makes it sound like I’m judging these people for their sex lives and I’m really not. I’m just trying to explain why the world is the way it is.
It is clear to me that in dating markets where men have all the leverage, the men become pickier and they become less inclined to settle down. The women, sensing that they’re at a disadvantage … I don’t know whether this is conscious or subconscious but the whole dating climate and sexual climate becomes looser because the men are the ones who are essentially making the rules.
I interviewed plenty of women who felt like they were being used and taken advantage of by men who only wanted to sleep with them and then after a date or two they never heard from them again or from men who kind of felt like they didn’t have much success dating-wise in high school or college and suddenly things are going pretty well for them in their late 20s. Of course, they’re going to be in no rush to settle down because they finally have a chance to do what they always wanted to do. I would hear stories like that. You want me to go into more detail about …
Brett McKay: No. I think people get the general idea. I think it’s interesting too, you go into depth about campuses, colleges. It is sort of controversial. There’s all this in the past year or so a lot of controversy about the rape culture that exists on campuses. There’s some folks out there that are making the case that because that there are more women on college campuses than men, I don’t want to say it promotes it, but it encourages more, looser sexual mores and then you get something that looks … I don’t know if you want to say that’s the rape culture but it kind of promotes that in a way.
Jon Birger:Â That’s my argument. There’s been a ton of research on how sex ratios affect … or correlations between gender ratios and rates of sexual assault. All these studies, it sounds counterintuitive but what they point to is that when men are scarce, rates of sexual assault are higher. It doesn’t make sense. Why would there being fewer men lead to more rapes? What seems to be happening is that men value women less and protect them less when women are in oversupply.
There was a fascinating study that came out of China, it was done by an economist at Columbia University. She looked at crime rates in China as China’s overall gender ratio among young people began to skew more and more male, for well-known reasons. What she found is that most types of crime, as the population became disproportionately male, most types of crime went up. That kind of makes sense because men are more prone to criminality. When it came to property crimes or murder or things like that, the crime rates went up as the male population grew in relation to the female population. The only type of major crime where there was a significant decline was sexual assault. In China, as the population became more male it actually became safer for women when it came to sexual assault. Again, the argument is that when women are scarce men treat them better. I know it sounds awful in some ways but that seems to be what the science indicates.
Brett McKay: It’s interesting. I think it’s interesting you’d highlight there’s college counselors or people in universities who are aware of this research but they can’t talk about it because of Title IX. That’s kind of the gist that I got from the book.
Jon Birger: Look, I do think that there’s a fundamental awareness, that there’s a corral- not everybody, but I do think people on college campuses … I quote a student counselor, a psychologist at NYU. Certainly in her research she’s aware that there’s a correlation between increasingly lopsided gender ratios on campus, NYU has 50% more women than men, and the hookup culture. Now, I don’t want to push this too far and say that the hookup culture is the same as the rape culture because it’s different. I think that the lopsided gender ratios kind of contribute to similar things. With the hookup culture, it basically gives men more leverage and allows them to deemphasize commitment in favor of opportunities, so to speak. When it comes to rape I do believe that … I had one woman in New York, she wasn’t talking about sexual assault but she made a comment I found moving in some ways. She told me a lot of men don’t view women as people, when she was complaining about her dating situation. I kind of feel that’s what is going on when it comes to sexual assault, that women have been devalued in some way in the minds of men on these campuses and that is contributing to sexual violence on college campuses.
Now, I’m not excusing it and I don’t think it’s inevitable. I do believe if colleges were a little more … I think colleges should be looking at this topic and investigating it and talking about it. I believe if we focused more attention on it and shined a spotlight on it, the behavior would change because that’s what happens. Unless you talk about you’re not going to be able to change the behavior.
Brett McKay:Â Right. The idea, you kind of made the case that by talking about it, maybe you’ll have more women decide to go to colleges where there are more men, right? Everything will sort of even out eventually, wasn’t that kind of …
Jon Birger: Right. That’s part of it, but I also think it’s more than that. This is a different example, but the human brain is also hardwired to … We have an extreme panic reflex. We tend to fear the unknown and that’s because the human brain evolved at a time when escaping bad weather or escaping wild animals or an unfamiliar tribe or something like that, it was in humans best interest, in terms of self preservation, to escape. We have kind of an exaggerated panic reflex. You could, if I wanted to, or somebody could make the argument that racism is kind of hardwired into our brains because we’re preprogrammed to fear the unknown. Well, the reality is that humans learn, and we have an ability to overcome our natural inclinations. When it comes to issues of race and ethnicity I think this is a good example of that, that we don’t give in to our worst instincts and we learn from them. I kind of feel like something similar could happen on college campuses if we were more upfront and confronted the fact that these gender ratios do tend to devalue women.
Brett McKay: I think it’s interesting in the book you talk about the sex demographic problems that are unique to two specific religious groups, Mormons and Jews. Not just Jews, it’s Orthodox Jews. Let’s get specific here. How did you uncover these two? Why did you highlight these two groups? Are they just microcosms that illuminate the general issues that are coming up with skewed sex ratios?
Jon Birger: Well, this was actually the last chapter I wrote, but it turned out to be my favorite. As I was writing and researching the book I would have people come up to me, people I interviewed for the book or just friends and family who I’d talk to about the book. They would say things like, “Well, with the hookup culture and people not getting married in as great numbers as they used to, couldn’t it just be that times have changed? Couldn’t it be that sexual mores have changed and that’s why there’s more of a hookup culture?” That argument always irritated me because the thing is, sexual mores do not change for no reason. There seems to be this notion out there that all these social values and sexual mores kind of inevitably moved from conservative to libertine over time. I don’t agree with that. I think there’s always a root cause behind why our values, why our mores change.
The reason I began to look at religious groups is because I wanted to see if I could find a religious group that had an imbalanced gender ratio and I could show that despite the fact that this group was rooted in very conservative values, that lopsided gender ratios were affecting marriage or affecting behavior in these communities the same way it affects secular people on the upper eastside of Manhattan.
I began to look at the gender ratios within religious communities. One of the things I found is that while pretty much all religious groups have slightly more women than men because men tend to fall away from organized religion at a higher rate, Mormons, particularly Mormons in Utah tend to have a particularly lopsided gender ratio. One of the studies out there indicated that there are 3 Mormon women for every 2 Mormon men in the state of Utah. It’s a little less imbalanced outside of Utah, but in Utah it’s very lopsided.
I began exploring how this affects dating and marriage. As I was working on it I actually got a call from a hedge fund manager who wanted to interview me about a job and I explained, he was a friend of a friend, and I explained to him that I was working on this book. I told him about the Mormons and he paused and he said, “Huh, that sounds a lot like the Shidduch Crisis.” I’m Jewish but obviously not Jewish enough because the Shidduch Crisis refers to a marriage crisis within the Orthodox, particularly the ultra-Orthodox community within … Orthodox Jews are not the majority of Jews in the US but they’re a very tight knit group and they have their own marriage crisis.
In their case it’s also because of lopsided gender ratios although it’s not that overall there are more women than men, it’s that you have 18 year old women marrying 22 year old men and because they’re the Orthodox, birth rate is so high, each one year age cohort has more people than the one that proceeded it. There are more 18 year olds than 19 year olds, more 19 year olds than 20 year olds, and so on and so on. If you have 22 year old men marrying 18 year old women there aren’t going to be enough women. I’m sorry, there’s not going to be enough men. That’s why you have this imbalance in the Orthodox community.
For both Mormons and Orthodox Jews, this oversupply of women has created problems. It’s basically created a sense of entitlement among the men. It’s created a sense of competition among the women.
Brett McKay: Yeah. You talked about something I guess because these are fairly conservative religious groups, the men aren’t having sex all the time. I guess they’re putting off marriage longer than the norms would want them to hold off marriage on.
Jon Birger: Yeah. Yeah. I don’t get the sense that good Mormons in Salt Lake City are spending a lot of time on Tinder or watching explicit rap videos or things like that. It’s not pop culture that’s affecting sexual mores in Utah or in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Brooklyn or other parts of the country.
Brett McKay: But you did notice some of the behavior that you see that people have noticed that’s changed in these two communities among women. The men are putting off marriage and I guess the women are getting more competitive. I guess you talked about in Utah there’s a lot of plastic surgery amongst women.
Jon Birger: Yeah, there’s a consumer review site that’s kind of like the leading online review site for plastic surgery and they did a survey a couple of years ago. They found that on a per capita basis, Salt Lake City leads the nation in breast augmentation. To somebody who’s not from Utah and who’s not Mormon, to me that’s confounding and baffling because the idea of Mormons rushing out to get breast augmentation just doesn’t mesh with what the rest of us think about the community as being so …
Brett McKay: Kind of button down conservative.
Jon Birger: Right. I don’t know if there’s a way to prove this scientifically but I do have a sense that women in Utah are already above average in terms of attractiveness …
Brett McKay: Right, it’s that whole Swedish descenty that came over and pioneers.
Jon Birger: I don’t know. Maybe I’ll get in trouble for saying that but that’s my sense. It’s already a very competitive marriage market for women so I just think there’s this added pressure on women to do everything they can to improve their marriage odds. I spoke to Mormon women in Utah who were telling me when they go to a singles event it’s very common for there to be twice as many women as men, which is even worse than the numbers I sited from that Trinity College study.
Brett McKay: This affect on women isn’t just affecting Mormon women. You talk about in the Orthodox Jewish community there’s this pressure to lose a lot of weight and so there’s eating disorder problems.
Jon Birger: Yeah. There’s eating disorders and plastic surgery. In the ultra-Orthodox community typically they’re using matchmakers to pair young men and women for marriage. They’re not exactly arranged marriages but they’re kind of guided. People can say no, obviously. There are no shotgun weddings but the tradition is to use matchmakers to pair young men and women for marriage.
One of the expectations for the women is that they will provide a resume, which the men can look over. 20 years ago the resume was pretty mundane. It included things like who your parents are, who your grandparents were, if you had a great grandparent who was a famous rabbi that would actually improve your standing in the marriage market, it actually still does. It may ask your religious background, things like that, how religious you are, and what branch of Orthodox Judaism you come from.
Nowadays, these resumes, a lot of the women include glossy glamour photos with the resumes. One of the questions or a couple of the questions the women are expected to answer is not only their own dress size or weight but the young men want to know the dress size of their moms too. That’s because they want to be able to project after she has 5 or 6 kids is she going to be able to keep her figure. It’s funny in some respects, but it’s sickening when you think about it because these are not 22 or 23 year old women who are going through this, which would be bad enough. These are 17 and 18 year old young women who are expected to appear as marriageable as possible at a very young age when this should not be what they’re worried about. As you said, there is this problem of anorexia within the Orthodox community.
The plastic surgery thing is out there as well. There was an author, a woman who wrote, she writes a lot of Jewish religious books. She wrote a column for a Jewish newspaper basically urging the parents of young women to invest in plastic surgery in order to improve their daughter’s marriage odds. In the book, as you may recall, I ripped into this author. She was really mad at me after the fact. She emailed me and called me all sorts of names. One of her arguments in response was, “Well, I arranged nose jobs for a bunch of these girls for free and wouldn’t you know it, some of these 18 year old girls wound up getting married after I got them nose jobs.” I’m thinking to myself, it drives me bonkers that she thinks this is rationalizing the objectification of young women but that seems to be the culture.
Brett McKay: Interesting. In your research were you able uncover are these two groups doing anything to solve this problem? Are they talking proactive steps or are they just like, “Well, that’s just the way it is,”?
Jon Birger: Yeah. I think there are definitely elements in both communities who realize what’s going on. For Mormons, I don’t think you would get any leaders in the church to admit this, but I do believe one of the motivations when they lowered the mission age, you would know better than me, but I think it used to be 19.
Brett McKay: Used to be 19.
Jon Birger: Now it’s what? 17 or 18?
Brett McKay: 18.
Jon Birger: 18. I think what was happening … the age in which young men are most likely to become apostates or to leave organized religion is in their late teens and early 20s. For Mormons that’s a problem because that’s the exact time when they go on mission. There’s no doubt, there are plenty of young men who would rather get on with their lives, either education or work, rather than take 2 years off to do mission plus the mission, as you know, is expensive. The missionaries and their families pay for the mission, not the church. Again, you would know better than me.
Certainly 30, 40 years ago there was less pressure on LDS men to go on mission. You could skip a mission and there wouldn’t necessarily be a huge stigma attached to it. It wouldn’t be a great thing but you could still have a leadership role in the LDS church if you had not been a missionary. Nowadays there’s a lot of social pressure, as you know, to go on mission. You’ll see Mormon blogs with young women debating on whether it’s okay to marry or date a non-RM, which is a non-returning missionary. This social pressure on the men who forgo missions I think has increased the apostasy rate among men because if they stay in the church there’s a stigma attached to them and I think this kind of incentives them to leave.
Coming back to the point about the mission age, I think if young men begin their mission before they start work or before they begin school, maybe they’re more likely or less likely to forgo a mission. Based on the missionary numbers, I think there definitely are a lot more young men doing missions now than there were before the …
Brett McKay: Yeah, there was a big bump right afterwards. What about in the Orthodox Jewish community?
Jon Birger: What’s so fascinating about the Orthodox community is that there’s this natural control group. For about half the Orthodox community there’s this significant age gap between the sexes at marriage. You have 18, 19 year old young women marrying men who are 22, 23, or 24. That’s because the young men don’t get married until they finish attending Yeshiva, which is a Jewish seminary and maybe there’s a year of religious study in Israel involved as well. Until they’re done with their religious studies, they typically don’t get married.
However, there is a segment of the Orthodox community known as Hasidic Jews who don’t do this. Basically everybody gets married at age 18. In the Hasidic community there is no Shidduch Crisis. When you talk to Hasidic Jews about this supposed marriage crisis and this oversupply of women, they have no idea what you’re talking about and that’s because the men and women are marrying at the same age.
I think in the non-Hasidic orthodox community some of the rabbis have realized what’s going on. They understand that this basically boils down to a demographic problem, that there are just more 18 year old women than 22 year old men. They’ve been trying to encourage men to marry women their own age. There’ve been some incentives put in place to do that. I don’t know how much success it’s having. My own take on this and I’m not a highly religious person and I’m sure an Orthodox rabbi would offer up many reasons why my suggestion is wrong but it’s my belief that it would be an act of kindness if Orthodox rabbis would basically refuse to marry off women until they turn 20 or 21 or 22. That would allow some of the older women who have yet to find their match to get married. Also, there shouldn’t be this pressure on 17 and 18 year old young women or girls to appear marriageable. I think it would be healthier if the community would just sort of say, “Look, let’s push back the age of marriage particularly for women.”
Brett McKay: Got you. I know your book is primarily descriptive. You’re describing things that are going on but you do make some prescriptions based off of the data, some suggestions. As I was reading this, look I’m a father of a girl. She’s only 2, but when I was reading this I was getting really depressed for her. It’s like, “Man, that’s a rough world you’re going into.” I don’t want her to have to go to those crazy extremes that you highlight in the book of having to be really hypersensitive about how she looks and just having to go through all this rigmarole with guys who are kind of flaky. Any advice for parents out there who have daughters that they can help prepare them for a fulfilling romantic life and eventually a family life without all the stress that a lot of women are facing today?
Jon Birger: Well, this is advice for the women themselves as well as for the parents. I think one of them would be to consider geography when you’re settling down. There are certain cities like Providence, Rhode Island or New York City that are just particularly bad for women. There are other cities like Seattle or San Francisco or San Jose or San Diego where the demographics are more women friendly. Now, the obvious caveat is that most people are not going to plan their whole lives around gender ratios. This is advice, I think if you just had a daughter who was graduating from college this coming May or June, I think that’s the kind of thing you might want to be on her checklist if she’s marriage-minded. Again, I’m not assuming everybody is marriage-minded.
Another thing to keep in mind would be if you do want to get married and you put a high priority on marriage and becoming a mother, there’s an advantage to getting serious about dating earlier rather than later. I interviewed and I know a lot of women who decided to put all their focus on career in their 20s and early 30s and figured they would just meet somebody at 32 or 33. I’m certainly not saying that’s a bad idea if you’re career-minded. I mean it’s a great idea if you’re career-minded. The problem is that if you start out in a lopsided dating pool, the numbers move against you over time, which is why holding out becomes a bad strategy.
I assume you and most of your listeners probably played musical chairs as a child. As you may recall, in the first round of musical chairs there’s one fewer chair than players. Really in the first round everybody gets a chair except for the kid who’s not paying attention, right? In the last round of musical chairs, you have a 50% chance of losing the game. That’s kind of what happens in dating.
I’m just going to use round numbers, if you start out with a dating pool that has a 140 women and a 100 men, which is 1.4 women for every 1 man, it starts out lopsided but it gets worse over time. Once half of those women, when 70 of those women marry 70 of the men, the remaining dating pool becomes 70 single women versus 30 single men, which is a greater than 2:1 ratio. I think this explains why in cities like New York and L.A. and Chicago we all know these fabulous women in their 30s who can’t seem to meet a decent guy. It’s not because they’re not attractive or they’re not good company or anything like that, it’s because the demographics have moved against them. This is a long-winded way of me saying get serious about dating a little bit younger. It doesn’t mean you have to have kids. I got married when I was 24 and didn’t have kids until I was 30.
Finally, and this gets back to what we talked about earlier, I think we all need to be more open-minded when it comes to educational background. The idea that a college degree makes you a better husband or a better wife, I don’t think that’s true. I think we need to get past this idea that we can only date or marry people who are just like us. In fact, not long after the book came out I got a Twitter message from a woman who told me she met her husband of 4 or 5 years after she unchecked the college graduate box on her online dating site.
Brett McKay: Interesting. Just kind of help your daughters realize you can marry a firefighter who doesn’t have a college degree but who’s a good solid dude.
Jon Birger: Exactly.
Brett McKay: Got you. As I was reading this too, it seems like “the man deficit” … if you’re a man, you’re young guy in your 20s or even in your 40s, it sounds like could be unmitigated boon for you if what your looking for is just as many sexual relationships as possible. It seems like the downside would be that there are guys who might be, they want to settle down, they have that in mind but it could cause them to be too picky. They eventually just don’t settle down because they’re trying to maximize wife material. I don’t know if that’s kind of a dumb way to put it. Is that problem?
Jon Birger: Yeah. I have a friend who wrote a much talked about story for the New York Times a couple of weeks ago about this very topic. He’s a Manhattan man in his early 40s. He’s been enjoying the single life for awhile, but now all of his friends are married and he’s kind of feeling lonely. There is this kind of issue of men who don’t know when it’s time to stop.
Brett McKay: Any suggestions for them? Just they have to decide, okay I’m going to get married by this age so they can get out of this loop of trying to maximize? I don’t know.
Jon Birger: See, I don’t know.
Brett McKay: Yeah. You don’t know.
Jon Birger: I tried carefully, I’m not assuming everybody wants to get married or everybody is heterosexual. No doubt, marriage is not for everyone. I acknowledge that. Some of these guys might be better off never getting married. Some women may be better off never getting married too. I guess what I would say is that if you do want to get married some day and you’re with somebody who truly makes you happy and who you know you’re compatible with, don’t treat the relationship casually just because you know that there are many more fish in the sea.
Brett McKay: That makes perfect sense. Common sense advice there. Jon, this has been a really fascinating conversation. There’s a lot more we could talk about but I know you have to go. Where can people learn more about your book?
Jon Birger: Well, my website is dateonomics.com, d-a-t-e-o-n-o-m-i-c-s.com. The book’s available for sale at all your local booksellers, bookstores, online, at Amazon, and barnesandnoble.com. If you Google me or the book title, you’ll find speeches and interviews and news stories and the like.
Brett McKay: Awesome. Well, Jon Birger, thanks so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Jon Birger: Thanks, Brett.
Brett McKay: My guest today was Jon Birger. He’s the author of the book Date-onomics. You can find out more information about the book at dateonomics.com and you can find it on Amazon.com and bookstores everywhere.
Well, that wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice make sure to check out The Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com. If you enjoy this podcast I’d really appreciate it if you’d give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher. As always, I appreciate your support. Until next time, this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.