Can't find a guy to marry? It's not you, it's a shortage of suitable males, one expert says.
Dismissing common explanations such as a "hookup culture" in big cities and some college environments, business writer Jon Birger says in a new book, "Date-onomics," it's a numbers game. If there are more available women than men, then the males will have the upper hand in dating, with some avoiding commitment while they look for a "better" prospect. Nationally, he said, college campuses are 57 percent female to 43 percent male.
Birger tested his theory in religious communities where marrying within the faith is emphasized, such as Orthodox Judaism and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He claims it held up. "I wanted to show that God-fearing folks steeped in old-fashioned values are just as susceptible to the effects of shifting sex ratios" as the non-religious were, he wrote.
Using data from a 2011 Trinity College analysis of Mormon population in the United States, Birger wrote, "There are now 150 Mormon women for every 100 Mormon men in the state of Utah — a 50 percent oversupply of women." Because there's so much choice for men, he adds, they hold out for the "perfect" mate, while women age out of the pool of eligible singles.
Orthodox Judaism comprises approximately 10 percent of America's 5.3 million Jews, according to data released this week by the Pew Research Center. Birger cited research showing "for every 100 22-year-old men in the Orthodox dating pool, there are 112 19-year-old women — 12 percent more women than men," again leading to an excess of females in a community where the males typically wed younger women.
These gaps may result in what could be seen as desperate measures, Birger wrote. In the Orthodox Jewish community, a dowry in the tens of thousands of dollars may be offered to help a young couple set up a home. For Mormon women, Birger reported, there may be a greater emphasis on appearance, even involving plastic surgery to appear more attractive.
Another relationship expert agreed it isn't societal changes such as the widely discussed "hookup culture" influencing the shortage as much as it is plain numbers and increasing incompatibility.
"There's an oversupply of successful women," said Wendy Walsh, an adjunct psychology professor at California State University and author of "The 30-Day Love Detox." Walsh said "women are getting educated in droves. For every two men that graduate (college), there are three women. Fewer peer men are keeping up and women are not looking at (those males) as potential mates."
To be sure, the disparity exists in other faiths and leaders are making efforts to facilitate introductions and keep young adults involved and eligible to marry like-minded believers within the faith.
Faith marriage crisis
Beyond the numbers, there are cultural factors at play within religious communities, such as the LDS and Orthodox Jewish cultures which emphasize marrying within the faith.
For Orthodox Jews, having deep religious compatibility aids in establishing a home supporting orthodox principles. To foster such unions, they have a long-standing tradition called "shidduch," or a matchmaker's introduction between two singles.
But Efrat Sobolofsky, director of the YUConnects organization at Yeshiva University in New York City, said today's young Orthodox Jews face a different environment than their parents. Thanks to social media, it's possible "to find out all the things about people" before agreeing to a meeting.
"People conclude they have a lot of options in front of them, so they can quickly swipe through and dismiss the people" before an introduction can be arranged, she said.
For Mormons, marriage is viewed as a matter of one's eternal destiny. The late LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball said in a 1976 address, "Without proper and successful marriage, one will never be exalted." LDS doctrine "also provides that those who are unable to marry in this life but remain faithful will have that opportunity in the eternities," spokesman Eric Hawkins added.
But, "there has been a cultural shift that has affected Latter-day Saint young men so that fewer are willing to take the great leap of faith that is required to marry when still relatively young," said David C. Dollahite, a Family Life professor at church-owned Brigham Young University in Provo.
For some, Dollahite said the barrier is economic, with men worrying they can't support a family until after obtaining "at least a college degree, if not a graduate degree." For others, he added, seeing a parent's unhappy marriage may signal a "struggle with commitment" in some cases.
Despite the apparent oversupply of single females, Dollahite added, "some LDS men who are very active, devout and committed except that it is now more difficult to find LDS women who are fully committed to being a wife and mother" due to the woman's career or educational commitments.
"Many of those same women who seem to be focused on education and/or career will say that they would love to become a wife and mother but that has not yet come to them, so they are not simply waiting around for marriage but are moving forward with their lives yet still hoping that marriage and family will come."
Author Birger, in his book and Time.com article, also cited research showing "disaffiliation" among young LDS adult males as a reason for the groom shortage, claiming some men leave the church after choosing college or work over serving an LDS Church mission.
Speaking with the Deseret News, however, Birger returned to numbers as his chief explanation. "I do not believe this marriage problem has anything to do with religion. I believe this is a demographics issue," he said. A recent increase in the number of young LDS males going on a mission — a byproduct of lowering of the eligible age for mission service to 18 for males — could create more marriage candidates who stay active in the faith, he said.
Jewish marriage expert Sobolofsky said a return to tradition might help Orthodox Jews confronting that group's male-to-female imbalance.
Part of the solution, she said, is bringing back the person-to-person connection. "Personal matchmaking and personal coaching (are) still very meaningful to people," said Sobolofsky, who holds a doctorate in social work. "When a matchmaker calls to suggest (a date) and takes the time to get to know someone, they appreciate the coaching and assistance."
"There is definitely a need to address some issues regarding creating healthy opportunities for singles to meet," said Sobolofsky, who is married with four children. So far, she said, YUConnects can claim "close to 220 marriages." A report in the Jewish Link of New Jersey credits the personal involvement of the group's "connectors," who not only set up couples but also funnel reactions back to each individual and provide additional relationship coaching "as much or as little as wanted."
In some Christian denominations, there's an effort to involve clergy more in helping singles find marriage partners, a role many fulfilled in the first half of the 20th century, but which began to decline about 50 years ago. According to a 2013 report in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences," only 4 percent said their relationships began at a place of worship, sparking efforts by some evangelical Christian and Roman Catholic clergy to help more singles pair off.
Dollahite said such a statistic may be incomplete, given that "the great majority of marriages are done in a religious setting of some kind" and therefore that spiritual issues would come up during the dating process. He added that friends or family who introduce singles to each other would look for meaningful ways of compatibility, including religion.
In the Mormon community, Dollahite said, leaders and members are "aware of the gender imbalance and work to help all of its members, male and female, to come unto Christ, find fellowship with other Latter-day Saints and seek to court and marry in the faith," recognizing "there are a variety of challenges for both men and women in this process."
For decades, the LDS Church's singles wards have played a major role in providing a place for young adults to meet potential mates. However, as Birger noted, the ratio imbalance of more women than men in such wards in Utah still poses a dilemma.
Solving the marriage imbalance might also require young men, who may believe their demographic advantage allows for "caddish" behavior to change their ways, Birger said.
"The optimist in me says once you shine a light on this kind of stuff, and you make people aware that gender ratios are (influencing) this behavior, the behavior is going to change," he said.
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