Think Freakonomics and Moneyball if you run across Date-Onomics, a by-the-numbers book on dating that argues advice-givers serving up tips for women on how to a find a man have it all wrong.
American business journalist Jon Birger has crunched the data on hetero singlehood and blames massively off-kilter gender ratios – not whether you do or do not return his first text – for the woes of women looking for their Mr. Rights.
Married for 23 years with three kids, Birger said in a recent interview he took on the economics, sociology and demographics of dating to help women realise that the hookup culture, a decline in marriage rates among the college educated and a dearth of marriage-worthy men willing to commit are byproducts of lopsided gender ratios.
New York City, for instance, has 100,000 more women than men who are college educated and under 35, a fact not usually reported when dating-related issues are discussed in the media, Birger said.
And he writes there’s no gender ratio divide when it comes to many rural versus urban areas, or small towns versus big cities.
His hope? That the book, out in the US next month, provides some comfort to those who blame themselves.
Q: What myths are you trying to dispel with this book and who is the audience?
Birger: I’m trying to offer another take different from what all the conventional dating advice books offer up. The message of a lot of these guides is that women are going about it all wrong. It’s their fault, and my argument is it’s not their fault. It’s the demographics.
Q: Can you explain how you came to the conclusion that demographics never seem to be part of the conversation when it comes to dating behavior?
Birger: I just know a lot of single women, really wonderful, smart – they’re good company – attractive women in their 30s and 40s who share with me various woes of their single lives, and the concept that the number of women in their dating market outnumber the number of men just never enters the conversation.
Initially, I thought this was a New York story or a Jon Birger circle of friends story, but it’s more universal than that.
Q: Where is the man deficit the worst and how do lopsided gender ratios impact people’s drive?
Birger: I know people who live in cities like New York think this is a phenomenon unique to them. But it’s a national phenomenon. Nationally, among millennials, there are four college-grad women for every three college-grad men. In fact, the lopsidedness is actually worse in some rural states like Montana and West Virginia than it is in urban states like California and New York.
In terms of the impact, it doesn’t just make it statistically harder for educated women to find a match. It changes behavior as well.
There’s a ton of social science that’s been done on sex ratios and the big takeaway is that men are more likely to play the field and delay marriage when women are in oversupply. A big argument of my book is that the college- and post-college hookup culture is largely a byproduct of these gender ratios.
What you see from the census data is that fully employed men age 25 to 30 who successfully marry earn 20 per cent more than fully employed men age 25 to 30 who are unmarried. There are academic studies on the same topic that reach the same conclusion, that a scarcity of women in this instance does lead men to earn more.
Q: What other variables, besides gender ratios, contribute to a rise in hookup culture?
Birger: I do believe on a macro basis, this is what’s driving the change in the dating culture. But what I see as a macro argument isn’t going to apply to every individual.
Where you can really see it is when you look at teen sexuality. If you look at CDC data on teen sexuality, teenagers these days, despite being bombarded with videos and movies and TV that all promote freewheeling sexuality, are having less sex today and are less likely to be sexually active today than teens were in the 1980s at the height of the AIDS crisis.
I don’t have an opinion on why teen sex rates are going down, but I can tell you I am confident that if pop culture were driving the hookup culture among adults you would see the effect among teenagers as well. It’s being driven by lopsided gender ratios among college grads.
If you read dating advice guides, all offer some variations of the rules. If you just do return his text right away or don’t return his text right away or pick the restaurant or don’t pick the restaurant. There are all of these things that women should be doing and the reason they’re still single is because they’re not doing them. I’m arguing that this is craziness and that this is not a strategic problem. This is not women’s fault.
The reality is that college-educated women who are really only willing to date college-educated men are in a really bad dating market. I am not endorsing marriage or monogamy. I’m just trying to explain why the world is the way it is.
Q: How do gender ratios play out in a man deficit on college campuses?
Birger: It’s a long-term problem. Girls perform better in high school. They get better grades, they’ve been narrowing the gap and sometimes closing the gap on standardised tests, 70 per cent of valedictorians are women. Girls are better at college preparation and many colleges accept women at a higher rate.
Q: New York City, specifically Manhattan, is considered a dating killer for women. Is that true? What are some of the areas that don’t have enough dating-eligible women?
Birger: For millennials, there’s essentially three women for every two men. By the numbers, the best dating market for educated women is far and away Silicon Valley. Santa Clara County, where San Jose is, has about 11 per cent more college-grad men who are 30 and under than college-grad women. Seattle is a good dating market for women, as is Denver.
As you go from the east coast to the west coast, the sex ratios among millennial college grads become a little less lopsided. But nothing’s perfect.