That’s the one thing that always came up when I’d discuss theories on declining marriage rates or the rise of the hookup culture with my friends or family.
“Couldn’t it just be that times have changed?” people would ask.
Times have changed, and that is a good thing—especially the fading-away of cruel taboos that once stigmatized women who engaged in premarital sex or bore children out of wedlock.
Thing is, times change for a reason. The values question assumes that sexual mores loosen naturally from conservative to liberal. In reality, these values have ebbed and flowed throughout history, often in conjunction with prevailing sex ratios.
Today, mainstream dating guides tell the everything-going-for-her career woman it’s her fault she’s still single—she just needs to play hard to get or follow a few simple rules to snag Mr. Right. But the problem is a demographic one.
Multiple studies show that college-educated Americans are increasingly reluctant to marry those lacking a college degree. This bias is having a devastating impact on the dating market for college-educated women. Why? According to 2012 population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, there are 5.5 million college-educated women in the U.S. between the ages of 22 and 29 versus 4.1 million such men. That’s four women for every three men. Among college grads age 30 to 39, there are 7.4 million women versus 6.0 million men—five women for every four men.
It’s not that He’s Just Not That Into You—it’s that There Just Aren’t Enough of Him.
Lopsided gender ratios don’t just make it statistically harder for college-educated women to find a match. They change behavior too. According to sociologists, economists and psychologists who have studied sex ratios throughout history, the culture is less likely to emphasize courtship and monogamy when women are in oversupply. Heterosexual men are more likely to play the field, and heterosexual women must compete for men’s attention.
Of course, tales of scarce men and sexual permissiveness in ancient Sparta won’t convince everyone, so I began to explore the demographics of modern religion. 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 cosmopolitan, hookup-happy 20-somethings who frequent Upper East Side wine bars.
Eventually I hit pay dirt.
One of my web searches turned up a study from Trinity College’s American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) on the demographics of Mormons. According to the ARIS study, there are now 150 Mormon women for every 100 Mormon men in the state of Utah—a 50 percent oversupply of women. On a lark, I emailed my friend Cynthia Bowman,* a devout Mormon who grew up in Salt Lake City and returns there often, and asked her whether Mormon sex ratios are as lopsided as the ARIS study claimed.