A few weeks ago, I wrote about how college educated women now outnumber college educated men and how that impacted their dating culture. I later realized there’s a bigger issue going on - men are falling behind.
When it comes to finding a relationship, or even casual flings, the Pick-up Artist community has nothing on a college degree. Beautiful, educated women want to date handsome, educated men, but there is not enough educated men to go around. Those were the findings in the well written book Dateonomics by Jon Birger. Usually when you see the word ‘economics’ in a book title, the writing is dense and you’ll be doing most of the work to understand it. That’s not the case with Dateonomics. Birger combines research from a variety of fields - economics, sociology, demographics, psychology, and evolutionary biology - into a very fascinating and easy read.
The basic premise of the book is that gender ratios affect the way men and women date. When there are more women than men, men tend to be less committed to a single partner and less likely to marry. When there are more men than women, men are more monogamous and will invest long-term in one partner.
Birger looked at a variety of groups to illustrate this effect. He compared the dating pools in religious groups, cities, and countries, but the biggest pool he looked at was college graduates.
College graduates prefer to date and marry one another. Whether it’s right or wrong, people use education level as a signal of how intelligent, socially adjusted, and employable potential partners are. However, fewer men go to college than women. Women who want to date men with a similar education level find that those men are less committed to the idea of marriage.
Birger has data to back up this claim. Using the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey from 2012, he found that there are 5.5 million college-educated women in the 22 to 29 age range and only 4.1 million men. That is 4 women for every 3 men.
The women who don’t find a spouse in college find their options get more limited as they get older. Whenever one of the college educated women marries one of the college educated men, suddenly the remaining women are competing with 3 others to get 2 men.
If another woman gets married, that means the woman who is still single will find that there is only 1 man for every 2 women.
(This guy has it made!)
With this lopsided ratio, men are less willing to form a monogamous relationship. Birger interviewed several men and women in cities and colleges that reflect this trend and found similar stories. Even average looking men begin to think they’re studs because women become more competitive over them. The men found the longer they held out for marriage, the better options they had.
This finding is similar to what is found in nature. Male animals in general will become more monogamous and invest in one partner when females are in equal numbers or less than them. They become less monogamous when the ratio is in their favor because it is to their advantage to mate with multiple females to pass on offsprings.
In cities with higher imbalances favoring men, women invest more in gym memberships and the way they dress to attract these men. Birger found countless stories of men (many of whom were socially awkward growing up) who graduated college, moved to these cities, and left their girlfriends because of the sudden attention they received.
The most heartbreaking chapters he wrote were about women in an ultraconservative Jewish community with an abnormally high gender imbalance who were held to absurdly high beauty standards and whose parents must pay a dowry reaching six figures to get them a husband.
The Mormon community isn’t any easier on women. Since men are more likely to leave the religion as they get older, Mormon women who place a preference on finding a ‘Godly’ man find their options get even more difficult. Birger wrote about several Mormon men who found ‘ways around’ waiting until marriage to have sex because their options were so large.
Birger didn’t just talk about how awful men are. Similar to female animals in nature, women become more choosy with their partners when the ratios favor them. Where female animals usually go for stronger and more aggressive partners, women have higher expectations of men’s ability to provide and their height when the ratio favors them.
Birger found an old article from the Los Angeles Times that interviewed a woman in China, where men outnumber women, who said:
“I would rather cry in a BMW than smile on the back of my boyfriend’s bicycle.”
Women expect men to court more, be taller, and show more ambition when the imbalance is in their favor. In these cases, men are more incentivized to become more monogamous and work harder on their careers. Both historically and currently, economic growth tends to be higher in areas where men outnumber women. Credit card debt is also higher for men in these areas.
Birger’s laid out the kind of impact he hoped this book would have on people. He hoped more men would realize that investing in their education would lead to better dating opportunities, which would lead to more available partners for women. He hoped that women and men who prioritize dating would consider whether they really wanted to move to New York or SIlicon Valley.
I think his most noble goal, and where I hope he succeeds, is that young, educated women will get a break from their family and friends over their dating life. He hopes that everyone realizes that yes, there really aren't enough good men out there.