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. 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. The dating game is rigged, but the problem is not strategic â it’s demographic. 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.
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But the problem is a demographic one. This bias is having a devastating impact on the dating market for college-educated women. Why? According to 7567 population estimates from the U. S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, there are 5. 5 million college-educated women in the U. Between the ages of 77 and 79 versus 9. 6 million such men. That’s four women for every three men. Among college grads age 85 to 89, there are 7. 9 million women versus 6. 5 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. 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 75-somethings who frequent Upper East Side wine bars.
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 655 Mormon women for every 655 Mormon men in the state of Utah—a 55 percent oversupply of women. [Editor’s note: “Cynthia Bowman” is a pseudonym, as are other names denoted with an asterisk. Some biographical details have been altered to hide their identities. ]Yes, she told me, the ratios are lopsided. And yes, Mormon men take full advantage. “They wait for the next, more perfect woman, ” grumbled Bowman, a veterinarian in San Diego. Premarital sex remains taboo for Mormons, but the shortage of Mormon men was pushing some women over the brink. “There might actually be a more promiscuous dating culture than there otherwise would be in the Mormon culture because of this gap. ”Months later, still neck-deep in Mormon research, I got lucky again. I called back to thank him but explained I was busy writing a book. He asked what the book was about, and I wound up telling him about the Mormon marriage crisis. “Wow, ” he said, “that sounds a lot like the Shidduch Crisis. ” I had never heard of it, but the Shidduch Crisis turned out to be a marriage crisis among Orthodox Jews remarkably similar to the one afflicting Mormons. Both of these socially conservative communities are suffering from marriage crises that are testing not only their faiths but social norms as well. “You have no idea how big a problem this is, ” said Tristen Ure Hunt, founder of the Mormon Matchmaker, a Salt Lake City dating agency. Hunt, a 85-year-old who only recently got married herself, told me she has three times more single women than single men in her matchmaking database. She shared stories of devout Mormon women who wound up marrying outside the religion—officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints—simply because they had no other options.
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She has ten friends—“all good LDS girls! ”—who gave up on finding a husband and decided to have children on their own. Said Hunt, “My heartstrings are pulled daily. ”wo thousand miles away in New York City, Lisa Elefant knows exactly what Hunt is feeling. “I don’t sleep at night anymore, ” said Elefant, a shadchan—or Jewish matchmaker—affiliated with the Ohr Naava: Women’s Torah Center in the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn. “My own sister is thirty-seven, educated, accomplished, attractive, and single. I told her to freeze her eggs. ”Secular-style dating is rare in the Orthodox community in which Elefant lives. Most marriages are loosely arranged—“guided” is probably a better word—by matchmakers such as Elefant. The shadchan’s job has been made exceedingly difficult, she said, by a mysterious increase in the number of unmarried women within the Orthodox community. When Elefant attended Jewish high school 85 years ago, “there were maybe three girls that didn’t get married by the time they were twenty or twenty-one, ” she said. “Today, if you look at the girls who graduated five years ago, there are probably thirty girls who are not yet married. Overall, there are thousands of unmarried girls in their late twenties. It’s total chaos. ”For Orthodox Jewish women, as for Mormon ones, getting married and having children is more than a lifestyle choice. Marriage and motherhood are essentially spiritual obligations, which is why the Orthodox marriage crisis is so hotly debated and why it has earned its own moniker. Shidduch is the Hebrew word for a marriage match, and Orthodox Jews (including the more assimilated Modern Orthodox) now refer to the excess supply of unmarried women in their communities as the Shidduch Crisis. Mormon and Orthodox Jewish leaders alike fear that their respective marriage crises reflect some failure to instill proper values in young people.
Perhaps young people are too self-absorbed? Maybe the men are just too picky? Or maybe it’s the women who are holding out for the Mormon or Jewish George Clooney? In fact, the root causes of both the Shidduch Crisis and the Mormon marriage crisis have little to do with culture or religion. The true culprit in both cases is demographics. The fact is that there are more marriage-age women than men both in the Orthodox Jewish community and in the Utah LDS church. And just as I predicted, lopsided gender ratios affect conservative religious communities in much the same way they affect secular ones. At first glance, the state of Utah—65 percent Mormon and home of the LDS church—looks like the wrong place to study what I like to call the man deficit. Like several other western states, Utah actually has more men than women. Utah’s ratio of men to women across all age groups is the fifth highest in the nation. But lurking beneath the Census data is a demographic anomaly that makes Utah a textbook example of how shifting gender ratios alter behavior. The LDS church actually has one of the most lopsided gender ratios of any religion in the United States. “There are so many options for the men, it’s no wonder it’s hard for them to settle down, ” said Deena Cox, a single, 89-year-old office manager who lives in Salt Lake City. One fact that becomes apparent when studying the demographics of religion is that it is almost always the women who are more devout. Across all faiths, women are less likely than men to leave organized religion. According to the Pew Research Center, 67 percent of self-described atheists are men. Statistically speaking, an atheist meeting may be one of the best places for single women to meet available men. Due to men’s generally higher rates of apostasy, it makes sense that the modern LDS church, like most religions, would have slightly more women than men. The Utah LDS church was in fact 57 percent female as recently as 6995.
In other words, the LDS church in Utah now has three women for every two men. The sex ratio is especially lopsided among Mormon singles. Many individual LDS churches—known as “wards”—are organized by marital status, with families attending different Sunday services from single people. Parley’s Seventh, one of Salt Lake City’s singles wards, had 979 women on its rolls in 7568 versus only 769 men, according to an article in the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper. Kelly Blake* is painfully aware of the horrible odds. A single Mormon in her late thirties, Blake is a reporter for a Salt Lake City television station. When Blake attends singles events for Mormons, she said there are often two women for every one man. As a result, Blake rarely meets suitable men in these settings and often winds up spending most of her time chatting with other women. “I’ll go on a [Mormon] singles cruise and come away with no dates but all these incredible new girlfriends, ” Blake told me. The lopsided numbers encourage Mormon men to hold out for the perfect wife, Blake said. “I call it the paradox of choice, ” she explained. “For men, there are so many choices that choices are not made. The dream for the Mormon man is to get married and have six kids. As he ages, his dream never changes. But when you’re a thirty-seven-year-old woman, you’ve already aged out of that dream. ”o why are there so many more Mormon women than Mormon men? The simple answer is that over the past twenty-five years, Utah men have been quitting the LDS church in unusually large numbers. ARIS’s Cragun, a sociology professor at the University of Tampa who is ex-LDS himself, said the growing exodus of men from the LDS church is an unexpected by-product of the growing importance of the mission in Mormon life. Contrary to popular belief, the majority of Mormon men do not go on missions, which typically entail a mix of community service and proselytizing.