Date-onomics: Dating By the Numbers

October 13, 2015
I want to wake up, in a city that doesn’t sleep Date-onomics
And find I’m king of the hill
Top of the heap
 
These little town blues
Are melting away
I’ll make a brand new start of it
In old New YorkIf I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere
It’s up to you, New York, New York
 
Lyrics from New York, New York, sung by Frank Sinatra

If a woman can find a life partner in New York today, she’s cracked the toughest dating market in the United States.
Jon Birger’s recently published Date♥onomics: How Dating Became a Lopsided Numbers Game is chock full of information that a data junkie like me appreciates. It’s enlightening and informative, and that’s always a good thing. I’m a firm believer in objective analysis as the only way to prevent the cognitive biases that cause us to make poor strategic decisions. But it’s not pretty.

Birger has surveyed all the available data on sex ratios in different U.S. markets to prove that they drive dating and mating behavior. This concept is not new – Mark Regnerus of the Austin Institute has written a lot about this. You can find a post on his writing HERE.

Birger focuses primarily on dating among those with a college degree and for that population, the conclusion is clear:

Men have a pronounced advantage over women in heterosexual dating because there are far fewer eligible men than eligible women. 

If you’re a guy, this is great news overall. If you’re a woman, not so much. Yet there is power in knowledge – at last a good explanation for why dating is hard and relationships are scarce in many cities.

It’s not you. It’s really, really not.

Birger acknowledges that culture can theoretically play a role – one movie critic says that TV leads to the mistaken impression that everyone else is having casual sex, so you may be missing out. But Birger points out that teens are having significantly less sex today than 30 years ago. The percentage of female teens who have had intercourse went from 51% to 43% between 1988 and 2010. For boys, the decline was even bigger – from 60% to 42%. Culture doesn’t explain what’s happening in the dating pool.

Birger lays out his argument:

“Gender ratios are the key variable in explaining long-term trends such as the decline in marriage rates and loosening sexual mores for heterosexual, college-educated men and women.”

Why Are Sex Ratios So Lopsided In Nearly All Markets?

Women have surpassed men in earning college degrees since the 1980s.

In the U.S. today, there are four college-educated women aged 22-29 for every three men in the same age group. For 30-somethings, the ratio is five women for every four men. Birger calls this a “demographic time bomb.” In 1991, there were 10% more women than men on campus. By 1996 that was 20%. Today it’s 33%, and it’s projected to be 47% by 2023.

For young millennial women, the news is especially grim – among those 24 and under, there are 39% more educated women than men.

Not only that, Birger reminds us that “lopsided gender ratios can impact people’s drive, ambition and even their earnings.” So even among the college-educated, women often outperform men professionally, which is a bummer for women looking for a mate.

It starts on campus.

Here are examples of the sex ratios at some colleges:

  • NYU: 61:39
  • Boston University: 62:38
  • Tulane University: 62:38
  • Howard University: 69:31

1. Women lower their standards in an attempt to secure commitment.

According to Birger, “Sarah Lawrence men do not have to look or act like alpha males in order to have alpha-male-like sex lives.” Not surprisingly, research has shown that imbalanced sex ratios cause the women to lower standards and feel genuine attraction for less physically possessing men.

2.  Title IX is not the cause.

While some have blamed Title IX for the greater influx of female students, Birger points out that the same pattern is true in other developed countries, including Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Hungary, Israel, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

It shakes out during the twenties.

Birger does some mating math and it’s pretty depressing. He starts with a group of 14 women and 10 men on an imaginary Hookup Island, or 40% more women than men.

Now assume that 6 men and 6 women pair off. Now you’ve got 8 women to 4 men, or 100% more women. Those remaining men, who are probably less likely to pair off anyway, are now in “a true male paradise.”

Furthermore, Birger points out that according to scientists, male behavior is more influenced by changes in sex ratios than female behavior is.

LGBTQ-friendly cities like Miami, New York and LA have an even larger gap than the census data indicates.

Gary Gates is a UCLA scholar of LGBTQ demographics, and explains how this works.

1. Gay men outnumber gay women 2 to 1.

2-3% of the male population is gay, compared with 1-1.5% of the female population. Usually, the impact of such a small part of the population would not be great.

2. Gay men move to large cities friendly to them.

Gates describes NYC as a “rich, white, male gay enclave.”

In Manhattan, the percentage of gay female couples is the same as the nationwide average. But there are 16.7 gay couples in Manhattan for every 1,000 households, compared to a national average of 5.5. This difference is derived entirely from same-sex male couples.

Gates estimates that 9-12% of the male population of Manhattan is gay. When you subtract them out of the sex ratio stats, you get many more women than men – for college grads 20-29 it’s 54% more. And Gates says even this is an understatement, because gay men are far more likely to be college-educated.

No wonder men in NYC are Tindering without thoughts of dating!

New York, New York, You’re Killing Me

Let’s look closely at New York, which is truly a dating hell for women seeking relationships:

  • NYC has 100K more college-educated women than men under 35. A sociology professor at Queens College describes the city’s dating pool as “a market that just won’t clear.”
  • In the Murray Hill neighborhood, there are 2.3 never-married 20-something women for every never-married man.
  • In the Meatpacking District, the ratio is 2.2.
  • On the Upper East Side there are 2 women for every man.
  • In Manhattan, just 13% of women under 30 are married.
  • 50% of women age 30-39 in Manhattan have never been married.

In contrast, here’s what the market looks like in San Jose/Santa Clara County:

  • Santa Clara County has 38% more never-married men than women in the 20-29 cohort.
  • 33% of women under 30 are married.
  • There are 12% more men than women.

Men in San Jose are not pleased – one said “Girls…can be picky, so they can blow off any dude they want. I think guys have to throw money at girls now to get more attention.”

But head east and the story is the opposite. One woman in NY reflected:

“It’s like a lot of men don’t see us as people. I’ve had guys in NY admit to me that they expect women to be faithful to them but still be able to play the field themselves.”

Birger shares anecdotes of “not terribly attractive” men who are “not ex-jocks” from the midwest marrying beautiful models in NYC. Birger interviewed “an average looking guy who works for an advertising agency,” who said:

“Suddenly you’re fucking girls you could never fuck in high school…At one point I was dating someone who was by far the most attractive woman – and by far the most sexually adventurous woman – I’d ever dated, and I broke up with her because I knew I could find someone just as wild but maybe a little smarter.”

This guy had also begun viewing infidelity as a risk/reward question rather than a moral one. In short, Birger says, “Lopsided gender ratios turn some nice guys into monsters.”

One self-described asshole, a 34 year old who is “pudgy and not the world’s sharpest dresser” puts his “number” at 200 and intends to be a permanent womanizer. He told Birger that he knows his behavior is horrible, but that it serves his purpose. When his sister considered moving to NY, he ordered her not to, knowing she’d be encountering men like him in the dating pool.

The truth is, some men turn bad because they have the opportunity to do so. In one sense, they perform a service by exiting the relationship market. Other men opt for relationships despite opportunities for hookups. It’s not that there are no quality men to date in NYC, but incentives drive behavior even for good men, and a man in NYC has every reason to delay commitment.

Assortative Mating Effects

A strong and growing trend toward assortative mating has worsened the effects of disparate gender ratios. Indeed, in the non-college-educated dating pool, the sex ratio greatly favors women. Birger believes that the market will correct itself over time:

“Man deficits will shrink and eventually vanish as gender ratios and their effects become exposed and publicized, and as men and women adapt to new information…Any market inefficiency that allows one group to take advantage of another is not sustainable so long as that inefficiency derives from discoverable information.

…Boys who really like sex will try harder to get into college. Boys who really like sex will apply to Sarah Lawrence. And educated women who wish to improve their marriage prospects will date down or will quit Manhattan for Silicon Valley.

…Over time, the dating market will return to equilibrium.”

That’s going to take a very long time on a macro scale. Perhaps your children or grandchildren will experience a different set of demographics. But you can adapt as an individual in some ways now.

1. Go Where the Relationship Action Is

It might sound extreme to relocate based on sex ratios, but if I were coming out of school single today I would avoid NYC at all costs.

The Best Dating Markets for Educated Women

Top states include (in order):

  • Wyoming
  • Vermont
  • Maine
  • Washington State
  • Colorado
  • California
  • New Hampshire
  • Rhode Island
  • Connecticut
  • South Dakota

However, even in Wyoming, there are 2.5% more college educated women than men. These are really the states with the least objectionable dating pool stats :-/

Regionally, the best markets for women (and worst for men) are the Mountain West, West Coast and northern New England.

2. Play Your Strongest Hand Early

Observers say that the most confident, i.e. attractive, women tend to hold out longer to optimize mating. But game theory applies here – the winners in the marriage market are often the women who aggressively pursue commitment early. Game theory expert Mark Gimein explains:

“With a lot at stake in getting it right in one shot, it’s the women who are confident that they are holding a strong hand who are likely to hold out and wait for the perfect prospect.

[The good men] married young – to women who most salient characteristic was not their beauty or passion or intellect, but their decisiveness.”

Birger says “Men want to be wanted, and in a lopsided dating market, women who are pursuers are more likely to succeed than those who sit back and wait for Mr. Right to woo them.”

Don’t avoid relationships in your 20s. Now is the time to begin to date seriously. You don’t want to end up on Hookup Island at 35 – with bad odds and odd guys.

3. Choose a career with a good sex ratio.

This is Birger’s advice, and it’s rational. Obviously, one shouldn’t go into a field one has no interest in because that is where the boys are. But whether you’re considering graduate school or a job, sex ratios vary widely and may well dictate your exposure to singles of the opposite sex.

Some of my most unhappy readers are women working in fashion in NYC, or men working in tech in Silicon Valley. By all means, do what you love, but if you can love something that isn’t overwhelmingly populated by your own sex, dating will be a lot easier.

4. Marry lesser-educated men.

Birger predicts the rise of the “mixed collar marriage.” This is not new – currently 28% of American women are married to men with less education, and 33% of African American women are.

In Alaska, the sex ratio for college educated women is terrible, but marriage rates are high because college-educated women marry men without a degree.

My own sense is that this practice will be most likely to take hold in areas outside cities. Within major metropolitan locales, society is segregated more dramatically by socioeconomic status, which is directly predicted by education.

 

I’ve written about most of what Birger covers, so I can’t say I’m shocked – but he’s put the data together in such a way that both explains and intimidates. For educated women, the choice is clear. Some women will have to date down, and some will have to date out.

When it comes to dating, if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. But maybe Anywhere is a better bet.