NEW YORK – It’s not raining men. It’s not even drizzling men. In fact, there’s a man drought, according to Jon Birger’s new book “Date-Onomics: How Dating Became a Lopsided Numbers Game.”
“Call it the man deficit,” said Birger, adding that it isn’t just a big city problem: There are four women for every three men across the US.
A financial and tech journalist whose work has appeared in Money, Time, and Barron’s, Birger relies on a combination of demographics, statistics, game theory, and sociology to make his case that the shortage of college-educated men has led to a dating crisis.
This deficit lies at the heart of the Orthodox Jewish community’s “Shidduch Crisis,” according to “Date-Onomics.” It also helps explain the college and post-college hookup culture as well as the decline in marriage rates, Birger said.
But make no mistake, “Date-Onomics” isn’t a dating book per se, rather “it’s a by the numbers, wonkish take on dating,” Birger said. “I’m not saying your entire life should be guided by gender ratios.”
As it pertains to the Hassidic and Yeshiva Jewish communities, the uneven gender ratio stems from what Birger calls a “demographic quirk.” In his chapter “Mormons and Jews,” Birger explains that high birthrates in this segment of the Jewish population means there are “more 18-year-olds than 19-year-olds, more 19-year-olds than 20-year-olds, and so on and so on.” This results in a marriage market where 19-year-old women outnumber 22-year-old men; the average ages at which women and men in the community marry.
According to a 2013 piece from Jewish weekly Ami Magazine, which Birger cited in a recent Time article based on his book, there were about 3,000 unmarried ultra-Orthodox women between the ages of 25 and 40 in the New York metropolitan area.
Derek Saker, Chief Marketing Officer for the Orthodox Jewish dating site JWed.com, said an examination of dating and marriage data is certainly one way to measure the health of a particular community. However, he maintained, it’s not the only measure.
‘While I feel that demographics play a part, I do not believe they are central to the crisis; they are only symptomatic of much larger and complex problems beneath the surface’
“While I feel that demographics play a part, I do not believe they are central to the crisis; they are only symptomatic of much larger and complex problems beneath the surface,” Saker said.
For example, many young people in both the Hassidic and Yeshiva communities feel enormous pressure to marry young because they aren’t considered part of the community until they are married, he said.
This sense of pressure has led to an increase in couples who marry young only to divorce after only a couple of years, as well as an increase in the number of broken engagements. Many young Yeshiva and Hassidic people don’t take the time to understand themselves before plunging into a relationship.
A recent article in Haaretz, “The Dating Shame: Orthodox Obsession with Externals Has Reached Epidemic Proportions,” echoed this. In it Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt writes of the enormous stress young Orthodox women face and the lengths they go to so they can find a match, including undergoing plastic surgery.
“The pressure on these young women is unbearable – I look at their smiling kind faces, pictures taken at cousins’ weddings and at summer camps hugging special needs children, and wonder how it must have been for them to not concern themselves with their own ‘outsideness’ until the moment they came back from seminary and became Shidduch-debutante,” according to Chizhik-Goldschmidt’s article.
Birger said he thinks there is a solution to the Shidduch Crisis.
“I’m not an Orthodox Jew, and I don’t know if this is even allowed religiously, but I do believe the resolution to this lies with the rabbis,” he said. “I believe it would be an act of kindness to not marry Orthodox women who are younger than the age of 21. It would give hope to older, single women in the community. It would also take the pressure off these teenage girls who are constantly told they need to make themselves more marriageable or they’ll never make a Shidduch.”
Aside from looking at how demographics impact Orthodox Jewish communities, Birger analyzed university campuses across the US.
Prevailing gender ratios on college campuses dictate dating behavior, according to the book. For example, at Boston University, which has 60 percent more women than men, women view freshman years as “a sexual explosion,” compared with Tufts University, which has a more equitable distribution of men and women. There “monogamy reigns,” he writes.
Taking issue with this idea is Heather Gray, lead editor and author at The Good Men Project, an on-line community founded in 2009 devoted to writing about the way men’s roles are changing.
“It implies they [men] are not capable of participating in relationships but are only interested in ‘hooking up’ and this is an inherently untrue stereotype that is devastating men and how they are perceived,” said Gray, who has a Master’s in Social Work and is a licensed therapist and life coach.
Birger is optimistic the so-called “hookup culture” will eventually fade.
“I try to make clear that this behavior isn’t inevitable. Humans have a moral compass,” he said. “I believe if one shines a light on this behavior it will change.”
For readers who want to take control of their dating destiny, Birger provides “five gender ratio-related suggestions” in his last chapter “Solving the Man Deficit.”
Birger suggests people consider gender ratios when choosing college, and that people be aware that putting off marriage is risky because it’s easier to find a college-educated husband “at age 25 or 26 than it will be at age 35 or 36.”
People might also consider their career choices. Of course, “a female elementary school teacher who is happy with her job but unlucky in love should not retrain to be an aircraft mechanic just because 98 percent of aircraft mechanics are men and 80 percent of schoolteachers are women,” according to “Date-Onomics.”