Dat­ing book blames the num­bers — not the women


Think Freako­nomics and Money­ball if you run across “DateO­nomics,” a by-the-num­bers book on dat­ing that ar­gues ad­vice­givers serv­ing up tips for women on how to a find a man have it all wrong.

Busi­ness jour­nal­ist Jon Birger has crunched the data on het­ero sin­gle­hood and blames mas­sively off- kil­ter gen­der ra­tios — not whether you do or do not re­turn his first text — for the woes of women look­ing for their Mr. Rights.

Mar­ried for 23 years with three kids, Birger said in a re­cent in­ter­view he took on the eco­nom­ics, so­ci­ol­ogy and de­mo­graph­ics of dat­ing to help women re­al­ize that the hookup cul­ture, a de­cline in mar­riage rates among the col­lege ed­u­cated and a dearth of mar­riage-wor­thy men will­ing to com­mit are byprod­ucts of lop­sided gen­der ra­tios.

New York City, for in­stance, has 100,000 more women than men who are col­lege ed­u­cated and un­der 35, a fact not usu­ally re­ported when dat­ing-re­lated is­sues are dis­cussed in the media, Birger said. And he writes there’s no gen­der ra­tio di­vide when it comes to many ru­ral ver­sus ur­ban ar­eas, or small towns ver­sus big cities.

His hope? That the book, out in Septem­ber from Work­man, pro­vides some com­fort to those who

blame them­selves.

A Con­ver­sa­tion with Jon Birger:

AP: What myths are you try­ing to dis­pel with this book and who is the au­di­ence?

Birger: I’m try­ing to of­fer another take dif­fer­ent from what all the con­ven­tional dat­ing ad­vice books of­fer up. The mes­sage of a lot of these guides is that women are go­ing about it all wrong. It’s their fault, and my ar­gu­ment is it’s not their fault. It’s the de­mo­graph­ics.

AP: Can you ex­plain how you came to the con­clu­sion that de­mo­graph­ics never seem to be part of the con­ver­sa­tion when it comes to dat­ing be­hav­ior?

Birger: I just know a lot of sin­gle women, re­ally won­der­ful, smart — they’re good com­pany — at­trac­tive women in their 30s and 40s who share with me var­i­ous woes of their sin­gle lives, and the con­cept that the num­ber of women in their dat­ing mar­ket out­num­ber the num­ber of men just never en­ters the con­ver­sa­tion.

Ini­tially, I thought this was a New York story or a Jon Birger cir­cle of friends story, but it’s more uni­ver­sal than that.

AP: Where is the man deficit the worst and how do lop­sided gen­der ra­tios im­pact peo­ple’s drive?

Birger: I know peo­ple who live in cities like New York think this is a phe­nom­e­non unique to them. But it’s a na­tional phe­nom­e­non. Na­tion­ally, among mil­len­ni­als, there are four col­lege-grad women for ev­ery three col­lege-grad men. In fact, the lop­sid­ed­ness is ac­tu­ally worse in some ru­ral states like Mon­tana and West Vir­ginia than it is in ur­ban states like Cal­i­for­nia and New York.

In terms of the im­pact, it doesn’t just make it sta­tis­ti­cally harder for ed­u­cated women to find a match. It changes be­hav­ior as well.

There’s a ton of so­cial science that’s been done on sex ra­tios and the big take­away is that men are more likely to play the field and de­lay mar­riage when women are in over­sup­ply. A big ar­gu­ment of my book is that the col­lege- and post­col­lege hookup cul­ture is largely a byprod­uct of these gen­der ra­tios.

What you see from the cen­sus data is that fully em­ployed men age 25 to 30 who suc­cess­fully marry earn 20 per­cent more than fully em­ployed men age 25 to 30 who are un­mar­ried. There are aca­demic stud­ies on the same topic that reach the same con­clu­sion, that a scarcity of women in this in­stance does lead men to earn more.

AP: What other vari­ables, be­sides gen­der ra­tios, con­trib­ute to a rise in hookup cul­ture?

Birger: I do be­lieve on a macro ba­sis, this is what’s driv­ing the change in the dat­ing cul­ture. But what I see as a macro ar­gu­ment isn’t go­ing to ap­ply to ev­ery in­di­vid­ual.

Where you can re­ally see it is when you look at teen sex­u­al­ity. If you look at U.S. CDC data on teen sex­u­al­ity, teenagers these days, de­spite be­ing bom­barded with videos and movies and TV that all pro­mote free­wheel­ing sex­u­al­ity, are hav­ing less sex to­day and are less likely to be sex­u­ally ac­tive to­day than teens were in the 1980s at the height of the AIDS cri­sis.

I don’t have an opin­ion on why teen sex rates are go­ing down, but I can tell you I am con­fi­dent that if pop cul­ture were driv­ing the hookup cul­ture among adults you would see the ef­fect among teenagers as well. It’s be­ing driven by lop­sided gen­der ra­tios among col­lege grads.

If you read dat­ing ad­vice guides, all of­fer some vari­a­tions of the rules. If you just do re­turn his text right away or don’t re­turn his text right away or pick the res­tau­rant or don’t pick the res­tau­rant. There are all of these things that women should be do­ing and the rea­son they’re still sin­gle is be­cause they’re not do­ing them. I’m ar­gu­ing that this is crazi­ness and that this is not a strate­gic prob­lem. This is not women’s fault.

The re­al­ity is that col­lege-ed­u­cated women who are re­ally only will­ing to date col­lege-ed­u­cated men are in a re­ally bad dat­ing mar­ket. I am not en­dors­ing mar­riage or monogamy. I’m just try­ing to ex­plain why the world is the way it is.

AP: How do gen­der ra­tios play out in a man deficit on col­lege cam­puses?

Birger: It’s a long-term prob­lem. Girls per­form bet­ter in high school. They get bet­ter grades, they’ve been nar­row­ing the gap and some­times clos­ing the gap on stan­dard­ized tests, 70 per­cent of vale­dic­to­ri­ans are women. Girls are bet­ter at col­lege prepa­ra­tion and many col­leges ac­cept women at a higher rate.

AP: New York City, specif­i­cally Man­hat­tan, is con­sid­ered a dat­ing killer for women. Is that true? What are some of the ar­eas that don’t have enough dat­ing-el­i­gi­ble women?

Birger: For mil­len­ni­als, there’s es­sen­tially three women for ev­ery two men. By the num­bers, the best dat­ing mar­ket for ed­u­cated women is far and away Sil­i­con Val­ley. Santa Clara County, where San Jose is, has about 11 per­cent more col­lege-grad men who are 30 and un­der than col­lege-grad women. Seat­tle is a good dat­ing mar­ket for women, as is Den­ver.

As you go from the east coast to the west coast, the sex ra­tios among mil­len­nial col­lege grads be­come a lit­tle less lop­sided. But noth­ing’s per­fect.


This book cover im­age re­leased by Work­man Pub­lish­ing shows “DateOnomocs: How Dat­ing Be­came a Lop­sided Num­bers Game,” by Jon Birger. Birger said he took on the eco­nom­ics, so­ci­ol­ogy and de­mo­graph­ics of dat­ing to help women re­al­ize that the hookup cul­ture, a de­cline in mar­riage rates among the col­lege ed­u­cated and a dearth of mar­riage-wor­thy men will­ing to com­mit are byprod­ucts of lop­sided gen­der ra­tios and a huge un­der­sup­ply of the male va­ri­ety.

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