Theories on declining marriage rates or the rise of the hookup culture often come down to values, but the real issue is demographics Jon Birger (Date-onomics) suggests — and two religions shed some light on the larger situation:
Multiple studies show that college-educated Americans are increasingly reluctant to marry those lacking a college degree. This bias is having a devastating impact on the dating market for college-educated women. Why? According to 2012 population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, there are 5.5 million college-educated women in the U.S. between the ages of 22 and 29 versus 4.1 million such men. That’s four women for every three men. Among college grads age 30 to 39, there are 7.4 million women versus 6.0 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. According to sociologists, economists and psychologists who have studied sex ratios throughout history, the culture is less likely to emphasize courtship and monogamy when women are in oversupply. Heterosexual men are more likely to play the field, and heterosexual women must compete for men’s attention.
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 150 Mormon women for every 100 Mormon men in the state of Utah — a 50 percent oversupply of women.
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 52 percent female as recently as 1990. Since 1990, however, the Mormon gender gap in Utah has widened dramatically — from a gender ratio of 52:48 female to male in 1990 to 60:40 female to male in 2008, according to a study coauthored by ARIS researchers Rick Phillips, Ryan Cragun, and Barry Kosmin. 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 429 women on its rolls in 2013 versus only 264 men, according to an article in the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper.
So 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. Serving a mission used to be elective; now it’s a prerequisite for leadership.
Contrary to popular belief, the majority of Mormon men do not go on missions, which typically entail a mix of community service and proselytizing. Mormon men are being asked to serve missions at precisely the time in their lives — late teens and early twenties — when sociologists say men are most susceptible to dropping out of organized religion. Cragun believed the dropout problem among men is the real reason why, in 2012, the LDS church lowered the age at which Mormon men can start serving missions from 19 to 18: “I think they were losing too many men who would go off to college or get a job before they turned nineteen and then realize they didn’t want to stop and serve a mission.”
The statistical explanation for why Orthodox men are in short supply is different from the one for the shortage of Mormon men. Orthodox men are not abandoning their faith in large numbers and leaving Orthodox women behind. According to a recent Pew Research study, only 2 percent of Orthodox Jews are married to non-Jews, and the attrition rate from the Orthodox movement to the more mainstream Reform or Conservative branches of Judaism has actually been declining.
The imbalance in the Orthodox marriage market boils down to a demographic quirk: The Orthodox community has an extremely high birth rate, and a high birth rate means there will be more 18-year-olds than 19-year-olds, more 19-year-olds than 20-year-olds, and so on and so on. Couple the increasing number of children born every year with the traditional age gap at marriage — the typical marriage age for Orthodox Jews is 19 for women and 22 for men, according to Michael Salamon, a psychologist who works with the Orthodox community and wrote a book on the Shidduch Crisis — and you wind up with a marriage market with more 19-year-old women than 22-year-old men.
There is no U.S. Census data on religion. But Joshua Comenetz, chief of the Census Bureau’s Geographic Studies Branch, studied the demographics of Orthodox Jews back in his college professor days at University of Florida. Based on his academic research, Comenetz contended that each one-year age cohort in the Orthodox community has 4 percent more members than the one preceding it. What this means is that for every 100 22-year-old men in the Orthodox dating pool, there are 112 19-year-old women — 12 percent more women than men.
The bottom line: According to a 2013 article in the Jewish weekly Ami Magazine, there are now 3,000 unmarried Orthodox women between the ages of 25 and 40 in the New York City metro area and another 500 over 40. That’s a huge number when you consider that New York’s Yeshivish Orthodox — the segment of the Orthodox community most affected by the Shidduch Crisis — has a total population of 97,000, according to the Jewish Community Study of New York published by the UJA-Federation of New York in 2012.
In the Orthodox Jewish community, however, there is a natural control group — one that does make it possible to settle the culture-versus-demographics debate with near certainty. That control group is a sect of Orthodox Judaism known as Hasidic Jews.
The core beliefs of Hasidic Jews differ from those of other Orthodox Jews in nuanced but spiritually significant ways. Hasidic Jews believe each daily act of religious observance creates a personal, perhaps mystical, connection with God. In contrast, their counterparts in the Yeshivish branch of Orthodox Judaism emphasize the study of Torah and Talmud as the primary means of growing closer to God.
While their religious practices may differ, the two groups are still quite similar culturally. Both Yeshivish and Hasidic Jews are extremely pious and socially conservative. They live in tight-knit communities. They are known for having large families. And both groups use matchmakers to pair their young people for marriage.
There is, however, one major cultural difference between the two groups: Hasidic men marry women their own age, whereas Yeshivish men typically marry women a three or four years their junior.
“In the Hasidic world, it would be very weird for a man to marry a woman two years younger than him,” said Alexander Rapaport, a Hasidic father of six and the executive director of Masbia, a kosher soup kitchen in Brooklyn. Both Rapaport and his wife were 36 when I interviewed him.
When I asked Rapaport about the Shidduch Crisis, he seemed perplexed. “I’ve heard of it,” he said, “but I’m not sure I understand what it’s all about.”