My wife recently attended a good friend’s wedding. When she returned, she had several pictures to share and stories to tell, so we spent some time clicking through her photo album. One picture was of the bride’s (ex) singles group from the church she attended. I was a little surprised to see that the group was almost entirely girls. (Not just in the photo, either. While guys are likely to skip these kinds of weddings, apparently the full roster of the singles group really was made up of mostly women.)
I probably shouldn’t have been surprised. The “lots of girls, not so many guys” theme often pops up in our culture’s various commentaries. A common thread runs through the various trends in education, careers and the dating scene: Women who want to get married outnumber the eligible guys. (Note the qualifier there: “eligible.” More on that soon.)
I’ve sometimes wondered about this issue from a different angle. My wife and I had three daughters and then a son. For several years, we noticed that many couples we knew were also having girls, especially among our extended families. My wife’s parents had eight granddaughters before their first grandson arrived. (Likely final score: 10-5) After our third daughter arrived, I was only half-joking when I asked Marci if there was something wacky in the drinking water. And was there a larger trend, some global transformation of the human sex ratio?
Well, not really. The gender ratio hasn’t changed much over the history of our species, with boys being born at a slightly higher rate than girls, an advantage largely negated by their tendency to make more dangerous career and health choices, not to mention a seemingly hardwired need to be entertained by fast cars, firearms and things that go kablooey. One interesting fact: Apparently older parents (late 30s, 40s) are statistically more likely to have girls, while younger parents (teens, early 20s) are more likely to have boys.
So there shouldn’t be more females in any given age range.* But humans don’t group themselves around a simple similarity in age. Education level, entertainment interests, careers, attractiveness, faith, finances — these are all factors that influence the makeup of our social spheres. And in lots of these spheres, the women seeking marriage outnumber the eligible men seeking marriage. There’s that word again. Eligible. Apparently, many women believe that they are faced with the choice of marrying “down” (often defined as marrying someone with less education or a lower-paying job) or remaining single. Writer Kate Bolick at The Atlantic puts it in somewhat more blunt terms:
If dating and mating is in fact a marketplace—and of course it is—today we’re contending with a new ‘dating gap,’ where marriage-minded women are increasingly confronted with either deadbeats or players.
Now, I fully recognize my gender’s potential toward ignoring that whole growing up thing. I also understand that it’s a pretty good time in our nation’s history to be an educated, career-minded woman. But is this wedge between the sexes truly insurmountable? Are women really not giving a second look to a guy who plays video games or doesn’t have the same level of education? I understand having certain non-negotiables, but I would hope the goal isn’t to find a finished product. In some ways, it’s marriage and fatherhood that defines a guy’s maturity.
And what of the guys’ standards for what makes a woman “eligible?” I think guys tend to define eligibility in more classical terms — most guys still like pretty girls with charming personalities. And while some men may list other qualities when pressed, I bet those standards would get tossed pretty quickly if the girl in question hit the basics of attractiveness and personality. I once read (in a comment from a male Boundless reader, actually — sorry to pick on you) about how he’d never consider marrying a woman who didn’t have an interest in Star Trek, because he attended the conventions and had written some fan fiction. I bet that little prerequisite doesn’t make the list of conversation topics on this gentleman’s next date with a beautiful woman.
Money, education, career, property — those things have long been assets for guys to win a girl.** As a majority of women attain those things, they are the ones who feel stuck between a rock (marrying down) and a hard place (not marrying at all). But I think this trend only partly explains the numbers gap. Guys also reduce their ranks by simply not being interested in marriage. I’m not going to talk about the old “why buy the cow” thing here, but you have to imagine that the needs that marriage has traditionally fulfilled for a man are at least partially (and artificially met) with our culture of easier sex, either through today’s more “liberated” women raised in a hook-up culture or the virtual stuff every guy has access to on his laptop. Add in all the modern toys and distractions that delayed adolescence gives guys access to, and it’s no wonder women feel they’re on the losing end of the numbers.
Are there fewer guys than girls in your social sphere? Single guys, are you faced with a rich and diverse array of options? Single girls, do you find yourself on the losing end of the raw numbers?
* The exception, of course, being among the elderly. Men tend to die earlier, a fact that you can confirm by visiting your local retirement home.
** Not including some traditions.