OPW - Mar 15 - There's a shortage of men according to Jon Birger. Here's an overview of his thoughts on the subject, and his book. - Mark Brooks
Is your book controversial?
I'm in favor of controversy if it sells books. Certainly there have been some men's groups who didn't like the theme. A few feminists here and there seem to think I'm actually endorsing marriage, which I'm not. If you read the chapter on religious groups, ultra-Orthodox Jews are wild about the way I portrayed their marriage culture. Other than that, I think the book has sparked a pretty good conversation.
Let me pull a quote here. "In 2012, women earned 1,000,000 bachelor degrees, versus 765,000 for men. 34% more women than men graduated from college in 2012. By 2023, women college grads will outnumber men by 47%." ...Why?
The last year that men and women graduated from college in the U.S. in the same numbers was 1982. Pretty much every year since 1982, women have incrementally been outpacing men when it comes to higher education. This isn't just in the U.S., pretty much every Western country – the U.K., Canada, Australia, Italy, and Israel – the numbers are all trending in the same direction. The argument I make in the book is because it's happening in every country, you can't blame this on public policy. You can't blame Title IX in the U.S. for holding back men, which is an argument you hear from some men's groups.
What is Title IX?
Title IX is a law passed in the 1970's in the U.S. that basically prohibits sex discrimination in any educational institution receiving federal aid. Basically, prior to 1972, colleges would routinely discriminate against women when it came to athletics or admissions. In high schools, girls might have been excluded from honors programs for no good reason. Title IX basically leveled the playing field and forced educational institutions to stop discriminating against school girls or against women in higher education.
There's an idea out there that, these days, Title IX has gone too far and it's actually favoring women in the U.S., but as I argue, the same trend is happening everywhere around the world. You can't blame a law in U.S. for what's happening in Italy.
My argument is that the reason women are now outpacing men in higher education and universities, is because the old discrimination basically hid a biological truth: girls are developmentally ahead of boys when it comes to brain development. They're intellectually more mature and socially more mature than boys by about a year. Intellectual and social maturity goes a long way towards predicting how well you perform in high school and how well you do with college preparation. What's interesting is that there's some evidence that if you hold back boys – if you have them start first grade at age 7, instead of age 6 – that will go a long way towards leveling the playing field.
How do you see this changing the dating behavior?
The core argument of my book is that these phenomena that we are so familiar with: the everything-going-for-her, educated woman who can't seem to meet a decent guy, while lesser men can't seem to stay single for longer than ten seconds. Also, the growth of the hook-up culture. These are both by-products of lop-sided gender issues. In the U.S. and in most Western countries, we now have four millennial educated women for every three millennial educated men. There's been a ton of social science done by academics on how sex ratios affect behavior. The consensus is that when men are in over-supply, the dating culture is more traditional and more monogamous. When women are in over-supply, the dating culture permissive, more sexualized, and less monogamous. That's the core argument of Date-Onomics.
How do you think dating sites should adapt?
I'm probably one of the few people who pushes back against this idea that dating apps or dating sites are actually responsible for the dating culture becoming more permissive or more sexualized. I don't buy this idea that Tinder is to blame for the hook-up culture. The one bit of advice I do have is probably more directed toward people who use dating sites than people who run them, but perhaps the sites themselves could factor this in. Obviously, it wouldn't matter so much what the gender gap was in higher education if we were more open minded about who we date and eventually marry.
Over the past 50 years, there's been a big trend toward what economists and sociologists describe as assortative mating. It's a fancy way of saying that university graduates tend to date and marry other university graduates. Men don't really get penalized for this kind of classism or close-mindedness, but women do because they are limiting themselves to a very narrow dating pool. They're basically empowering educated men to act like jerks.
Not long after the book came out, I got an email from a woman who read the book and told me she was happily married for a few years. She wanted me to know that she met her husband after she unchecked the college grad box on her online dating site. She stopped searching for people who were college grads like her. I do feel that online dating has kind of made this problem worse, because searching for a date on an online dating site is sometimes a bit like choosing options on a car. You check boxes for the things that you think you need. If you're the children of educated parents, then no one thinks twice about checking that box for seeking another person who went to college. Others may disagree, but I do not believe that a college degree or university degree makes you a better wife or a better husband. I believe that if we were all more open-minded about this sort of thing, some of these inefficiencies in the marriage market would go away.
I used to live in Silicon Valley, and I headed east and met my wife in Prague. Your advice is the opposite for women. Women should head westward. Can you tell us more about that?
Silicon Valley interests me on many levels. It's actually one reason why I do not believe that dating apps or hook-up apps like Tinder are to blame for the hook-up culture. If you look at the marriage rates for college educated women in Silicon Valley, they are through the roof. In Silicon Valley, or in Santa Clara County, which is a geographic proxy for Silicon Valley, 78% of college grad women in their 30's are married. That compares to 67% nationally. If you look at cities like Chicago, Atlanta, Houston, Washington, New York, and Boston – in those cities it's all 50% or maybe 40%. The marriage rate in Silicon Valley is sky high. I believe that's because the demographics of singles who are college grads in Silicon Valley, there are 30% more single college grad men age 35 and younger than there are single college grad women. As the social science predicts, when men are in over-supply the whole dating culture becomes more traditional and monogamous. You actually see it in the divorce data, too. In Silicon Valley or Santa Clara County, the percent of college grad women in their 30's who are divorced or separated is 4%. Nationally, in the U.S., it is 9%. The marriages there are more stable.
You were a reporter for Crain's, you were a reporter for Red Herring, and Fortune as well. What led you to write this book? What inspired you?
I normally write about much more boring stuff like the stock market, oil, and gas. The editorial staffs at my last two employers, Fortune Magazine and Money Magazine, were disproportionately female. More women than men were on the staff. I couldn't help but notice that most of the men were married or involved in long term relationships. Most of the women, who I think I can objectively say, had more going for them dating wise – better looking, better conversationalists at cocktail parties and the like – were single and unhappily single. So many of them had these dating stories or histories that made no sense to me as an old married guy. They would go out and date and guys would never call them back. They had boyfriends who would cheat on them unrepentantly. Some of them, including some of the most beautiful women I know, claim to never get asked out on dates at all.
I think, for me, the tipping point was a lunch I had with my friend, Sarah, who had been dating the same guy for a while. Just so you know, Sarah is fantastic in every way. She's really smart, really nice, really beautiful, et cetera. Everyone assumed that she and her boyfriend, Matt, were well on their way to getting married. I casually asked her, "How's Matt?" and her expression basically crumpled and she said, "Oh, we just broke up. Matt told me he wasn't quite ready to settle down." Here's the thing, Matt was 45 years old. They had been dating three years, and Sarah was 38. Everybody knew that Sarah wanted to get married and have kids. For this boyfriend to basically run out her clock, so to speak, and not marry her after dating for almost three years, all seemed kind of cruel to me.
I wanted to explore why dating was so much harder for women like Sarah. It should have been easy for her, because she's kind of a catch. However, it was hard for her and easy for Matt, even though I wasn't so impressed with Matt. I think this is a familiar story. Why is dating so much harder for women than men? If you go into any book store, there are 20-30 dating books on the shelf, almost all of them aimed at women. The message is that women are bad at dating. It's their fault. If only they would follow 37 not-so-simple rules, they too would meet their match. It's my argument that it's not that you're returning his text message an hour too soon, or an hour too late. This is a demographic problem, not a strategic problem.
People choose things that they probably shouldn't and we don't weight things the way we probably should. Is there an answer for the dating industry to do the responsible thing?
I've always thought that the one really good investible idea that could come out of the book, would be creating a dating site that was geared towards pairing educated women with working class men who are interesting. In the African American community in the U.S., the gender gap in college is much wider and much more long-standing. As a result, African American women are much more likely to be married to working class guys. It's much more accepted in the African American community.
If you've ever seen a Tyler Perry movie, he makes a lot of comedies built around African American families and the African American experience. His movies always have some high-powered African American career woman married to a mechanic with a heart of gold. Something like that. I like to joke around, that if this were a white movie, you would need a ten minute on screen explanation for why Julia Roberts' character was married to a fireman. It's all much more matter of fact than the African American community. It's my view that African Americans are on the leading edge of a bigger social change. Twenty years, or ten years from now, these pairings that I call mixed collar marriages, will be much more common going forward. I would figure out some way to pair up the firemen, policemen, mechanics, or electricians, with the female lawyers.