Dating by the numbers

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What if the hookup culture and the decline in marriage have little to do with women and almost everything to do with men? What if the fact is there just aren’t enough men?

According to Fortune contributor Jon Birger, a “lopsided gender ratio” helps explain some of the quirks of the dating world, such as why so many gorgeous women are rarely asked out, or why many men seem to have no problem finding a partner while many females are unhappily single.

In his recent book “Date-onomics,” Birger uses economics and game theory to help explain dating in the 21st century.

The changing field can be partly attributed to the rise of women in higher education, he claims. In the 1960s, twice as many men graduated from college than women. Today, women graduate at a 34 percent greater rate than men. The result is a “man deficit,” which has started to affect social behavior.

For instance, in Salt Lake City, there are more plastic surgeons per person than anywhere else in the United States. This rise in cosmetic surgery, such as Botox and breast implants, has led Forbes to crown Salt Lake “America’s Vainest City.”

Consequently, Birger couldn’t help but point out that the Mormon culture, so prevalent in the “City of Saints,” has 50 percent more women than men.

The theory is little more than the law of supply and demand. When the quantity of goods supplied (in this case, women) rises, the price (or men’s willingness to devote energy to relationships) falls.

A college campus is a perfect social microcosm to observe this theoretical behavior. Birger found that at schools such as Harvard and Tufts University, where there is one male for every one female, students tend to pursue relationships.

“Annoyingly cute couples walk the yard surprisingly often,” a Harvard student told Birger, and stated that the alumni magazine is “always filled with the news of Harvard newlyweds.”

On the flipside, at colleges such as Boston University, where there are two males for every three females, a culture of one-night stands is much more prevalent.

Large cities, where job opportunities for recent college graduates flourish, additionally skew female. This is true in Boston, New York City, Washington, D.C., and Chicago.

With many men opting to stay in their hometowns and work blue-collar jobs, some areas of the United States are also facing a woman deficit. However, as women become increasingly independent and wealthy, they also become less likely to marry an uneducated or financially unstable bachelor.

“Sharp declines in the earning power of non-college males combined with the economic self-sufficiency of women — rising educational attainment, falling gender gap and greater female control over fertility choices — have reduced the economic value of marriage for women,” M.I.T. economists David Autor and Melanie Wasserman noted in their 2012 report “Wayward Sons: The Emerging Gender Gap In Labor Markets and Education.”

Economically speaking, the lopsided gender pool is not working in men’s favor. As it turns out, working to impress your future wife is an excellent incentive for building wealth. Studies have shown that married men earn upwards of 20 percent more than their single friends.

“Unmarried men earn less, are younger, are less educated, and have lower job tenure than their married counterparts,” according to economists Kate Antonovics and Robert Town in their 2010 study “Are All the Good Men Married?”

Birger includes several tips in his book for women looking to get serious, including considering moving West (where there are more men) and setting a marriage ultimatum.

The willingness to break off a relationship creates an “artificial scarcity in an otherwise abundant marketplace,” according to Birger, and evidence shows that women are more likely to get a ring.

While dating as game theory might seem like a cheap trick, single and searching women should keep in mind that it may only be gender ratios affecting their chances at romance.

“The only way to fix the man deficit,” according to Birger, “is by increasing the number of boys attending college.”

Sarah Jean Seman is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.


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