“Maybe he just enjoys being single,” I said.
“Oh, no,” came the reply. “He wants to get married. He’s tried everything: dating clubs, church groups. Nothing seems to work.”
“Well, maybe he’s ugly or has some kind of psychological problem. Or maybe he doesn’t make enough money.”
“No, no, and no. There’s just not a lot out there for someone in his age bracket.”
I often hear this kind of remark nowadays. Yes papa, there are too many single men. This is a recent problem and one that surprises older men who grew up when bachelorettes outnumbered bachelors at all reproductive ages:
The period from the mid-1960s to the late 1970s was one in which there was a shortage of males at median age of first marriage. From the perspective of sexual selection pressures, this period was one of diminished levels of competition among males for qualities sought by females because there was an abundant supply of females. Similarly, females were less able to be “choosy” because there was a shortage of males. (Pedersen, 1991).
For men, this was a great time to be alive. It wasn’t the music that made the times so great. It was the abundance of young nubile women and the lack of competition from other men.
Then things changed:
Beginning in the late 1970s and early 1980s, sex ratios tipped over from male scarcity to parity and then to a relative excess of males. In 1991, plurality of males is clear in the age combinations when first marriage normatively occurs, and this situation will persist through the end of the century. (Pedersen, 1991)
This male surplus varies by age bracket. When Davis and van den Oever (1982) examined the ratio of single men to single women in nine developed countries (Australia, Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Finland, Hungary Japan, Norway, and Yugoslavia), they found male surpluses up to and into the early 30s:
Single Males per 100 Single Females, by Age Bracket
15-19 years old ----- 114.3
20-24 years old ----- 168.1
25-29 years old ----- 177.6
30-34 years old ----- 133.2
35-39 years old ----- 103.2
40-49 years old ------ 55.7
50-59 years old ------ 39.5
60-74 years old ------ 32.4
Has the marriage market since improved for men? I found only one recent article on this subject, and it described the situation in Germany:
In Germany, single men above the age of about 30 years are confronted with a lack of single women in their age-group (Martin 2001: 310). This “marriage squeeze” rises to the age of 45, decreases slightly after this, but remains intact up to beyond 60 years. (Glowsky, 2007)
For Germany at least, there are now more single men than single women at all reproductive ages, and even beyond. How did this situation come about?
There are two major reasons. One is that far more males are living to adulthood. In European populations, about 105 boys are born for every 100 girls. But this male surplus used to disappear by the age of marriage because more boys than girls fell victim to infantile mortality and then to high-risk behaviors (accidents, alcohol, fights, wars, etc.). Since 1945, war has killed off much fewer young men. We have also greatly reduced male mortality at work and on the road.
By now, however, death rates have fallen so far that nearly everybody survives to age 50 (89.8 percent of white males and 94.7 percent of white females, according to the 1980 US life tables). This being true, there is no longer room at young ages for differential mortality to make an impact, and such improvements as are made must be mainly among males. (Davis & van den Oever, 1982)
The birth ratio of about 105 males to 100 females is thus persisting well into adulthood. Indeed, by the 1980s many Western countries had managed to preserve it through all reproductive ages. In Norway, for instance, 30-39 year-olds still had a sex ratio of 106.4 at the 1979 census (Davis & van den Oever, 1982).
The other reason is that divorce laws have been liberalized throughout the Western world. It is now much easier for older men to re-enter the marriage market and marry younger women.
In general, not only are grooms somewhat older than their brides at first marriage, but after divorce or widowhood a larger proportion of men than women remarry and, when they do, they tend to marry women younger than themselves by a margin wider than in their first marriages. With this source of distortion added to the sources already described, imbalances in the sex ratio of the married and unmarried in some age groups become spectacular. (Davis & van den Oever, 1982)
These two reasons—reduction of male mortality and liberalized divorce laws—account for the growing excess of single males over single females at all reproductive ages. Nonetheless, this male surplus might still translate into a smaller one on the marriage market. Men are likelier than women to end up in jail, in psychiatric institutions, and on skid row. As far as the marriage market is concerned, such men don’t exist. The rate of homosexuality is also higher among men than among women (3-5% versus 1%).
On the other hand, two other factors would magnify this male surplus. First, women are likelier than men to get child custody when relationships break up. Women are also much likelier to have children on their own. In either case, some of them never return to the marriage market and the others are ambivalent about having more children. Thus, if we look only at single childless males and single childless females, the male surplus becomes even larger.
Second, there has been an increase not only in serial polygyny (an older man divorces and remarries with a younger woman) but also in concurrent polygyny (a man monopolizes more than one woman at any one time). This phenomenon is hard to quantify because it takes place among purportedly ‘single’ people and thus flies under the radar of most statistics. But it is showing up in a sex reversal of STD infection rates, notably with respect to chlamydia—the most common sexually transmitted disease. Among Hispanic Americans, the traditional pattern still holds true: the rates are 7.24% of men and 4.42% of women (Miller et al., 2004). These polygynous males still have to make do with a smaller number of prostitutes and ‘loose women.’ Among Euro-Americans, however, the pattern has reversed: the rates are 1.38% of men and 2.52% of women (Miller et al., 2004). This is also the pattern among African Americans and is apparently due to young women being targeted by a smaller subpopulation of older polygynous men (Auerswald et al., 2006).
Is the same thing happening in the Euro-American population? Some young men think so, such as this commenter at In Mala Fide:
Today, the top 60% attractive women delay marriage while having casual sex with the top 20% of players, men like Mystery who do nothing to benefit society. This gives men either a powerful incentive to become players or a powerful incentive to play video games and view porn.
Using myself as an example, I have a good job, but no wife, no girlfriend, and no children, which has alienated me from society. Sixty years ago, I would have been married and a pillar of the community. Today, I have no respect for women or societal institutions, don’t vote, don’t go to church, and don’t donate money to charity. I save most of my money for retirement and spend the rest on hookers.
In reading the other comments at In Mala Fide I see a generation gap. Older men tend to be disbelieving. They either tell the younger commenters to stop being “losers” or suggest they join dating agencies or attend church. Yet all dating agencies now have more male than female members, except in the 40+ bracket. From personal observation, I see the same pattern among singles at local churches.
So what is to be done? One problem is getting our intellectual and political elites to react. I suspect one reason they don’t is that many are beneficiaries of the existing system, i.e., older men who have remarried with younger women. Our elites are also generally committed to social libertarianism, this being now true as much for the political right as it is for the political left.
I used to be something of a libertarian. No longer. The sexual marketplace does not function like the marketplace of goods and services. Increasing the demand for young single women will not increase the supply. Nor will this market failure go away if “losers” attend special seminars or get special coaching. Nor will it go away on its own. This is a real problem and one that will likely get worse. Yes, if nothing is done we will have a society where marriage is unattainable for over one third of all men.
What would I recommend? First, if we’re going to extend the sex ratio at birth to the age of 50 and beyond, we should try to keep it as close to parity as possible. The least coercive way would be to pay surrogate mothers to have daughters who would then be put up for adoption. Given the number of people who wish to adopt, this would pose no problem. Is this playing God? Perhaps. But we began playing God by cutting male mortality to levels that had never before existed.
Second, we should tighten divorce laws. No-fault divorce would be allowed only when both spouses request it or when there are no children. Otherwise, one would have to show just cause and child custody would normally be split 50:50.
Third, polygynous men should be publicly identified. While polygyny itself would not be criminalized, the public would be free to discriminate against such men in employment and housing. Repeat offenders would be barred from most forms of social assistance. In this, the goal would be to return such men to the margins of society where they belong.
And if we do nothing? “Let them eat porn?” The social costs may be greater than we think. A surplus of single males tends to make societies less stable and more prone to violence (Pedersen, 1991). Such individuals are likelier to agitate for war or revolution, since they have little stake in the existing order. This is a subject that has attracted notice with the so-called ‘bare branches’ of China and India, yet similar regions of ‘bare branches’ are also becoming noticeable throughout the Western World, particularly outside major cities.
How will things pan out? I don’t know. I hope this is not one of those situations where the pressure will just build up and up until the lid blows off.
Auerswald, C.L., S.Q. Muth, B. Brown, N. Padian, & J. Ellen. (2006). Does partner selection contribute to sex differences in sexually transmitted infection rates among African American adolescents in San Francisco? Sexually Transmitted Diseases, 33, 480-484.
Davis, K. & P. van den Oever. (1982). Demographic foundations of new sex roles, Population and Development Review, 8, 495-511.
Glowsky, D. (2007). Why do German men marry women from less developed countries? SOEP papers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research #61
Miller, W.C., C.A. Ford, M. Morris, M.S. Handcock, J.L. Schmitz, M.M. Hobbs, M.S. Cohen, K.M. Harris, & J.R. Udry. (2004). Prevalence of chlamydial and gonococcal infections among young adults in the United States, JAMA, 291, 2229-2236.
Pedersen, F.A. (1991). Secular trends in human sex ratios: Their influence on individual and family behavior, Human Nature, 2, 271-291.