Are you a straight, single, educated woman looking for a life partner? Do you find that meeting a man you like enough to grab a Stella with—let alone consider marrying—can feel like a quixotic quest?
It’s not you—it’s demographics. Thanks to an oversupply of highly educated women and an undersupply of comparably educated men, research shows that single women in their 20s and 30s are having a tough time finding spouses. This imbalance has been written about extensively, but that doesn’t make the situation any easier for the women swiping mostly left on dating sites.
So what’s the solution? According to the new book Date-onomics: How Dating Became a Lopsided Numbers Game by financial journalist Jon Birger, straight women who want to both go to college and get married should stack the deck in their favor while they’re young—very young—and choose a college based on husband potential. Or more specifically, based on gender ratio.
Unlike "Princeton Mom" Susan Patton, however, who became infamous for preaching that women better take advantage of their supple college years to find a man before it's too late, Birger is basing this guidance only on data. At schools where women outnumber men, he explains, single women suffer from a "man deficit" the moment they start freshman year. Thus, if a teen girl chooses to attend a college where men outnumber women, she could, theoretically, avoid this deficit.
Date-onomics makes a convincing case. Birger was inspired to write the book after hearing about the experiences of female friends who, despite being bright, beautiful, and all-around dateable, were floundering. In a phone interview, he told me, “My message to these women is, ‘Look, it’s not your fault. It's the demographics.’”
After examining these numbers—including data from the National Center for Education Statistics for gender ratios at colleges and American Community Survey data for gender ratios in cities—Birger concluded that many women who struggle to find men to date are not only not doing anything wrong, but they might be doing too much right.
In New York City, for example, highly educated straight women far outnumber highly educated straight men. That means more women are competing for fewer men, and those men find themselves in a position of romantic power. Birger's advice to women like his female friends is, essentially, to think like an economist—to make decisions based on supply and demand.
What does this look like in practical terms? Well, if you’re a woman living in a city with a gender ratio that's working against you, move to a region with more men. The gap between single, straight college-educated women and single, straight, college-educated men closes on the West Coast. In Santa Clara County, California, for example, college educated men ages 22 to 29 outnumber their female counterparts by 11%—and that number shrinks to 4% in San Francisco County.
If moving is off the table, Birger suggests finding work in a male-heavy industry. Most mechanical engineers, computer network administrators, financial advisors, and scientists are men, he notes, so women open to dating colleagues would find the odds in their favor.
Of course, many adult women wouldn't dream of uprooting their professional and social lives to find a husband—which brings Birger to the concept of starting young. (I would be remiss not to note here that Birger said he does not consider Date-onomics a dating guide—he's simply synthesizing data and drawing conclusions for straight women who find their dating lives lacking. In this case, however, unless you have a time machine to take you back to high school, strategizing about your college marriage prospects is probably no longer an option, but an interesting concept all the same.)
If teen girls plan their future in a way that makes finding a spouse easier, they can set themselves up for a life of dating success, argues Birger. "I’m not the moral majority here," he said. "I’m not trying to judge people for how they want to live their lives. But I do believe in informed decisions."
Those informed decisions come down to picking a college with a gender ratio that works in their favor—or at least doesn't work against them. Which can be trickier than it seems. A school that says it has a 60:40 female to male ratio, for example, doesn't at first glance seem all that imbalanced. But a 3:2 ratio means that there are 50% more women than men. Teen girls interested in marriage might want to avoid these colleges.
Naturally, not all undergrads who want to get married are ready to scout for husbands just yet. Still, going to a college with a more balanced gender ratio sets the tone for a dating environment that some women will find appealing—namely, one more conducive to relationships than hookups. Birger interviewed women who attended schools on both ends of the spectrum and found that those who attended heavily female colleges rarely saw relationships on campus. Those who attended male-heavy colleges, on the other hand, thought of undergraduate coupling as a norm. The phenomenon was explored by The New York Times as well in a 2010 piece titled "The New Math on Campus."
And why shouldn’t the dating culture be one of the many considerations that go into selecting a school? The College Board’s guide to helping high school students pick the right college for them looks at much more than academics. According to the guide, students should think about location ("Do I want to stick to a setting I’m used to or try something new?), campus setting ("Do I want to be at a school where sports are a big deal?") and learning environment ("What sort of balance am I looking for between studying and having a social life?") during the application process. Throwing in the question, "Do I want to go to a school where hookups are more prevalent than stable relationships?" isn't so far outside the mold.
Plus, applying to male-skewed colleges could be advantageous to women in another way. Birger pointed out that a number of private colleges where men outnumber women seem to offer women a slight admissions advantage to even out the playing field. Georgia Tech, per Date-onomics, has a student body that is 34% women and 66% men. Figures from the National Center for Education Statistics show that in the fall of 2014, Georgia Tech accepted 41% of female applicants and just 30% of male applicants. And the California Institute of Technology, which has a student body that is 59% men and 41% women, accepted 6% of male applicants and 16% of female ones.
As for the frustrated, college-educated single women who don’t want to move or find a new job and aren’t time travelers, Birger points to data suggesting they expand their pool to men without college degrees—a concept that, for one group of highly accomplished women, is nothing new. "I do believe we’re going to see an increase in mixed collar marriages," he told me. "You already see this in the African-American community, where the gap is more extreme. The African-American community is on the edge of what will be a greater social trend."
On the phone, Birger shared an anecdote as evidence of this emerging trend—and the notion that women should leave elitism at the door when dating. His wife was discussing the book with her Manhattan hairdresser, when the hairdresser shared this story. “You know,” the hairdresser said, “I have three clients, the Amys: beautiful, successful, Wall Street women who after years of Manhattan hell, ended up dating New York City cops or firemen.”
Birger celebrated their choice, pointing out that social science suggests these men "should be more inclined to settle down than some of the schmucks I interviewed for the book." Goodbye schmucks, hello firemen.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.