“The top 20 best cities for singles” — NerdWallet, 2.2.15
“Where there are more men than single women” — The Atlantic, 2.11.15
“Mapping the marriage market for young adults” — Pew, 10.2.14
Reading these stories, you might get the idea that if you moved to one of the places on these lists, you’d finally be within reach of finding your soulmate.
But experts, Census data, and residents themselves in some of these “best” towns, say otherwise: For young people between the ages of 18 and 34, most major American cities now look pretty much the same. And the ones that are unique may have some unhelpful quirks.
“It doesn’t make much difference” where millennials live in terms of their marriage prospects, Andrew Cherlin, director of Johns Hopkins’ sociology department, wrote in an email. He said most major cities now have about the same rate of millennial inhabitants.
This is borne about by data from the Census’ American Community Survey. Here is the percent composition of 18-34 year-olds for 21 major metropolitan areas in the U.S.:
Meanwhile, as more millennials have moved into urban areas, and stayed in school longer, there’s been a steady convergence in major cities’ marriage rates. If you want to find which city seems to be nudging millennials most vigorously into marriage, you’re going to have some trouble picking one apart from another.
And if you look at what’s actually going in some of the top cities chosen on the lists mentioned above, you begin to notice their findings don’t always jibe with facts on the ground.
For women, No. 1 was Clarksville, Tennessee, where there are 145 employed men for every 100 women. Sounds pretty good, no?
But it’s not that simple: Clarksville is adjacent to Fort Campbell, home to the 101st Airborne Division, which pushes its employed male-to-female ratio into the stratosphere. So while there may be more available men in theory, they don’t have a typical 9-to-5 job.
And indeed, most of the top cities for this category were near military installations. No. 2 on Wang’s list was San Luis Obispo, which is less than an hour from Vandenberg Air Force base, the third-largest air force base in the country. No. 4, in Hanford, Calif., has a large Navy presence.
As for single straight men: Pew found that no city had a net-positive employed female to male ratio.
We called around anyway to wedding photographers in the cities with higher employed female to male ratios to see what we could learn.
A couple did show some promise. Lewiston, Maine and Greenville, North Carolina — first and third on Pew’s list, respectively, both have large medical centers, and thus lots of nurses.
“I’ve been shooting weddings for last 14 years, and [the presence of the hospital] has a good deal to do with that,” said Elizabeth Crutchfield, a wedding photographer in Greenville.
“You can find a girl who drives a 4x4 truck, but also easily find a girl who is stepping into a boutique — she’s not going to Target,” she added. “It’s a crazy little mixture.”
But others were more problematic. The area comprising Calhoun County, Alabama has a ratio of 88, good enough for fourth place. But according to local wedding photographer Laura Wesson, moving to the area would be a terrible idea for a single guy.
“There’s nothing to do here,” she said.
And we couldn’t even find a wedding photographer in Racine, Wisc., which has an employed female-to-male ratio of 95.
So what does predict whether you’ll get married? The reigning champ of marriage indicators is Mormonism, even for millennials. Utah towns occupy the top three slots among 18-34 year-old marriage rates (nearly 2/3rds of millennials are already spoken for in western Utah County, Utah). And the U.S.’s top-three Mormon states, Utah Wyoming and Idaho, occupy the top three slots for states.
For an older generation, the best indicators of whether they’d get married were whether they a woman, white, or had a bachelor’s degree. Those trends still apply to millennials today, and in some cases have become even more pronounced. Thirty-three percent of 18-34 year old women are married, compared with just 27 percent of men
In 2013, 44 percent of young adults with at least a bachelor’s degree are married, compared with just 26 percent who have less. According to Pew, there is now a 16 percentage point gap in marriage rates between college graduates (64 percent) and those with a high school diploma or less (48% percent). In 1960, this gap had been just four percentage points (76% vs. 72%).
And about 30 percent of white millennials are married today compared with about 15 percent of blacks.
Most millennials say they want to get married eventually. Last year Pew found that 69 percent of unmarried µillennials say they would like to marry some day.
But they also found that many of them, especially those with lower levels of income and education, “lack what they deem to be a necessary prerequisite—a solid economic foundation.”
Which proves finding your soulmate is less about where you are than what you’ve learned.
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.