Gather ye rosebuds: the Onion spoofs the good man crisis

A couple of people sent me the link last week to this hilarious Onion News Network video: Obama Releases 500,000 men from the National Strategic Bachelor Reserve. (You’ll need to watch a very short ad first before the two-minute spoof starts. There is mild profanity within the video as well.) The report speaks of an “Eligible Male Task Force” designed to combat the critical shortage of “Men who are Looking for Something Serious,” and the graphics are splendid. (There’s even a subtle jab at Henry Waxman, my splendid congressman). Watch it all twice.

It’s been nearly a quarter-century since the “man shortage” became a topic of national media hype. The genesis of the scare was a single Newsweek article from June 1986: Too Late for Prince Charming?

The traumatic news came buried in an arid demographic study titled, innocently enough, “Marriage Patterns in the United States.” But the dire statistics confirmed what everybody suspected all along: that many women who seem to have it all—good looks and good jobs, advanced degrees and high salaries—will never have mates. According to the report, white, college-educated women born in the mid-’50s who are still single at 30 have only a 20 percent chance of marrying. By the age of 35 the odds drop to 5 percent. Forty-year-olds are more likely to be killed by a terrorist: they have a minuscule 2.6 percent probability of tying the knot.

That whopping bit of hyperbole in bold (as if there’s ever been a 2.6% chance of being killed by a terrorist) became the “killer quote” that drove the whole discussion. Even when the report (as well as the rhetorical overkill about it) was debunked, the fears that the Elaine Salholz article aroused remained. Nearly 25 years later, I still occasionally hear people use that “greater chance of being killed by a terrorist than meeting a good guy” trope.

The most savvy exploiters of the fears the Salholz piece aroused were social conservatives, who saw the chance to blame feminism for the “problem.” Women, right-wingers argued, needed to honor immutable biological truths, starting with the fact that both their fertility and their desirability peak in their late teens and early twenties. Rather than being misled by feminists into focusing on education and career, young women should leverage their sexual and reproductive power when it is at its maximum, while they can still “land a good man.” (Robert Herrick, call your office.) The conservative message was simple: focusing on career and personal fulfillment when you’re young in the expectation of easily finding a man when you’re ready to settle down was a recipe for heartache and loneliness. The feminists are lying to you, the far right said; we’re telling you the truth. Look at the facts.

Except the facts didn’t turn out to be true, as countless follow-up reports on the “marriage crunch” demonstrated. The marriage crunch, if it exists as a problem at all, is found among those least likely to go to college. Those who have most successfully made use of feminism’s promise are more likely to wed (and have children after marriage rather than before) than their poorer sisters. Even the social conservatives have changed their tune, pointing out that the marriage culture is thriving among urban liberal “elites” while it falls apart among the white and non-white urban and rural working classes. (This time, it’s feminism’s fault for making working-class men without college educations feel useless and unappreciated. The villain always remains the same.)

I think there are two related factors that continue to drive this focus on the “good man shortage.” One is, as I’ve said, political: the man shortage is oversold as a scare tactic. Women who are frightened of finding an eligible man to marry will be more likely to settle and settle early. They will be less competitive in the work force. As we see male anxiety rising over women’s growing participation in public life, we can see the manufactured anxiety about finding a man serving useful anti-feminist goals. As Susan Faludi wrote almost twenty years ago, this is part and parcel of the backlash.

But not all of the sense that “good men are hard to find” is a right-wing creation. To the extent that this is a real problem at all, it lies in our remarkable willingness to encourage young men to take an extraordinarily long time to grow up. Adolescence, for many middle-class males, is now a multi-decade project (a point made in Michael Kimmel’s wonderful Guyland, which I reviewed here.) I wrote in 2007:

To quote my father, too many young men are “waiting to be struck by certainty.” Too many young men figure that getting a graduate degree, making a decent living, and building a stable and successful life can “happen later” after they’ve “grown up.” (And anecdotally, the number of men in their mid-to-late 20s using the phrase “when I grow up” is nothing short of alarming.) We have a generation of young men who seem to lack the urgency and the ambition of their sisters. They haven’t been shamed out of it, they haven’t been actively discouraged — but they haven’t been sufficiently encouraged, either. They are waiting, waiting, waiting; waiting perhaps for a sudden beam of inspiration from above that will tell them exactly what they are to do with their lives. Until then, they’ll do a little of this and a little of that, they’ll hook up here and move in there, and they’ll put off pursuing a goal until they figure out what the heck it is that they want to do. And as many of the sisters, mothers, and girlfriends of these lads know, some men can put off that “growing up” until they are well into middle age.

Our culture is too easy on our young men, frankly. Anxious parents worry about boys’ poor attention spans, and complain that classes today are too detailed-oriented. That ought to send any historian of education into gales of laughter; look at the the young rabbinical students — all boys — who memorize the entire Torah by sixteen; look at the the demanding curricula (Greek, Latin, etcetera) of many nineteenth-century American universities. All male student bodies proved perfectly capable of feats of concentration and hard work, and they didn’t need huge doses of Ritalin to do it. I have no desire to return to the limited and extremely demanding educational philosophy of an earlier generation, but it seems absurd to suggest that “boys can’t concentrate as well as girls.” (Plenty of boys prove to be positive miracles of concentration when playing video games!)

There is a time and place for dreams. But the American middle class allows too many of their sons to dream to distraction. For fear of alienating them, for fear of repressing what we insist on believing is their innate masculine wildness, we allow them to “explore” and “wander” for a very, very long (much too long) time. We all know a lot of handsome, dreamy-eyed slacker boys, a year or two out of college, drifting through their twenties on drugs and theories, waiting, waiting, waiting, to be struck by certainty. And it is these boys — for boys they still are — who are one big whopping reason why, in our urban centers, incomes for young men have fallen so badly in comparison to their sisters.

So when we look at the very funny Onion video that mocks a real discourse in our pop culture, when we hear someone quote that old lie about terrorist attacks and marriage chances,or when we hear a woman in her thirties or forties express frustration and worry about “finding a good guy”, we need to remember two things. One, the odds are better than we realize and the
fear is largely fabricated; two, to the extent that this is a real problem at all, it lies in our refusal to make demands of our sons and our brothers that they embrace adulthood and responsibility.

0 thoughts on “Gather ye rosebuds: the Onion spoofs the good man crisis

  1. Food for thought: Perhaps we need to unpack the assumption that urgency and ambition, in terms of (as one measure of success you note) having a high income, is the way to be mature. If we’re going to compare men and women in the way that you do, I think it could be useful to at least consider that “…a little of this and a little of that, they’ll hook up here and move in there, and they’ll put off pursuing a goal until they figure out what the heck it is that they want to do” might be a mature way for both men and women to act, rather than slavishly pursuing a higher paycheck and “stability”. Sometimes, at least, such blind obedience to what counts as traditionally mature could be a sign of immaturity.

    I’d be much more comfortable with your line of reasoning if we had some goals that weren’t just a parroting of historically traditionally male goals of money and stability. How about life-long learning? How about time for intimate relationships?

  2. Speaking as a male from the age-group you are discussing, what you describe really is not the problem. The problem is not that people give young men too much time to explore and wander. The problem is that we are left to figure things out on our own. We constantly receive the message that men just know how to get ahead or least should know, despite the fact that young men need and deserve just as much guidance as our sisters receive. So what happens is that young men stumble along until they either find their niche, randomly strike success, or just bottom out.

    What would help would be some guidance from older men acting as role models and offering advice, and not advice on how to be more like our sisters or comments about how our lives are perfect and problem-free because we are male, but genuine, love-driven advice.

    That would help, but I doubt it will happen. One, there are not a lot of men willing to invest that kind of time in helping younger men. Two, certain political groups will object to any effort to help young men as sexist and oppose it. Three, some of those who claim they want to help simply make young men feel like crap. And four, it is much easier to blame young me for their problems, humiliate them by calling them boys, and deride their feelings than it is to acknowledge that perhaps it was not a good idea to only focus on the needs of girls for the last thirty years. Perhaps people should have realized that just like with girls, if boys never receive any positive reinforcement few of them will ever bother to try.

  3. Great post, Hugo. I wanted to wave the ADD flag a bit, if you don’t mind. All the females in my family have ADD/adult ADD. You mentioned that, “Plenty of boys prove to be positive miracles of concentration when playing video games!”. There’s an idea in the popular culture that people don’t really have ADD if they can focus on fun things and not difficult things. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. People with ADD can often hyperfocus on things that are engaging or interesting, but have biological problems with attention regulation – overcoming disinterest. Video games are especially easy to concentrate on because they are highly interactive, tactile, visual, auditory, constantly stimulating, and fun.

  4. Fubox, then I refer you to the generations of young Jewish boys who have memorized the entire Torah, or the generations of young Muslim boys who memorized the Quran, or the generations upon generations of young Chinese boys who studied successfully for civil service exams.

    I think ADD is certainly real, but we’ve defined it so loosely that it has become a diagnosis thrust onto a sizable chunk of the entire population.

    Toysoldier, check out the Good Men Project. They are doing some very interesting things to reach out to young men.

    And indeed, Jeff, adulthood and the acceptance of responsibility are not synonymous with making money. They are, however, synonymous with a willingness to forge a definitive life plan that doesn’t involve putting off major decisions until “later.”

  5. I’m also of this demographic (28, graduate student), and I’ll echo some (but not all) of what Toysoldier’s saying. Without a carrot, a stick isn’t going to be very effective. I don’t buy that the historical situation was anything other than “leave growing men to figure it out for themselves”, putting that at the feet of progressives is probably rubbish (or mostly rubbish, anyhow). But I understand the impulse; as we’ve collectively moved to envisioning young women as complete on their own (and yes, how much we’ve moved depends on your context, being a nonreligious urban highly educated twenty-something, I’m probably in a context where it’s maximal. YKMV), there’s not any context in which I can be valuable (okay, I’m applying a traditionally masculine scheme here where you’re valuable for doing needed labour or whatnot. But it persists, and is instructive.) So where’s the motivation to become an adult? If not being scolded is the best you can offer, it isn’t going to happen, rightly or wrongly. As long as making peace with being useless makes the most sense for us, it’s what we’re going to do. And hope (if we dare) that someone will come along and tell us how we can be useful to her (maybe him? I’m not sure how common the archetype is among gay men, or what (if any) modifications it has), at which point it’ll make sense to try and become that adult.

  6. I’m a little taken aback by the tone of some of these responses, though I suppose the best motivation for commenting is when one is in disagreement. While anecdotal, I feel there is plenty of support for the argument that our current culture allows the extended adolescence of men. It is beside the point to argue about what constitutes maturity or stable adulthood– the thrust here is the perceived threat of female workplace empowerment, and the supposed penalty that a young woman would face if she dares challenge the status quo (the figure about a 40-year old woman getting killed by a terrorist has reached urban legend proportions). While young women have just as much aptitude as young men, they still face obstacles towards realizing this potential, many of them now societal/emotional rather than just legal. Men are still at a privileged position where they are granted freedom for self-discovery– women are given, “be successful and be miserable” or “settle early and be happy”.

  7. Hugo,

    so, basically, you want women to do what you want men *not* to do? You want women to explore things and not settle early while men should do exactly that?

    That doesn’t sound like a particularly egalitarian approach to me.

  8. You say that our culture is too easy on young men, that they are given too much time to explore and wander. I would argue the inverse; it is not that young men are given too much time, it is that women are not given enough. You have written about the “Martha Complex”, the pressure for women to center their lives around pleasing others. Self-discovery is an inherently ego-centric process, and one that young women are all too often discouraged from engaging in, to their detriment.

  9. Kay, I agree completely. But there’s a world of difference between authentic self-discovery and the distractions of the four “ps” of Guyland: porn, pot, poker, and Playstation. Girls need less pressure and boys need more (admittedly, a generalization), with an understanding that the immediate post-adolescent world of the early twenties ought to be a time to make all sorts of discoveries.

    But 35 is no longer “immediate post-adolescent.”

  10. Hugo,

    the 4Ps? Really, if someone presented a similarly limited idea about what women are as a study of contemporary feminity, you wouldn’t praise the title as capturing the essence of reality, you’d lecture them about their narrowmindedness. And rightly so.

    Here’s what Thomas at “yes means yes” had to say about the sample Kimmel chose for his book -

    “… Kimmel never actually shows that Guyland is more than a subculture among fraternity guys and jocks before, during and after college. Much of his material is about fraternities and sports teams. He ignores everyone who is not a participant in these groups or a victim of their members. All of that is worth talking about, but claiming that it is a complete analysis of the young men of a generation isn’t just incorrect, it’s disingenuous. It read like alarmism for parents.”

    http://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/2010/03/12/review-guyland/

    Well, you were alarmed, apparently. And btw, this “tough love” approach fits in nicely with your redemption narrative and my perception of you not-rarely presenting your idea of masculinity as truly “alpha”…

  11. Men bad, women good, men need to be controlled and berated, women need to be nurtured and supported.

    Come on, you’re parodying YOURSELF here.

  12. Hugo, I think The Good Men Project is close to the kind of thing that young men need more of, although I think it could do without the political slant.

    Brian, while the problems young men face cannot be laid any one group’s feet, the notion that it is only young men’s fault and that social attitudes have nothing to do with it lacks credulity. Boys are just as affected by social norms, expectations, and stereotypes as girls. If you never ask anything of boys, never try to guide them, or only say negative things about them, then it should come as no surprise that they fail. A recent UK study demonstrated this very well. The study found that gender bias against boys, particularly the “girls are better than boys” trope, was a major factor in why boys fail at school. Low expectations tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies.

  13. If you never ask anything of boys, never try to guide them, or only say negative things about them, then it should come as no surprise that they fail.

    Toysoldier, what do you believe should be asked of young men? How, and in what direction, should they be guided?

  14. I am going to stay out of much of the ADHD debate here, except to bring it back to its roots in gender. There is considerable evidence now that any woman who is very anxious in the first two trimesters of pregnancy is far more likely to give birth to a child who will later exhibit behaviors consistent with ADHD. I believe it is important to that these studies found no difference in ADHD behaviors by gender; in other words, girls and boys were observed as having the same rate of ADHD behaviors. The difference between these studies and those which have looked at the diagnosis of ADHD is that for these studies researchers observed the children themselves and asked teachers and parents questions about behaviors, not about diagnosis or about results such as school problems. These results have been fairly consistent, even when researchers controlled for parental education and other socioeconomic factors which have been previously connected to ADHD diagnosis.

    What is even more interesting about this is that some studies have shown that a mother’s anxiety after her child’s birth or even in her final trimester of pregnancy does not influence ADHD symptoms. This would seem to indicate that maternal anxiety changes brain development. More importantly, at least to those of us who care very much about ADHD and gender, it supports the theory that while the diagnosis of ADHD is gendered, but as a disorder it is likely biological.

    I will end with this note, the behaviors associated with ADHD in girls were left off of the diagnostic criteria for decades. Girls with ADHD were just “blabbermouths” “chatty-Kathy’s” “ditzes” or “air heads” “true blondes” or a host of other terms which disparage female intelligence. Women and girls did not start being diagnosed with ADHD until after our society began assuming that they were just as naturally intellectual as they were social.

  15. “And indeed, Jeff, adulthood and the acceptance of responsibility are not synonymous with making money. They are, however, synonymous with a willingness to forge a definitive life plan that doesn’t involve putting off major decisions until “later.”–Hugo

    I disagree with you. “Definitive” life plans are right out of the traditional masculinity playbook, and they are also not for everybody. While I do think it is the case that men have privilege that allows them to meander more than women, I would still argue that it would be better if we change things so that women are allowed that privilege, rather than change things so that men go back to “definitive life plans” which are part of patriarchy much of the time.

    I also think that, in putting forth the “4 p’s”, you’re buying into lots of stereotyping about men as adolescents. Aside from income changes, is there evidence that this is a trend? If Guyville is your source of evidence (it’s the only source you name and it has its problems, as pointed out in comments above), then I remain pretty dubious. Combined with the idea that you are implicitly supporting–that “maturity” means going to college, getting one job for the rest of your life, getting married and having kids–this whole line of thinking just seems kind of classist.

    I do think that men have privilege as regards “wandering”. Faludi showed that years and years ago with “Stiffed” and “Backlash”, I think. But let’s get folks of all genders (and classes, and races, etc.) that privilege, rather than imagining that we should all be pinned to college degrees and mortgages in order to consider ourselves mature.

  16. Have to agree on the double standard observed here: young women shouldn’t “settle” or put off their own, independent life goals; but young men need to be hectored more into “adulthood” and “responsibility”. I can say from personal experience that marrying and “settling down” too early can lead to disaster for both men and women.

  17. And, sorry to sound continually critical, but I’ve made the point before that drawing conclusions about the outcomes of students in a system of mass-education of an entire population from models from over a century ago, when education was restricted to elite, pre-selected samples (19th-century universities? Rabbinical students? Seriously?), can’t possibly be valid. Mass education is historically sui generis, at least mass education to the degree that we expect.

  18. Tom, the memory feats achieved in yeshivas and madrasas were achieved by boys who were compelled to be there, often representing all social classes. In some parts, this was mass education. But that’s not the point, and I’m certainly not advocating for a ruthless return to rote memorization.

    The absence of “good men” to marry we’re talking about here is in a demographic group in its thirties and forties. I’m not advocating early marriage; I don’t want to see 1946 all over again. Nor am I advocating young men become mindless worker bees. But there’s a difference between opting out of capitalism to devote oneself to public service of some kind, or to pursue an artistic dream, and the kind of unfocused, unambitious ennui that involves a great deal of time on a couch. And I don’t think Michael Kimmel oversells that phenomenon one bit.

  19. The absence of ‘good men’ is probably just a demographic problem. A lot of the stories about this come from New York where it’s actually a problem for a lot of women. In New York there’s about 8 million people and the gender breakdown is about 90 men for every 100 women which works out to about 500,000 more women living in the city than men.

    There is also a big change in the number of men and women overall going from early 20′s to 30′s , there are something like 105 men for every women at 20 but by 30 there are 105 women for every 100 men so most men have to ‘try’ harder to date in their early 20′s but by the time your 30 women have to ‘try’ harder if they want to date.

    As for Education you are right about not expecting enough of boys but the problems are generally early childhood education by high school it’s usually too late. The new cutoff point for who might graduate and who does not is generally considered grade 3 now. If a child is not onto school by grade 3 which is primary poor boys and especially minority boys they are put into non academic tracks. Basically if a teacher tells a parent that boys develop slower and not to worry it’s code for he probably won’t graduate from high school and it’s not my problem and I don’t really care. Realistically there needs to be as much effort put into early literacy efforts for boys especially poor minority boys as there have been math and science programs aimed at girls. For example the problem with women not going into the STEM is just as much as a problem as boys not going into humanity fields.

  20. Toysoldier, while I largely agree with you about mentoring young men, I wince whenever there’s the hasty reassurance that we don’t want to make them act like women. There’s an ugly shadow there of shaming men by suggesting that for crissakes we don’t want to turn them into a bunch of pussies, because nothing is worse than resembling a female.

  21. There is also a big change in the number of men and women overall going from early 20’s to 30’s , there are something like 105 men for every women at 20 but by 30 there are 105 women for every 100 men so most men have to ‘try’ harder to date in their early 20’s but by the time your 30 women have to ‘try’ harder if they want to date.

    Tim, assuming these numbers are accurate, are you really saying that 5 extra people of one gender automatically means a significant shift in dating strategies? Some of those people are going to be uninterested in the opposite sex; and of course ability to date is not evenly distributed. (Being in that group of 100 women doesn’t help you much if you’re conventionally quite unattractive, for example.)

  22. (Being in that group of 100 women doesn’t help you much if you’re conventionally quite unattractive, for example.)

    I wish I could bold this and type it a million times over and save it as my background…I can’t stress enough how true i’ve found this to be…Women whom are otherwise “perfect” according to social norms that are unattractive go without ANY men, let alone “good men”.

  23. @Hugo:

    Tom, the memory feats achieved in yeshivas and madrasas were achieved by boys who were compelled to be there, often representing all social classes. In some parts, this was mass education. But that’s not the point, and I’m certainly not advocating for a ruthless return to rote memorization.

    Not to mention, that I think we mean something significantly different in this day and age by “education” than rote memorization.

    The absence of “good men” to marry we’re talking about here is in a demographic group in its thirties and forties. I’m not advocating early marriage; I don’t want to see 1946 all over again. Nor am I advocating young men become mindless worker bees. But there’s a difference between opting out of capitalism to devote oneself to public service of some kind, or to pursue an artistic dream, and the kind of unfocused, unambitious ennui that involves a great deal of time on a couch.

    The only age group you specifically identified above was young men “a year or two out of college, drifting through their twenties”. I would agree that by their thirties and forties, men (or women) who have spent a good portion of their life on the couch have missed out on quite a lot.

    @Mythago:

    Tim, assuming these numbers are accurate, are you really saying that 5 extra people of one gender automatically means a significant shift in dating strategies? Some of those people are going to be uninterested in the opposite sex; and of course ability to date is not evenly distributed. (Being in that group of 100 women doesn’t help you much if you’re conventionally quite unattractive, for example.)

    I was just reminded of an interesting article in The Economist that discussed the question you are asking in the context of the impact of the skewed sex ratio of mass-incarceration on the African-American community (short answer: yes, it does make a significant shift; relatively small proportional differences can very often amount to significant differences in absolute outcomes, especially in large populations; consider here also that the possible outcome is binary: absent polygamy or promiscuity, you either find a partner or you do not). The original article is behind The Economist’s bulletproof paywall, but I found a repost here:

    http://africannewslive.com/women/?p=135

  24. Mythago,

    yes, small percentage changes can bring about shifts in strategy -

    Sex and the single black woman
    How the mass incarceration of black men hurts black women
    The Economist | Apr 8th 2010

    http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2492278/posts

    “IMAGINE that the world consists of 20 men and 20 women, all of them heterosexual and in search of a mate. Since the numbers are even, everyone can find a partner. But what happens if you take away one man? You might not think this would make much difference. You would be wrong, argues Tim Harford, a British economist, in a book called “The Logic of Life”. With 20 women pursuing 19 men, one woman faces the prospect of spinsterhood. So she ups her game. Perhaps she dresses more seductively. Perhaps she makes an extra effort to be obliging. Somehow or other, she “steals” a man from one of her fellow women. That newly single woman then ups her game, too, to steal a man from someone else. A chain reaction ensues. Before long, every woman has to try harder, and every man can relax a little.

    Real life is more complicated, of course, but this simple model illustrates an important truth. In the marriage market, numbers matter. …”

  25. Think jobs. If the employer really needs ten people on the line and there are nine people in town available for work, the nine people can easily hold out for better conditions or more money, and it doesn’t make any difference if one or more of the workers “rat” and go to work without demanding concessions – the remaining demand will still outpace the supply.

    If the employer needs ten workers and there are eleven people in town who can work, the balance of power shifts – and the consequences of a traitor among the workers becomes much more severe as well.

  26. Before long, every woman has to try harder, and every man can relax a little.

    That still doesn’t guarantee that the woman will take an active role pursuing…so I hardly see that as a way to “relax” for men..it seems more as though they can sit back and enjoy the show, but still get the pick of a mate, which presents problems all in it’s own when pursuing, and I can see how it would become frustrating for a male…look at all this candy you can’t have. I personally think it puts a little more pressure.

  27. kristina,

    clearly, that’s not a sufficient model of modern mating. But I think it illustrates the point that small changes in the amount of available partners can have significant social consequences if a social equlibrium depends on certain ratios – in this case: 1:1 – pairbonds.

    Pairbonds weren’t the human standard for a very long time, and the human polygyny factor is > 1. Almost all women in human history have offspring, as opposed to only about 45% of men, until *very* recently. Only the social structure guaranteeing a pairbond for nearly every man has been able to increase male reproduction to similar levels as that of women.

    Whether or not that’s a clever move from an evolutionary position will, obviously, be left to evolution to decide, but the classic small family has probably been a socially rather *stable* setup, something that has been quite rare in human history. If you mix things up, even by only taking away one male, you’ll destroy the equilibrium and things will have to readjust.

  28. Kay, I think we should as the same things ask of young men that we ask young women. If allowing young women to find what suits them in life without judging for taking their time to find it is considered best, why should we not extend that to young men? Why should all young men have is “Get a job, get married, and have kids?” As for the guidance, that depends on the individual, although I do think it should be politically neutral and devoid anything that devalues men and their experiences. By default that would bump quite a bit of progressive and conservative notions, but I think that is a good thing since it forces people to treat young men as individuals rather than walking stereotypes.

    Mythago, I reject the notion that men need to be more like women because it implies there is something wrong with being male. Of all the things that are wrong with me, being male is not one of them, and I should not be shamed, blamed, scapegoated, or cajoled into thinking that wanting to be the best man I can be is a sexist endeavor. Just as there is value in womanhood, there is value in manhood, and I do not think that is something anyone should be dissuaded from trying to achieve.

  29. Toysoldier, I also reject the notion that there is something wrong with being male. What I’m talking about is the notion that manhood is something defined by, and eternally in opposition to, womanhood; that there are clear and easily defined notions of what it means to “act like a man” or “act like a woman” and never the twain shall meet. I find that veers into the issue of walking stereotypes.

  30. SamSeaborn, no, the model doesn’t illustrate a thing, because it bears no resemblance to the real world at all, and even in the model world it’s not much more than a G-rated version of the theory behind the Gor novels. I mean, c’mon. Mates are fungible? Nobody cheats or shares (despite the fact that, throughout human history, polygamy has been the norm)? Everybody pairs up with a single mate? Nobody is completely unwanted? It’s a fake model of the ‘assume we have a can opener’ variety.

    In the real world, the problem of black women in the US finding mates has a hell of a lot more to do with the devastation of poverty, crime and the War on Drugs on the male/female demographics, and frankly, the simplistic, ivory-tower model used to explain it is exactly the kind of crap thinking I expect from The Economist. No wonder the Freepers loved it.

  31. mythago,

    I am not aware of any political subtext the link may have had – I googled for the article and since the original was behind a paywall, I linked this one.

    I agree that the Economist has lost a lot of intellectual credibility by getting into bed with W (though it was a case of clear cut prostitution – they sell half their copies in the US and about 25% of their readers are USD millionaires).

    I also completely agree that paidbonds and monogamy have not been the human norm, I believe that polygamy – usually as polyGYNY – prevailed for most of the human phylogenesis. If the model doesn’t reflect reality – fair enough. But I still think that small changes in demographics can have significant behavioral impact, individually and socially.

  32. I get the feeling that Hugo would be all over his (hypothetical) son under the justification of “keeping him focused”, while giving his daughter pretty much free reign to say and do whatever she wants.

  33. Mates are fungible? Nobody cheats or shares (despite the fact that, throughout human history, polygamy has been the norm)? Everybody pairs up with a single mate? Nobody is completely unwanted?

    It also assumes that the only thing affecting your desperation to attract a mate is the number of mates available. Imagine you’re a woman, and you have a choice of searching for a mate in one of two hypothetical settings. In both settings, unlike the real world, mates are fungible and no one cheats or shares. But the settings differ as follows:

    Setting A: I am one of 20 women pursuing 19 men. If I don’t get a man, I’m out of luck in the pair bonding department, but I can get my own job and win my own bread.

    Setting B: I am one of 19 women, pursued by 20 men. I am forbidden to get my own job and win my own bread, so if I don’t get a man, I go hungry.

    In which setting can I relax my game more, and in which one do I feel more desperate? I’d say that I feel more desperate in the situation where I starve without a man, even though as I’ve set up the dilemma I have more men competing for me in that situation. I’d say that I’m more likely to accept a worse deal if I go hungry otherwise, then if I simply go without a mate.

    This is why jobs, to my mind, work more like the scenario in the article than mates do. Jobs are fungible, and people can be bargained down quite readily if there are lots of people competing for a job, because not being able to pay for food and a roof over your head is a considerably more dire fate than not getting laid (frustrating though never getting laid may be). Mates are not fungible, and there’s a limit to how low you can be bargained down (assuming you don’t depend on a mate for your livelihood), because it’s possible to live longer and more happily without getting laid than without being able to pay for basic necessities. So, however desperate we may be, there’s generally still some relationship we wouldn’t accept.

  34. But you also have to factor in the people already in a relationship Lynn Gazis-Sax. Assuming half the population is in a monogamous relationship or no interest in relationship (which is probably low but makes math easier) that leaves 10 women competing for 9 men or in places with a high female compared to male population such as New York or the District of Colombia it’s probably 10 women competing for 8 men. Which puts men into a really nice position when it comes to dating. And as the portion of the population that is dating changes the ratio of women to men change even more in favor of men in the dating pool.

    And if you apply the onion theory of economics where you assume more George Akerlof theory of lemons to the population you end up with the ‘good’ guys already in relationships so women who are dating have a higher chance of dating lemons, and of course guys also have a higher chance of dating ‘lemons’ but it’s lower due to the population size.

  35. It’s probably actually a generic feature that most of us have social circles that are tilted towards our own genders (this is the case in social circles are distributed randomly, and they’re not; they’re biased towards gender heaviness), so more likely than not, you’re in an environment that’s heavy on your gender. One of the things I’ve noticed looking at dating sites is that they’re absolutely rife with nurses; and since nurses are going to have other nurses feature prominently in their social circles, and since nurses are mostly women, they all have women heavy social circles. Similar to how I, as a physicist, have a male-heavy social circle.

    Consequently, of course, all the talk of men being scarce or commanding a premium sounds bizarre, but probably makes perfect sense to those with woman-heavy social circles.

  36. But I still think that small changes in demographics can have significant behavioral impact, individually and socially.

    Change that to ‘large’ and I agree with you. But that’s not really what the model is saying; it’s a simplistic, blindered view of an economic model where everything is a fungible good, coupled with a sexist wish-fulfillment that if there aren’t as many men around, the bitches will work harder to ‘earn’ male attention.

    Tim, you have to compare populations of people-interested-in-dating, which varies by age, demographic and time, and then you have to stop pretending that everybody wants A Relationship (like they would want a car, or an apple) with all relationships being the same. Certainly it’s the case that in places with a skewed gender ratio it may be harder for one group than another to find a date – but does this mean that single women in, say, New York, are all dolled-up June Cleavers eager to submit to any man who will look at them? Not so much.

  37. But you also have to factor in the people already in a relationship

    Why? If the model is supposed to deal with the modal woman, don’t the women who already managed to get a relationship that satisfies them count?

    Besides, even if I assume 10 women competing for 9 men, or 10 women competing for 8 men, my point still holds that they’re less desperate if they can earn their own living. And this matters to me, because I’m forever hearing scare stories from social conservatives about how women are doomed, doomed, doomed if they go for an education and a career rather than grabbing a man before they’re 25 (a claim that as far as I can tell resembles the real world not at all). In the real world, there are places where women are in short supply and still don’t get much choice who they marry (though the shortage of women may in such places, I suppose, increase the bargaining power of their fathers).