In 1986, Newsweek published a cover with a steep, sloping graph and the words “If You’re a Single Woman, Here Are Your Chances of Getting Married.” The featured article said that single, white, college-educated women who weren’t married by 40 “had a better chance of being killed by a terrorist than of finding a husband.” Obviously, this didn’t go over well.
Though Newsweek retracted the article 20 years later, the sentiment and frustration still linger. As The New York Times said in 2006, “for a lot of women, the retraction doesn’t matter. The article seems to have lodged itself permanently in the national psyche.”
Sex And The City is a perfect example of this immortal single-woman frustration. In the late 1990s, Miranda quipped “There are no available men in their 30s in New York. Giuliani had them removed along with the homeless.” Later on, Carrie mused, “Why are there so many great American women and no great American men?”
Though dramatic, Miranda and Carrie were onto something; there really aren’t enough college-educated single men in the United States.
John Birger, financial reporter and author of Date-onomics: How Dating Became a Lopsided Numbers Game, found that there are more college-educated women than men in the U.S.
When Birger published his book in 2015, there were three college-educated men for every four college-educated women. That year, there were also 9.5 million female students enrolled in college, significantly more than the 7.5 million male college students.
This means that as single women get older, fewer and fewer men remain single, making it more difficult for women to find a significant other.
Though there are certainly women who don’t want to get married — to men, or at all — within the category of college-educated straight women, many of them do want to marry someone who also has a degree.
Birger said that straight women who want to get married are less likely to cross educational lines to find potential husbands than they were 50 years ago.
Especially in an age of online dating, Birger said that it’s easy to view people as sets of criteria. Looking at dating profiles, women may disregard profiles of men without degrees, which severely limits their dating pool.
This lack of educated men isn’t just frustrating women in America. It’s happening in many western countries, from the U.S. to Italy to Australia.
What about when there are too many men?
Though there is a dismal dating pool in quite a few western countries, the male-dominated population of China has put pressure on single Chinese women.
To offset China’s severe gender imbalance — which was caused by their previous one-child policy — the Chinese government urges single women to marry.
The government calls single women over 27 ‘sheng nu.’ This term, which has blatant negative connotations, is commonly translated to mean “leftover women.”
A documentary-style video from 2016 highlighted the familial hardships that face many single women who are labeled ‘sheng nu.’ A woman in the video explains, “in Chinese culture, respecting your parents is the most important quality, and not getting married is like the biggest sign of disrespect.”
China’s surplus of men has led to the stigmatization of single women, suggesting that these women are too picky or not good enough. Though the problem in China stems from having too many men, Chinese women are experiencing a feeling of inadequacy that is felt by women in western countries, who don’t have enough options.
Though it can seem bleak, both problems have a flip side.
The Chinese women who are deemed ‘sheng nu’ are breaking out of their parents’ footsteps, as many young women are now pursuing education and workplace success instead of relationships. As the dialogue opens up, these women are trying to redefine what it means to be considered ‘sheng nu.’
And for American women, though the studies may feel real, there are statistics on the other end. According to the 2000 census, less than 10 percent of college-educated women ages 50 to 60 had never been married. In 2006, a Wall Street Journal article also reported that eight out of the ten women who appeared in Newsweek’s infamous article had found a husband. The other two were single by choice.
There are also far more options outside of marrying a straight, college-educated man. There are certainly women in the LGBT community who want to marry people who aren’t men, and there are many women who don’t want to get married at all.
Birger also emphasized that many women do date people outside of their educational bracket. His study wasn’t meant to set off alarm bells; it was just an attempt to understand why more college-educated women remain single than college-educated men.
There’s no age cutoff for finding love in China, and no income requirement for finding love in the U.S. Even when studies and social norms raise concerns, women can marry whenever and whoever — it doesn’t mean that anyone is settling.
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