Monday, January 25, 2010

Richard Whitmire - The Right Man Is Getting Harder to Find

Interesting article from Whitmire at the Wall Street Journal. Whitmire is the author of Why Boys Fail, an important book for anyone with a son or who educates boys.

The Right Man Is Getting Harder to Find

Fairy-tale dreams collide with the dreaded 'operational sex ratio.'

Rachel Downtain is a telecommunications project manager who says her friends would describe her as tall, slender, fit and active. Not someone you'd think would fail to find a mate. Yet, of late, Ms. Downtain has been sifting through sperm-donor Web sites. This is not her first choice for how to start a family, but at 35 she says she's quickly running out of options.

Ms. Downtain's story should sound familiar. In recent months the spike in college-educated women deciding to have a husbandless family has become a magazine staple. The New York Times Sunday Magazine devoted a cover story to the issue. There's been a 145% rise in unmarried births among college-educated women since 1980, more than twice the increase in such births among women without college educations. That's just births; adoptions are another outlet for women seeking families on their own. But there's a largely unexplored part to this story: Why is this happening?


Part of the answer is found in a Pew Research Center report released this week: A sea change in relationships is taking place as everyone adjusts to the new reality of women being better educated and in some cases more preferred than men in the workforce. Especially unsettling to some men is their role as second-best earner in the family. As the Pew report documents, 22% of men with "some college" are now outearned by their wives, up from 4% in 1970.

Understanding this change requires dipping into the personal. "I've found a lot of Mr. Almosts, but I can't find Mr. Right," Ms. Downtain says. "I've been dating forever. Where is he?" When she brings men back to her very nice, four-bedroom home, they often comment about her success. A few flat-out say they're uncomfortable with her salary advantage, education advantage (master's degree), or both. The final blow comes when she tells them about all her prominent volunteer work in the Kansas City area. "I'm being honest and telling them about my life, but I feel like I'm coming across as too good for them. That is never my intention."

There's no single answer to the "why" question, but social scientists agree that the education mismatch Ms. Downtain experiences with men is a significant player behind the increase in college-educated women choosing single motherhood.

This mismatch signals the emergence of a phenomenon studied more commonly in the animal kingdom than in the human one—the "operational sex ratio," the scientific term describing what happens when one sex outnumbers the other. In human populations, gender balances can tilt following world wars or times of migration (think California Gold Rush), resulting in a shortage of men or women of marriageable age. Currently, the most blatant outbreak of the operational sex ratio is playing out in China, where sex screening or, worse, infanticide has led to an estimated 32 million more males under the age of 20 than females.

"In situations where there are fewer women than men, you see long-term monogamy," said David Geary, curators' professor of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri and author of "Male, Female: The Evolution of Human Sex Difference." "If a woman doesn't like what a man is doing, she can dump him and get someone else." In China, the unhappiness among young men over the dramatic gender imbalance triggers speculation about possible social unrest.

The situation in the U.S. is far more benign, though here, too, it is the sex in short supply—in the pool of the college-educated—that makes the rules. Women are feeling the pinch from years of gender imbalances on college campuses, where today nearly 58% of all bachelor's degrees and 62% of associate's degrees are earned by women. Given that women prefer to find a well-educated, reliable earner as a husband, this creates a simple math problem. Well-educated women can't find enough equally or better-educated men to marry.

Couple the education gap with the current economic "man-cession"—as many as 80% of the jobs lost in the recession were held by men—and the dilemma for single women becomes even worse. Today, more and more well-educated women have to ask themselves: Am I willing to "marry down"?

In the U.S., the best place to witness a man shortage in action is at a markedly gender-unbalanced college. While researching a book on why boys are falling behind in school, I visited several such campuses. In some instances, the complaints arising from the imbalance are trivial. Consider the bathroom issue, a problem I discovered everywhere I went. If you take a co-ed dorm, load it with 60% to 65% females, and keep the bathrooms separate with an equal number allocated to men and women, you end up with a lot of unhappy women having to share overcrowded bathrooms.

A more worrisome issue arises when men take advantage of their relative scarcity by making life miserable for would-be girlfriends. Why settle down when you are a guy and the supply of eligible women appears to be unlimited? The female students hate such a situation, which is one reason admissions offices end up accepting male applicants who are less academically qualified than their female counterparts. Their goal is to avoid the dreaded 60/40 gender imbalance on campus that everyone agrees is a threshold not to be crossed. Those gender preferences, which colleges rarely discuss, have become common among private, four-year colleges (and recently caught the attention of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which has launched a probe into admissions discrimination against women).

All this leaves single women such as Rachel Downtain facing unwelcome choices. "Going the sperm-bank method is definitely not my first choice, but I am not willing to give up my dream of having a child just because I can't find Mr. Right. I am having to realize that my fairy tale dream may just be inverted a bit . . . I may have the child before finding Mr. Right."

Mr. Whitmire is the author of "Why Boys Fail."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting article. I have a tough time with it though because my wife has 2 masters degrees and I have an associates. Yet as we've learned degrees say little about intelligence and wisdom. We are definitely partners and she plays to her strengths while I play to mine. This sounds to me more like a sociological issue where people are measuring others by a standard which doesn't mean what they think it does.