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Young, Male, and Single

The Babylonian Marriage Market, by Edwin Long (1829-1891)  Credit: Wikimedia Commons.  There are too many young men on the mate market, particularly in the White American community.

The Babylonian Marriage Market, by Edwin Long (1829-1891). There are too many young men on the mate market, particularly in the White American community.

It sucks being young, male, and single. Don’t think so? Go to the Interactive Singles Map of the United States and see how it looks for the 20 to 39 age group. Almost everywhere single men outnumber single women.

And the real picture is worse. For one thing, the imbalance is greater among singles without children. This is not a trivial factor, since single mothers are “single” only in the sense of being available for sexual relations. They are still raising offspring from a previous relationship and many are not interested in having more children.

Then there’s polygamy—or “polyamory,” to use the preferred term—where a minority of men controls sexual access to a larger number of women. If we compare the 1940-1949 and 1970-1979 cohorts of American adults, we find an increase in the number of median lifetime partners from 2.6 to 5.3 among women and from 6.7 to 8.8 among men (Liu et al., 2015). Because this figure is more variable for men than for women, young women are more likely to be sexually active than young men. This is crudely seen in infection rates for chlamydia—the most common sexually transmitted disease. Hispanic Americans still show the traditional pattern of greater sexual activity among men than among women, the rates being 7.24% of men and 4.42% of women. White Americans display the reverse: 1.38% of men and 2.52% of women (Miller et al., 2004).

Finally, there’s a racial angle. This sex ratio is more skewed among White Americans than among African Americans, mainly because the latter have a lower sex ratio at birth and a higher death rate among young men.

It’s hard to avoid concluding that a lot of young white men are shut out of the marriage market … or any kind of heterosexual relationship. This wife shortage was once thought to be temporary, being due to baby-boomer men getting divorced and marrying younger women from the smaller “baby bust” cohort. With time, they would get too old to compete with young men, and the problem should resolve itself.

Today, the crest of the baby boom is entering the seventh decade of life, yet the update to the Interactive Singles Map shows no change to the gender imbalance. So what gives? It appears that demographers have focused too much on the baby-boomer effect and not enough on other factors that matter just as much and, more importantly, show no signs of going away. These factors can be summarized as follows.

Re-entry of older men into the mate market

We have a mate market where 20 to 50 year old men are competing for 20 to 40 year old women. That in itself is nothing new. But something else is.

The baby boom eclipsed an equally important but longer-term trend: more and more men are living past the age of 40. With or without the baby boom, we’ll still see large numbers of older men getting divorced and marrying younger women. The cause isn’t just liberal divorce laws. It’s also the fact we have far more older guys out there as a proportion of the population.

Sure, we will also see younger men pairing up with “cougars” but there are limits to that option, as noted in a New Zealand study:

The male partner may want to partner up with someone younger or have children, which may not be possible with an older woman (for physical reasons or because she chooses not to have (more) children). The younger male partner may not want to become a step-father to existing children. Research has shown that childbearing can be the ultimate deal breaker in this kind of relationship. (Lawton and Callister, 2010)

Persistence of the imbalanced sex ratio at birth

About 105 males are born for every 100 females among people of European origin. This sex ratio used to decline to parity during childhood because of higher infantile mortality among boys. It then declined even farther in early adulthood because of war, industrial accidents, and other hazards. This isn’t the distant past. If you talk with women who came of age in the postwar era, they will tell you about their fears of remaining single past the age of thirty. At that age, very few single men were left to go around.

Well, things have changed. The skewed sex ratio at birth is now persisting well into adulthood, thanks to modern medicine and the relative peace that has prevailed since 1945. Women begin to outnumber men only in the 35-39 age group in the United States and in the 40-44 age group in the United Kingdom.

Equalization of male and female same-sex preference

Historically, same-sex preference was more common among men than among women. This gender gap appears to be closing, according to a recent study:

The percent distributions were quite similar for men and women; however, a higher percentage of men identified as gay (1.8%) compared with women who identified as gay/lesbian (1.4%), and a higher percentage of women identified as bisexual (0.9%) compared with men (0.4%). (CDCP, 2014, p. 5)

Disparities in outmarriage

At present, there are more White American women outmarrying than White American men, particularly in younger age groups. This disparity is mainly in marriages with African American men, there being no gender difference in marriages with Hispanic Americans and the reverse gender difference in marriages with Asian Americans (Jacobs and Labov, 2002; Passel et al., 2010). Overall, this factor further skews the ratio of young single men to young single women in the White American community.

This disparity isn’t new. What is new is its extent, for both legal and common-law marriages. An idea may be gleaned from statistics on children born to White American women, specifically the proportion fathered by a non-White partner. For the U.S. as a whole the proportion in 2013 was between 11% and 20% (the uncertainty is due to 190,000 births for which the father’s race was not stated). By comparison, the proportion in 1990 was between 5% and 13% (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013; see also Silviosilver, 2015).

Whenever this issue comes up for discussion, there are often reassurances that the disparity will disappear in a post-racial world that has been cleansed of “White privilege.” I’m not so sure. The European female phenotype seems to be very popular, and this was so even when white folks were geopolitical weaklings. Today, the term “white slavery” is merely a synonym for prostitution, but it originally meant the enslavement of fair-skinned women for sale to clients in North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. At the height of this trade, between 1500 and 1650, over 10,000 Eastern Europeans were enslaved each year for export (Kolodziejczyk, 2006; Skirda, 2010). The overwhelming majority were young women and pre-pubertal boys who were valued for their physical appearance. And yet they were powerless.

No, I don’t think this kind of preference will disappear as whites lose “privilege.”

Exit strategies

So more and more young men are being left on the shelf, particularly in White America. How do they cope? Mostly by turning to porn from Internet websites, videocassettes, or magazines. Love dolls are another option and may grow in popularity as they become more human-like, not only physically but also in their ability to talk and interact.

Another option is outmarriage. In the past, this trend largely concerned older men marrying East Asian or Hispanic women, but we’re now seeing plenty of young men outmarrying via Internet dating sites. Despite the local supply of single women in the African American community, there is a much stronger tendency to look abroad, generally to women in Eastern Europe, South America, or East Asia.

Then there’s gender reassignment, which means either entering the other side of the mate market or tapping into the lesbian market. It’s a viable strategy, all the more so because many white boys can be turned into hot trans women. I’m not saying that some young men actually think along those lines, but gender reassignment is functioning that way.

Finally, there’s “game.” My attitude toward game is like my attitude toward gender reassignment. Both are attempts to push the envelope of phenotypic plasticity beyond its usual limits, and neither can fully achieve the desired result. A lot of boys aren’t wired for game, and there are good reasons why, just as there are good reasons why some people are born male. Male shyness isn’t a pathology. It’s an adaptation to a social environment that values monogamy and high paternal investment while stigmatizing sexual adventurism. Our war on male shyness reflects our perverse desire to create a society of Don Juans and single mothers.

But if game works, why not? Whatever floats your boat.


Ideally, this gender imbalance should be dealt with at the societal level, but I see little chance of that happening in the near future. If anything, public policy decisions will probably worsen the current imbalance. Changes to public policy generally result from a long process that begins when people speak up and articulate their concerns, yet it’s unlikely that even this first step will be taken any time soon. Young single men prefer to remain silent and invent nonexistent girlfriends. They also tend to be marginal in the main areas of discourse creation, like print and online journalism, TV, film, and radio production, book writing, etc. Leaf through any magazine, and you’ll probably see more stuff about the problems of single women.

So this imbalance will likely continue to be addressed at the individual level through individual strategies.