All the Single Ladies

Which group has it worse when trying to find somebody to marry? Men or women? My wife says single women have it harder. I’ve been inclined to think the men do.

“But I know plenty of marriageable men/women and they can’t find woman/man,” we can both say.

This article doesn’t address the Christian context, but I suspect that simply narrows both pools by about the same amount, leaving the basics the same as discussed in the article. I was already familiar with differing priorities between men and women, obviously, and I had thought some about the education and income “problems.”

What I found most interesting, though, was the discussion of essentially supply and demand affecting the compromises that men and women are willing to make. It makes sense once you consider it.

On colleges with more men than women, such as Caltech, steady relationships are more widespread. Students go on dates, and men demonstrate commitment in partnerships. Men are more willing to do what women want in order to be with them. On the other hand, when there is a surplus of women relative to men, women are more likely to adapt to men’s preferences. They compete with one another to be what men want. And this is what we see on campuses with more female students relative to male students. On colleges with more women than men, such as Sarah Lawrence, casual sex is more widespread. Hookup culture is more prevalent, and men are less interested in entering committed relationships. Women are more willing to do what men want in order to be with them.

Another interesting tidbit:

Interestingly, the sex difference in the male preference for casual sex and sexual variety is more pronounced in more gender-egalitarian societies.

Video games are also mentioned:

For now, many young men understand that women want educated and successful partners. Why not work harder to adapt to this preference? In their book, The Demise of Guys , psychologists Philip Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan suggest that the answer is twofold: fake war and fake sex. They argue that many young men have a natural desire for conflict, struggle, and accomplishment. Video games satiate this desire.

And from the conclusion:

There are far more educated women than educated men. Women generally prefer men who are at least as successful as themselves. This pool of men is small, and continues to shrink. And among couples in which the woman has more education, they tend to prefer men who earn more than themselves. But the reality is that fewer young men are graduating from college compared to women, fewer men are employed, and fewer men are seeking employment. In such an environment, hookup culture becomes more widespread, which women tend not to enjoy as much as men. The romantic landscape is rosy for educated and successful men, who are more open to dating both successful and less successful women. But for women, the situation doesn’t look as favorable. Research suggests in such an environment, sexual competition between women intensifies. In fact, a recent study found that the proliferation of “sexy selfies” may be due in part to economic inequality, as women compete to earn the attention of a shrinking pool of economically successful men…

The good news, though, is that among romantic pairings in which both individuals are educated, they tend to be happier. Their divorce rates are lower and their satisfaction with their marriages is higher. But as the incentives continue to shift, monogamous expectations dwindle, and imbalanced ratios continue to influence the dating pool for the educated, we may see fewer such couplings.

What say you? An open and shut answer to the disagreement I’ve had with my wife?


(This post is a broad brush, and I’m speaking in terms of society as a whole and not limiting these patterns to the Church or Reformed subculture).

Harder to find someone “marriage material” and harder to date in general are two different things.

An average-looking and average-all-around woman can join a given dating site and have her inbox filled with men ready to ask her out within a few hours. This experience is foreign to most men.

However, women have higher standards overall than men, making it more difficult for women to find a man she wants to marry, but not “a man.” The average man is easier to satisfy than the average woman, but the average woman is interested in the above-average man, not the average man.

That being said, the top percentile of men have it easiest in both respects (finding “marriage material” and dating in general) than any other demographic including top percentile women. The highest tier men have their pick of the high-tier and above-average women while high-tier women have to compete with each other for the smaller group of men “above” them (women marry “across and up”; men have less issue marrying “down”).

So my ranking for having it easiest to having it hardest to date in general would be something like…

  1. Top-tier men
  2. Top-tier women
  3. Above-average women
  4. Average women
  5. Above-average men (4 and 5 are pretty close)
  6. Below average women
  7. Below average men.

…while finding a spouse who is attractive and satisfying is almost too close to call for both sexes but for different reasons.

For what it’s worth, I’m 24 and unmarried with a girlfriend.

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Perhaps we could better frame this discussion by looking at the makeup of the Christian singles’ community. Your mileage in the Reformed community may vary, slightly, but if we can identify the makeup of the singles’ community - what are the distinguishing features for men and women in that community, as they do vary; we can then answer the question as to who finds it the more difficult - and why.

My own observation is that with the single men, there were relatively fewer professionals and relatively more “regular guys”; for single women, there were more professional women/careerists, who would marry “the right man” (if they could find such). But they were quite clear (and I think rightly) that they did not want to end up in a bad marriage, however defined. I have seen several Christian women over the years marry men who weren’t Christians; I have only once seen a Christian man choose to end up with a woman who wasn’t a Christian.

[Edited for clarity]

True, but you can’t do one without doing the other first. So you’ve got to pass through the gauntlet somehow.

Now that I am older and have teenage daughters, I think I have been able to come to a more balanced perspective.

When it comes to generating interest in the opposite sex, young women have a tremendous advantage because youth is the largest contributing factor to beauty. Of course, average young women receive less attention than more attractive young women, but it’s still much more than average men receive. Women mostly seem to be unaware of this advantage, leading them to complain that they become invisible when they turn 40, not realizing that being invisible is the natural state for most men. If we were able to set up a Christian matchmaking service, I think there is no doubt that a 22-year-old woman looking for a marriage partner would receive many more offers of interest than would a 22-year-old man. This severe lopsidedness generates bitterness in many young single Christian men.

Although it might seem very advantageous to receive a lot of attention from the opposite sex, the reality is that attention is only useful when it comes from someone who might be a suitable marriage partner, and the rest is noise, or worse. Men seem to be mostly unaware of this aspect. Furthermore, studies show that women find a smaller fraction of men attractive than men find women attractive, so this limits their options in finding a partner. Even though a 22-year-old woman is likely to receive many more offers of interest than a 22-year-old man, this doesn’t necessarily mean she is more likely to receive an offer of interest from a man she would want to marry.

The tremendous advantage that men have is that they have the potential to increase their attractiveness as a marriage partner over time. It is very likely that a man will be more attractive to women at age 32 than age 22, or even age 42 than 32. This is not so for women. Setting aside very exceptional circumstances, there is nothing a woman can do to make herself more attractive as a marriage partner at age 32 than age 22, and this is even more so the case for age 42 than age 32. This severe lopsidedness generates bitterness in many older single Christian women.

Who has it worst, men or women? I’d say both. Secular society discourages women from marrying at a younger age, and the church doesn’t do much to counteract this. And although there will be an unmarried man out there for every unmarried woman, a man who might have married a woman when she was 20-something might decide it is not worthwhile to marry her when she is 30-something. After all, if one purpose of marriage is raising godly seed, why bother getting married to a woman if she has wasted one of her primary assets by not getting serious about marriage until she was at the end of her fertility? Another issue is that secular society deemphasizes the role of men as providers and strongly encourages women to advance in careers, so should it be a surprise that many men do not prepare themselves to support a family and many women achieve professional success but find no commensurate man to marry?

Who has more advantage, men or women? I’d say it depends. I’ve never heard a woman in her early 20s complain about the lack of good men, so I think that any woman who takes necessary steps to make marriage happen at a young age will typically have an easier time doing so than a man. But men have the luxury of time, so when it comes to mistakes and lack of direction in life, men can more easily ameliorate the consequences.


One encouraging note on this: my wife and I were taking a tour of New Saint Andrews in Idaho and president of the college Dr. Merkle mentioned that he hopes his daughter doesn’t go to NSA or any other college because he hopes she is married at 18. We need more who think like that.

Nevertheless, NSA has 28% more female undergrad students than male.

But what if you don’t know anyone when you’re 18 so there’s no one to marry at 18? I’d like to get married some day but I don’t know very many boys and the ones I do know I wouldn’t marry.

Yeah, I’m not sure that not getting a college education is a good way to solve the problem. Getting married early? Yes. Not going into debt for college? Yes. Finishing high school and then just waiting around until somebody wants to marry you? No. Looking for somebody at college, and choosing your college intentionally with that goal? Sure.

Asking your parents to arrange a marriage for you? I’d say that could be viable, too.


Historically, age 18 is a very young age for marriage for northwestern Europe and downstream societies. I think 22 is more reasonable as an age to start getting serious.

I don’t think the comment was made in this spirit, but more in a spirit of it would be great if we could arrange the highschool lives of our young ones to produce viable, long-term serious marriages.
Given these 2 scenarios, which would I prefer?

  1. My daughter can read classical latin and do calculus at the end of highschool and meets a nice young man who can do the same, they get married.
  2. That same girl went to 4 years of NSA and got a degree in classics and finally met a man to marry at the end of it.

I think I’d prefer the former, if at all possible. But the question around this is not “what if it happens to happen”, but rather, “how should we order our society?”

Given that 18-22 are prime fertile years, and for the vast majority of conservative women, the degree turns out to not be that helpful, I’d push for the former kind of society. Note what I am not saying is that women shouldn’t go to college. If they are unable to find a godly spouse, in even such an environment, that may very well be the best option.

Regarding percent of NSA undergrads that are women…

I wouldn’t be surprised if this was a problem in most Christian colleges, just like it is in secular ones. In fact, I wonder if it isn’t more pronounced, given that Christian schools are private and thus generally higher-quality academics?

Taylor: 21% more women undergrads
Wheaton: 23%
Covenant: 14%
Cedarville: 25%
Bob Jones: 20%
New Saint Andrews: 28%

Hillsdale stands out here as a good academic private school (wanting to become explicitly Christian?) with 2% more men than women in their undergrad program.

Ohio State, as an example of a simple state school, has 1% more men. University of Michigan has 5% more women.

But across the board in the US, apparently it was 38% more women than men in undergrad programs.

Conclusion: going to a Christian school as a woman might not be as good a bet for finding a man as you would assume. And that’s ignoring the type of Christian man that you might find dominating at such schools, a separate but not unrelated topic.

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We know a couple families with children who went to Providence Christian College, which has 56% more men than women. That’s unusual for a liberal arts college, and I don’t know why.

Otherwise, the best bet is at a college with a strong focus on science and engineering.

I think we’d need to be expecting quite a bit more of both young men and women from 13-18 if we wanted women to be ready to marry by 18. It’s probably safe to assume average age of man would still be older by a couple years.

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I don’t doubt that as a church community we could be much more intentional at working with older teenagers to get them to the point that they could marry if a good match came along. But the side-effect of this is then, what to do with the people who don’t make it - never mind the singles who haven’t made it to marriage, for whatever reason.

Years ago I knew one women whose descent into religious feminism was triggered in a fairly conservative Christian environment. The men she knew wanted a woman of character, which she was - but they didn’t want that woman of character to weigh 200-plus pounds, which she did - so you can guess what happened, or didn’t happen, next.

I don’t think that preparing kids for marriage is anything more than expecting them to grow up and be mature and responsible at its core. Yes, training them to want marriage is also part of it, but my point is that everybody is objectively better off for having been under such training and expectations—and that includes those who do not marry or are delayed in marriage (which is inevitable).

The traits that make a person sexually attractive are not necessarily the same traits that make a person a good marriage partner. The world understands this, and I think it is implicitly understood in Scripture, but many churches muddle the two. While I think it is wise to trade off somewhat less sexual attractiveness for somewhat more Christian character when seeking a marriage partner, it is foolish to think that Christian character can substitute for sexual attractiveness. That’s not the way the world works, nor does Scripture indicate otherwise. So whoever was advising this woman led her astray if they taught her that men would, or should, overlook her weight. People with low sexual attractiveness can find a spouse if they are willing to accept someone with similarly low sexual attractiveness – I’ve seen happily married couples who did so. But I guess that this woman preferred to complain rather than get married to a short, balding, low-earning man who nevertheless had a heart for the Lord.

Men and women can both generally speaking improve their sexual/marriageable attractiveness. I don’t know that churches are doing a great job at this, but I think it’s safe to say that they are doing a better job at it than the world is right now.

The place I’m getting stuck here is “Why would a woman go to college?” College is, like most things, partly an economic decision and I just don’t see ROI in many cases. Even if a woman winds up not getting married, being a single woman isn’t terribly expensive and can be supported by lots of jobs that don’t require a degree. I can see a case if a woman wants to be a nurse, and maybe there are other cases too, but a degree in “miscellaneous” seems to me to be a ridiculous affectation for a woman in 2023.

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I think this is most likely the path forward for a healthier society in the future, but I must admit I come from a scientific background and am recovering from 10 years ago wanting all my daughters to get a masters in physics at a minimum.

Aaron Renn says otherwise, at least when it comes to men

Because in certain cases college may be a necessary experience in order for a woman to be a good match to the sort of man who would make the best husband for her. For example, when I was seeking a wife, my preference was for a woman with a postgraduate degree in a liberal arts field. This was not for money or prestige but because a woman without it would be unable to understand and share a large part of my life. I currently have one daughter in college studying to be a nurse, another daughter that I would strongly urge to go to college to improve her marriage prospects, and a third daughter that would be fine not going to college.

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