Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Males, Females, and Ratios

An article from the NY Times about the female:male ratio at the University of North Carolina has been mentioned on at least three blogs on my Google Reader with various opinions about the topic. The article itself is pretty silly but I find the general topic fascinating.

You don't have to have a demographically-verified highly skewed ratio to hear similar complaints to those voiced in the article. Every person I talk to who is single and looking for a partner will eventually say "It sucks being a single (man/woman) in (college/neighborhood/city/greater metro area) because..." In large metropolitan areas on the east coast, single women significantly outnumber single men, so they cite that ratio. In the San Francisco Bay Area, the number of single men is much higher than that of single women, but there are still reasons to complain. "Nothing but nerds and sociopaths" is the best complaint I've ever heard voiced about dating in Silicon Valley from a woman's perspective. (When said by my friend in her charming French accent, it came across as adorable instead of bitter.)

From my male friends, the complaints are usually about the difficulty of getting a woman to give them the time of day, particularly on online dating sites. I love reading OKCupid's analyses of online dating trends, and find it very interesting that the metrics they use to measure "success" in that world are quite different for men and women. Women are successful based on number of new contacts per month. Men are successful based on the ratio of women who respond to them per contact attempt.

Given my gender and experiences, I naturally sympathize more with women's complaints, but cannot argue with the evidence to support complaints from men. After all, only 40 percent of human men who have ever lived got the chance to reproduce, while 80 percent of women have. From the UNC article (emphasis added by me):
Jayne Dallas, a senior studying advertising who was seated across the table, grumbled that the population of male undergraduates was even smaller when you looked at it as a dating pool. “Out of that 40 percent, there are maybe 20 percent that we would consider, and out of those 20, 10 have girlfriends, so all the girls are fighting over that other 10 percent,” she said.

I found the claim that 50% of the men around would even be options quite generous. While running the numbers on the two biggest deal-breakers/filters I applied when dating, these two alone eliminated all but 1 or 2% of men from consideration. For anyone curious those two factors are height (I'm taller than 50% of American men, and cultural pressures and my own insecurity made me very reluctant to consider dating anyone shorter) and intelligence (again, being reluctant to date anyone who could not match wits with me--arguably a less shallow criteria than the height thing although I've come to the conclusion that exceptional intelligence is just as much a matter of hitting the genetic lottery as possessing movie star looks). So yeah, it's tough out there for men too.

I think that the largest frustration I encountered when dating was learning that things that I thought should be advantages (being smart, successful, and independent) turned out to be disadvantages in the dating market as a female. I was commiserating about this with my hairstylist a few years ago when we were both single--she was half-jokingly considering telling men she met that she worked a minimum wage job and had tens of thousands of dollars of debt since most men ran the other direction when they found out that she was a successful business owner who had her life together.

Seeing this site about dating Googlers last week brought this subject to mind again. After going on and on about their dating service and how to verify yourself as a Googler, there's this lovely bit at the end:
Date a Googler welcomes female Googlers looking for men, as well as same sex relationships, but cannot offer the same benefits/dynamics for these groups.

Fantastic. After thinking about this issue for a while, my best theory about why men are turned off by successful women is similar to the reason that I avoid dating short men. I know there are fantastic guys out there who are shorter than I am, but cultural expectations have programmed me to associate femininity with smallness, and masculinity with tallness. If I'm in a relationship with a man shorter than me, I will feel uncomfortable and unfeminine any time we leave the house together--"They're staring at us because I'm a freaking giant over here." But they're probably not even starting at us. Culture puts a lot of expectations on men too. They have to be tall, strong, smart, successful, and able to protect and provide. If they are in a relationship with a woman who doesn't need to be provided for, maybe it feels similar to the way I feel with a shorter guy.

But I am not a guy so I have no clue, that's just my guess. And, hey, I found a great guy who loves how smart I am so everything worked out in the end. At the end of the day it's not about ratios and playing games to make yourself more attractive to a larger percentage of available people of your preferred gender. You only have to find one.


Red said...

I read that as 20% of the male population, so 8% of the total. The way it's phrased, it makes more sense that they're fighting over 10% of the men, not 10% of the overall population.

So that would jive better with your anecdotal evidence.

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