#117 Demographics and How they Effect your Dating Life with Jon Birger
There are real decisions that you're taking everyday – where you study, where you work, where you live, and which communities you hangout in – which heavily influence or even decide whether you are monogamous, or you're polyamorous, you just like hookups, or what you like.
I always find it fascinating how our environments change us, how they craft us. So I for one am very careful with my environment, how it is set up. I'm very careful with these real decisions I'm just talking about where you study, where you work, what you do; who you associate with, who your friends are, and so on. You should be too, because these decisions will influence how easy or how difficult you find your dating life, and how it fits with your goals; whether you want a long-term monogamous relationship or you want to play around and be casual for a fair amount of time. So it's important to understand the implications of decisions you're making across your whole life because these are also impacting your dating and relationships.
For many of you, the reason you are listening to this is because dating and relationships are an important part of your lives. Its something that's important to you to get right, and have it work with you.
Today's guest is the author of Date-onomics: How Dating Became a Lopsided Numbers Game. Our guest is Jon Birger and he's looking at the dating market, really looking at it, from an economics and supply and demand eye to it. Jon Birger is well positioned to do this since he's an award-winning journalist, contributor to Fortune Magazine. His work has also appeared in Barron's, Money Magazine, New York Magazine, Time Magazine, and The Washington Post; and often appearing on television and radio such as ABC's Good Morning America, BBC World Service, CNBC, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and National Public Radio.
Jon, in this interview, he gives us a really interesting and different perspective on the whole game of dating, relationships, and sex. This is definitely something you want to integrate into your thinking. I think it can help you (I think) a bit more long term and strategically about how you’re going to get satisfaction in your life from dating, sex, and relationships; how it's going to work for you. You'll probably be able to identify areas in your life or decisions you've made which were actually working against you. That doesn't mean you need to change them, but being conscious of these things is going to help you.
So enjoy this episode. It's really a great, new perspective that you should take on board.
Specifically, in this episode you'll learn about:
- Jon's background into the demographics of the dating market (04:25)
- The basic thesis / hypothesis of Jon's book (05:57)
- The ratio of men to women in big cities depending on the attractiveness of the job market (08:35)
- More women than men are graduating from college: an expanding trend (10:04)
- Changes in the current college environment regarding dating and relationships (11:43)
- Hookup culture and related trends in the college environment (18:55)
- Objections to Jon's ideas: the pop culture and technology arguments (22:45)
- The likelihood of monogamy among non-college educated men versus working class men (29:54)
- "Dating up" depending on levels of education (32:37)
- Competition and modified behavior among females on college campuses (34:44)
- The downside of the dating culture in the college environment (40:55)
- Do sites promoting affairs play a role in these trends? (41:57)
- Gender ratio imbalances, particularly among college graduates: Asian-American women (43:23)
- Has marriage length / duration and cheating among the college educated affected the quality of marriages and relationships? (48:20)
- Sexual assault ratios on college campuses (51:08)
- How to connect with Jon to learn more about him and his work (54:08)
- Recommendations for high quality advice in dating (54:34)
- Top three recommendations to help men get results as fast as possible in dating, sex, and relationships (55:20)
Items Mentioned in this Episode include:
- Date-onomics: How Dating Became a Lopsided Numbers Game: Jon's book focusing on demographics, statistics, game theory, and number-crunching to show the "man deficit" regarding dating, social issues, and even in education.
- www.dateonomics.com: Jon's website.
- jonbirger1: Jon on Twitter.
- Niche.com: Mentioned while discussing changes in the current college environment, this site is used to explore rankings on thousands of public and private schools and districts across the country.
- From Classmates to Soulmates (Sofus Attila Macskassy): Jon noted this Facebook survey conducted on its married members and where they met their spouses.
- Too Many Women?: The Sex Ratio Question (Marcia Guttentag, Paul F. Secord): This book and research provides an in-depth look at how gender ratios affect marriage rates and behavior.
- ashleymadison.com: This site was referenced as an example regarding whether or not websites promoting affairs play a role in dating culture trends.
- A Facial Attractiveness Account of Gender Asymmetries in Interracial Marriage (Michael B. Lewis): Jon noted this study by Michael B. Lewis, Professor of Cognitive Sciences at Cardiff University's School of Psychology, in reference to the attractiveness of Asian women.
- Agapematch.com: Jon recommends the work and website of matchmaker Maria Avgitidis.
- Evan Marc Katz: Jon also recommends Evan for his work.
- oktrends: Jon recommends oktrends: dating research from OkCupid.
- Geoffrey Miller: Angel noted evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller regarding his interests in demographics. Geoffrey is the featured guest of DSR podcast #67 and DSR podcast #114. He also wrote The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature, and co-authored Mate: Become the Man Women Want with Tucker Max.
Books, Courses and Training from Jon Birger
Full Text Transcript of the Interview
[Angel Donovan]: Jon, thank you so much for joining the show.
[Jon Birger]: You're welcome.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah so, you've put forth this book which has kind of this new big idea about dating, sex and relationships and how it's all working today in modern life. You know, I think what's great about it is you're looking some things that we currently say that effect the dating market. The way men and women are kind of competing for each other and you're kind of turning some of those on its heads. Could you give us a quick background to how you got into this and how you started looking at demographics? What was kind of the event that started you to look at this and start thinking that there's something there?
[Jon Birger]: Sure, well as your question implies, I normally write about much more boring stuff like the stock market or energy or things like that usually for Fortune magazine. But you know over the years, I've noticed (particularly at my last two employers Fortune and Money) that the staffs at both magazines were disproportionately women. Yet, all the guys were married or involved in long term relationships and the women, who from a dating perspective all seemed to have a lot more going for them (which is my way of saying, they were all much better looking than we were).
They had these dating histories and dating stories that just made no sense to me. Either they got asked out on dates at all they claimed or they had guys who mistreated them or cheated on them and I couldn't figure out why it was so much easier for the guys I knew than it was for the women. So, that's the origin of it.
[Angel Donovan]: Great, you were working in New York?
[Jon Birger]: In New York, yes sorry. Yes, in New York.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah, very interesting. I mean, everyone's kind of noticed that. Depending on where you're working in different offices and stuff. So, what would say the basic thesis, the hypothesis of the book is that you're putting forth?
[Jon Birger]: Well I'll say when I started out the research, I actually had a different thought. I assumed this was something unique to big cities like New York or London or Toronto or L.A. and that there's was something about the labor markets in these cities that tended to attract a lot of women. What I discovered was, it's not just a city phenomenon. It's really an everywhere prenominal. So, everywhere in the United States, there are about four women graduating from college for every three men. The numbers are very similar in the UK and it's actually very similar in most western countries where you have 25 to 35% more women than men graduating from college.
This kind of spills over into the post-college dating world in part because, college grads are unlikely to date and eventually marry non-college grads. So, you end up with this dating pool with more women than men and not only does that make it statistically harder for women to find a match but, it changes behavior too.
[Angel Donovan]: Great, great. So is this only affecting people in college and who are college-educated basically? They went to college and then, were there working after college. So, you mentioned a few big cities around the place there. So, New York and places like this, is there actually a demographic change there also or is it just the fact that the demographics of just the college-educated people there are swung toward... you know, has a bias towards more women.
[Jon Birger]: Well like I said, I thought this was a story about big cities like New York but, in the state of Montana which is... I don't know if you're familiar. It's very rural in the western US. The gender ratio imbalance among college grads is bigger in Montana than it is in New York City. So, this imbalance exists everywhere, whether you're in rural states or rural areas or in big cities like New York and London and the flip side exists as well.
So among people in the US, who do not have a college degree, who are age 22 to 29, they're about 9 million single men versus about 7 million single women. So, the working-class guys have it almost as bad as the college-educated women.
[Angel Donovan]: Right, so they're finding it harder because, the women who are college-educated donÕt want to date uneducated... well, not uneducated but, non-college-educated men.
[Jon Birger]: Right basically in the blue-collar world, the women are going off to college and leaving their high school boyfriends behind.
[Angel Donovan]: Right, okay. That makes sense. Maybe people can relate to it that way. Okay great, I think that sets the stage really well. So, it's not really like a specific demographic-only problem. It's interesting because, I've lived a fair number of places and Shanghai was one of those places and we always used to tell each other.
Everyone used to kind of promote this idea that there were just lots, lots more women in Shanghai (which I think is proven in the statistics) but, our idea was just that... because of that, the dating was easier and I think most men who have visited Shanghai can kind of relate to that. I think the reason we thought that was is just there were lots more types of jobs that were relevant to women in that society. So, that might be a completely different. I don't know if you could give your perspective on China or other places?
[Jon Birger]: Certainly there are cities that have job markets that tend to draw on more men or more women. So in the United States, cities like San Jose, California or Austin, Texas or Seattle, Washington, those have big tech industries and as a result, they tend to draw more men. Certainly there are cities like Washington D.C., a lot of the disproportionate number of the young government workers in Washington are women. So certainly, there is some regional variation but, what's really interesting...
I don't know about Shanghai in particular but, what's interesting about China is that even though because of the old "one child' policy in China, you have about 20% more young men than women, you still have 10% more women than men in college in China, which I find fascinating.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah, yeah so, it's a big trend. So how long as this been going on that there's been more women coming out of colleges? Basically, what kind of age-range does it represent today?
[Jon Birger]: The last year in the US that more men than women graduated from college, the last time that happened was in 1981. So, it's been getting progressively worse every year since the early 80s. So last year in US, there were 34% more women than men who graduated from college. The United States' Department of Education, their estimate is that by the year 2023, there will be 47% more women than men graduating from college.
[Angel Donovan]: Wow, wow. So that basically means, anyone kind of under 50 is effected by this trend more or less, 45, 50?
[Jon Birger]: Yeah, I will say that I graduated from college in 1990 and even though that in the 80s there may have been more women than men that the gender imbalance was much milder back then. Maybe the average ratio was 52/48. So, I don't think slight imbalances have... or I know they don't have as profound an impact as a 60/40 gender ratio which means three women for every two men.
[Angel Donovan]: Right, right and so, it's got steadily worse over time hasn't it and do you think it's continuing that trend?
[Jon Birger]: Yeah, it seems to be. Every year, it gets marginally worse.
[Angel Donovan]: Wow.
[Jon Birger]: Like I said, within 10 years the Department of Education thinks we're going to go from 34% more women than men to 47% more women than men.
[Angel Donovan]: Great, great. Now, I found it really interesting some of the stories you have in the book talking about how this has really changed the dynamics at colleges. If we start at colleges, what kinds of things are going on at colleges today, especially in the... because, I understand there's a difference in colleges. Some are more dominated by women. Overall though, they're dominated by women but, there are some that have much more extreme ratios than others. So, maybe we could look at an extreme situation first and kind of understand. Afterwards, like relate how that relayed back... goes across the country?
[Jon Birger]: Yeah, I used two extreme cases as case studies. One of them is California Institute of Technology which is basically the MIT of the west coast. They're in Pasadena, California. Cal Tech (which it's known as Cal Tech) has about 60... it's about 60% male which means, three men for every two women. I did a focus group with about 12 Cal Tech students and they basically told me that there was no hook up culture. In fact, that term wasn't even part of the campus vernacular and that if people got involved, it was always in the context of a relationship. It was also quite...
One young women told me that her... one of the upper classmen who was living in her Freshmen dorm as an advisor. This woman told her not to rush into her first college relationship because, she'll probably end up marrying the guy.
[Angel Donovan]: Wow.
[Jon Birger]: In fact, I did... there does seem to be evidence of a lot of Cal Tech couples that graduate and then, go on and get married. So, this is not uncommon. The most interesting story I heard... when I was there, it happened to be a few weeks after Valentine's Day. I forget. Do you celebrate Valentines Day in the UK?
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, I think it's a global phenomenon these days.
[Jon Birger]: Alright, I wasn't sure. Sometimes, us Americans make holidays into bigger deals than they actually... anyway. So yes, it was a few weeks after ValentineÕs Day and I asked one of the young men, "I'm just curious. What is Valentines Day like at Cal Tech?" Cal Tech has kind of a house system, probably not unlike what a lot of British colleges and universities have in which the students live in the same dorm all four years. So, it's the same group of friends. He told me, "Oh, our house, Lloyd House we have this big Valentines Day tradition," and the tradition was that all the men make hand-crafted Valentines for the girls and then, wake up at the crack of dawn on Valentines Day morning to cook them pancakes.
[Angel Donovan]: Oh my god. That's very unusual.
[Jon Birger]: Very unusual. Although the social science on gender ratios indicates that when men are an oversupply, the whole dating culture becomes more focused on courtship and romance. So while it sounds surprising, it actually fits in perfectly with the social science on how sex ratios effect behavior.
Now, the other extreme is Sarah Lawrence College which is in suburban New York. It used to be an all-women's college but now, it's 75% female, 25% male which means, about three women for every one man. I interviewed several students from Sarah Lawrence and basically what they told me is Sarah Lawrence has one of the most extreme hook up cultures that you can image. One young woman told me that when I asked her if any of the men wanted girlfriends, her response was, "Why would they? It's like they have their own free harem."
[Angel Donovan]: Really?
[Jon Birger]: She said that a guy broke up with one of her best friends after they'd been together maybe three or four days. When he broke up with her, he actually used the word "market." Like the market for him was too good.
I interviewed another guy just to paint a picture here that he did not look like David Beckham or something like that. He kind of looked like a mal-nourished John Lennon circa 1970, you know? I mean, he wasn't a bad looking guy but, he was kind of a mess. I'm just trying to express that he was no like heart-throb.
He was telling me these stories about his dating life that seemed rather extraordinary and at one point, I stopped him and I asked him, "I'm just curious, of just current circle of female friends, how many of them have you had sex with?" and this his current friends. Without even doing a head-count, he said, "Oh, at least 20," and he could tell I had a little bit of a reaction to that.
Then he tried to add a disclaimer. He said, "Well I should just tell you, that includes some threesomes and foursomes. ÒSo, you could really see and he knew what was going on. He actually told that because of the gender ratio at Sarah Lawrence, there wasn't a culture of monogamy or even dating and his quote to me was, "Sometimes, it feels like you can have anyone you want."
Then in the book... if you want to talk about less extreme examples, in the book I have a table in the appendix in which I rank 35 major public and private universities by their sex ratios and then, I pair that with studentsÕ own comments about dating life at these colleges and those comments come from http://www.Niche.com which is student-authored college review website. It's just clear how strong the correlation is.
So at Georgia Tech which is about 65% male, the comment was, "Tech is a fairly monogamous campus and people like to be in relationships." At Boston University which is 62% female or three women for every two men, the comment was, "Freshmen year is a sexual explosion. There are girls to go around and around again." Even at Balor University which is a Christian, it's a Methodist University in Texas.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah, that's interesting, Jon.
[Jon Birger]: Not where you'd expect to have a wild social scene. The comment on http://www.Niche.com was, "The same girls that run in the social hookup circles on Friday night are taking you to church with them on Sunday. The guys practice the requisite Christian business principles but, blow through the Balor Babes that are an endless supply." So, you can really see how these gender ratios effect not only the odds for women finding a boyfriend but, effect behavior.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah, and I found it really interesting that you said that the guy's behavior changed in accordance with this too because, I put it back on myself. Like I've gone through monogamous to polyamorous and then, backward and forth over time and now that you're saying this I'm wondering, ÒIs it related to where I was living at the time?" You know or it could be something related like that. So, it's another interesting dimension to look at, your own motivations and goals at any one time, I think.
So, we've talked about some of the popular colleges to get people an idea how this works out. I mean a lot of people, we've talked about hookup culture in colleges before and that this is something that is more common. Do you think there are other trends related to this and also, I was interested in a college campus in New York where the women were more active and it wasn't monogamous? Is that also potentially a virus of the topics that are studied there or do you think that's not relevant?
[Jon Birger]: Well, I don't think what they're studying is effecting social life or sexual behavior but, as with cities, certain schools do tend to attract more women versus more men. So, it's not a coincidence that Cal Tech has more men or that New York University which is a big liberal arts school has more women.
[Angel Donovan]: Just for the guys at home, does it make a difference which subject you study as a potential factor here. Like you say, if you're going to study arts and you're going to go to an arts college, then it's more likely that the ratios are skewed towards women versus men. If you're going to study tech and IT, it's probably the other way.
[Jon Birger]: Yeah exactly, yeah. So the school's that are very liberal arts focused tend to have more women. The schools that have larger engineering or science or math programs tend to have more men. Although, more men is relative.
So, there's a school in suburban Boston, Tuffs University which is 50/50. Now, Tuffs is 50/50 because, it has a big engineering school but, you have to put this in a context of the average US college is about 58% or 57% female. So, 50/50 is actually a very good gender ratio for women as opposed to one that's just okay. A school that's 50/50 is one that actually relatively speaking has disproportionate numbers of men.
[Angel Donovan]: Why is that?
[Jon Birger]: Because... so, the average college in the US is 58 or 57% female. So, a school that's 50% male is actually one that has relatively more men than the average.
[Angel Donovan]: Oh, right. Just because where it's all skewed now.
[Jon Birger]: Right.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah, although a little over that but in terms... I mean, did you look at any 50/50 examples to see what they're dating culture was like there?
[Jon Birger]: Yeah. Tuffs University is a good example. Again, they're in suburban Boston. The comment on http://www.Niche.com was, "Half way through Sophomore year, people begin to pair off and generally stay paired off through Junior and Senior year."
Another one that's 50/50 that a college here in the US that we all think of being a big party school, University of Miami. The comment there... again it's about 50/50. The comment there was, "Random hookup are common in the beginning but, after a few months or a year, relationships take over."
So, you can see that the schools that have some gender balance, while yeah casual sex is nothing new in college, it does tend to taper off a little bit because of the balance. Whereas the schools like NYU or Sarah Lawrence of University of Georgia that are hugely disproportionately female, the hook up culture runs all the way through college.
Actually what's interesting is a couple of years ago, Facebook did a study on its married members and where they met their spouse and what they found is that the men who were most likely to have met their wives in college did not attend the schools with the most women. They attended schools that were disproportionately male which sounds counter-intuitive but in fact, it makes perfect sense because, if they had gone to a school that was 60% female, settling down would have been the last thing on their mind.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah, it does make sense when you put it like that. It kind of turns it on its head. So, what kind of objections to you get from people to these ideas.
[Jon Birger]: There are two things I hear a lot. One (and we can talk about this) is that I'm not paying enough attention to the impact of technology, of online or of apps like Tinder. The other one I hear is that this is really a story about pop culture or our changing values in society and that's why young people are more sexually active, not gender ratios. A rebuttal to both of those... you tell me where you want to start with that.
[Angel Donovan]: I think coming from my perspective, (we've spoken about this before on the show) I think there's something to the pop culture the media has changed over time but, it'd be interesting to hear what your perspective is on that. I mean, you brought up some interesting historic examples before.
[Jon Birger]: Yeah, so let's talk about... I have two thoughts on the pop culture argument. One, I have 15-year-old twins and as a parent of teenagers and I think most parents and certainly nearly all neuroscientists would tell you that teenagers are much more susceptible to outside influence, be it peer-pressure or cultural influences than mature adults. I think that's a pretty commonly held accepted belief, right?
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah, absolutely.
[Jon Birger]: Okay so, think about that and just park that concept in your brain for a minute and then, I'm going share some data with you. So, the US Centers for Disease Control does studies on or releases data or does studies and surveys on teen sexuality, on what percentage of teenagers age 15 to I think 18 are sexually active. What's fascinating is the percentage of teens who are sexually is lower today in the United States than it was 30 years ago in the height of the AIDs crisis.
So what's clear is that, if Hollywood is trying to promote promiscuity, based upon what teenagers are doing, Hollywood is going a terrible job at this because, teens are actually having less sex than they've had in 30 years but, something is happening once the kids go to college. There have been reports released that by government... like the state of Rhode Island here in the US released a report indicating that sexually transmitted disease rates were going through the roof and they blame this on, they claim the college kids were most susceptible to this. So, it's clear that the college kids are having a lot more sex but, the high school kids are having less sex which tells me, this is not about pop culture.
Then the other thing I point out is that I have a chapter in the book that focuses on conservative religious groups, ultra-orthodox Jews here in the US (and actually abroad as well) and Mormons in Utah. In both of those communities, for reasons that are different from the college explanation, there is an over supply of women in among marriage-aged people, among both Mormons and ultra-orthodox Jews. In both cases, that over supply has lead to a more sexualized dating culture. You'll have to trust me when I tell you that ultra-orthodox Jews are not swiping right or left on Tinder and Mormons in Utah are not spending a lot of time watching rap videos.
[Angel Donovan]: Okay, this is some interesting things. So on Tinder, I'm guessing your view is just that Tinder is just an enabler. It's not really the cause of anything here. If anything, it's still like basically an artifact. It's just showing something that would go on anyway, making it possibly a little bit easier. Is that the way you view Tinder?
[Jon Birger]: Yeah, I think it's a symptom, not a cause. So, Tinder is what? I think three years old, maybe four years old. The hook up culture existed prior to four years ago and this notion that Vanity Fair put out there that the entire hook culture is a by-product of Tinder, it just really makes no sense because, what's going on today is not really any different than what was happening in 2008 or 2009.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah.
[Jon Birger]: That's one argument. The other is... and you and I were talking off air about this earlier is that there's a very long, very silly history of people blaming some new technology on young people having more sex. The classic example of this is the 1920s when the moralists of the era tended to blame the automobile for a more sexualized, more permissive dating culture. In fact, the story of the 1920s was almost entirely a story of gender ratios. You had about 10 million young men who died in World War I, another 20 million or so who were injured, many of them grievously. So, you had a major under supply of men back then and that is why the sexual culture in the 1920s was so much more permissive.
[Angel Donovan]: Right and then, it adjusted back over time?
[Jon Birger]: Yeah.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah, it's really interesting those historic examples. Also going like back... because, it kind of goes up and down. We heard you use the kind of the 70s, the flower age where it was more promiscuous again. I don't know you know any data on that?
[Jon Birger]: Yeah, that too is a by-product of demographics. So back then in the 60s and 70s, there was a traditional age-gap in marriage. You have men marrying women three, four, five years their junior, age-wise. So, I want you to think about that age-gap in the context of the baby boom. Think about how relatively few men were born before the end of World War II in 1941, 42, 43 and 44 versus how many more women were born after World War II in 1946, 47 and 48.
Then fast-forward 20 years and you end up in the mid- and late-1960s in a dating market that had about 20% more marriage-age women than men because of the age-gap at marriage. That is why we had the sexual revolution in the 1960s because, of the oversupply of women.
[Angel Donovan]: It's very interesting. That's the first time I've ever heard that. So, did you find references to that elsewhere or is it...?
[Jon Birger]: Yeah, this isn't my argument. I mean, I didn't come up with this. This was a research done by Marsha Guetta who was a psychology professor at Harvard University. She wrote a book that was published posthumously and actually finished by her second husband. The book is titled Too Many Women. It's an incredibly interesting in-depth look at how gender ratios effect marriage rates and effect behavior and her research goes all the way back to ancient Greece. It's not just contemporary.
[Angel Donovan]: Great, thanks for that. It's interesting about... so, according to the trends you've been describing, right now for non-college-educated guys, they're more likely to be more monogamous inclined and more interested in marriages because of the situation they're in?
[Jon Birger]: Yeah, the working-class guys are in a really challenging data market. So among working-class people men and women in their 20s, about 30% of the women are married but, only about 20% of the men are married which kind of shows how the numbers game plays out in which the women have more leverage. It's actually not just... it actually has an economic impact too because, if you look at the earnings of men in their 20s without a college degree, the ones who are fully employed and married earn 20% more than the ones who are fully employed and not married which really goes to show how much economic bargaining-power the working-class women have when it comes to choosing a spouse.
[Angel Donovan]: Wow, yeah that's very interesting
[Jon Birger]: Having lived in Shanghai, I'm sure you see this as well. It's kind of known that in China, a middle-class male bachelor has to own his own apartment and have his own car if he wants to find a wife. There was a great story I read in Bloomberg, on Bloomberg News a couple months ago that quoted a young husband who was about to have his first child and he told the reporter that he hopes he has a girl because, having boys is too expensive because, there's all this pressure on the parents of boys to help the young men to pay for apartment and pay for cars so they can get married.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah, in China you see also the guys with a lot of money, they tend to have a lot of mistresses. So when I was there, I felt potentially that was part of the culture because, China's got this history of having mistresses and so on, concubines. I think this presents in a different light also because, you're looking at different demographics right and you've segmented off college-educated here but, in China there's very, very few rich people. It's getting more normalized now but, as you go further back that it really was very extreme, so few people at the top and the rest are all on the bottom level. So, would you say that plays out to the same degree? Like there's 10 rich guys here and it's just really uneven. It's a very pyramid able society. It's going to be more like that?
[Jon Birger]: I think some of what you're talking about will always exist regardless of the gender ratio. So, the billionaire man will always have lots of options with women. Whereas the women who look like Gisele will always have plenty of male suitors. That's going to be the case regardless of the gender ratio.
[Angel Donovan]: Great, great. So, I was wondering if this is actually worse for after college because, we discussed previously how women will tend to date up, right? So, you've got a pretty Gisele and she's a non-college-educated but, there's a fair number of college-educated guys which, as I understand it would be okay with marrying a girl who's non-college-educated. Whereas with the women, it seems like they don't like to do that.
[Jon Birger]: I'm not sure. If we had talked 50 years ago, that would have been the case but, I think that would have just more reflected the fact that very few women were going to college 50 years ago. So, the college-educated men kind of like had no choice but, to expand their dating pool to include non-educated women. But actually if you look at the studies that have been done here in the US at least on what sociologist call "assortative mating", (which is basically what we're talking about here that college grads sticking with other college grads) it's actually the men who have become more rigid over the past 50 years about not marrying women who lack education.
What you might call this classism in dating or this rigidity when it comes to willingness to expand your dating pool, it just doesn't penalize men in the same way because, the supply of college-educated women is so vast that being closed-minded and refusing to consider dating a woman who doesn't have a degree, it just doesn't impact the man in the same way. But, a woman who is unwilling to date across educational lines so to speak, it has a much bigger impact on her because, there are four of her for every three of the educated man. Not only does that make it harder by the numbers to find somebody but, it kind gives the man way too much leverage and encourages them to play the field.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah, okay great. I wanted move a little on to what kind of competition you've seen basically in these... how you've seen modified behavior, say in the campuses where they have these ratios. I guess it's easier to talk about the campuses versus the work situations in cities like New York. Have you seen increased competition between females? Have you seen changes in behavior beyond the fact that they're just hooking up?
[Jon Birger]: Yeah, the college campuses are good examples because, they're kind of like self-contained dating pools where the students tend to only date each other. Not always but, that's in general. One of the Sarah Lawrence women I interviewed did tell me that she felt like a lot of women just were acting like idiots around the guys and this had to do with competition.
Now, there's a little bit of chicken and then the egg element to this. Like, I don't know if when a 19-year-old young woman shows up on a college campus like Sarah Lawrence which is 75% female or a college campus like University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill which is 60% female... I don't know if she's doing like some math in their head and saying, "You know what? I have to be more aggressive because, there are fewer men and more women." I suspect it's more of a kind of a "when in Rome" phenomena that they are arriving... they're showing up into a culture that's already very sexualized in which women are competing for men and they're kind of just going with the flow. I have to admit; this is one thing I never really got a firm handle on. I don't know whether behavior is conscious or subconscious or some mix of the two.
[Angel Donovan]: I mean, it sounds like some of them are conscious about it but, I find in most things that are dating, most people are unconscious about it. They're just going on about it and then, there's a select few and you've got examples you know where people were actually talking about the market and things like that when they become conscious of it.
So, it's interesting that it might be just that there's this culture that's formed about this demographic bias. So, maybe there'd be some kind of lag there. You know, so if you adjusted the ratio to 50/50 tomorrow, maybe it would take a little while to reset or do you think it would be?
[Jon Birger]: Yeah, I think so but, you know it wasn't just in colleges. I mean, I did interview men in New York who commented on how competitive women were with each other and how quick they were to put other women down and some of these men were kind of exploiting that to their advantage.
[Angel Donovan]: Some of the men were exploiting that to their advantage?
[Jon Birger]: Yes, I had this one guy tell me that his... this guy was a real player and he told me that his favorite activity for a first date was to go an outdoor bar or cafe and engage in some ill-natured people watching with his date and he was say things like, "Oh, look at the dress she's wearing." You know, some woman would walk by and he'd comment on how terrible the dress was or how awful her shoes were or how slutty the blouse was, something like that. He said that by doing this and by putting down other women who were walking by, it created this instant rapport with his date. In his mind, it made her more into him.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah, I could see that totally working. I've heard the exact opposite from dates in Los Angeles where they'll see guys watching girls going past and they complain that that's something that happen regularly on dates.
[Jon Birger]: Right but, what he's doing...
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah, he's doing the opposite. He's playing to advantage. He's saying, "Oh look. That's horrible. Those girls, I'd would never be interested in those."
Yeah, so we've spoken about intra-sexual competition where women put each other down in order to compete for the men. How about things like plastic surgery or just like dressing up and being more willing to preform different sex acts with guys. Is there that kind of stuff going on as well?
[Jon Birger]: In that book I referenced, Too Many Women by the late Harvard professor Marsha Gutting, she sites clinical sex surveys which indicate when gender ratios skew female, (in other words, when there are more women than men) everybody actually has better sex, both married people and single people and there's more sexual experimentation, more foreplay and people have more sex and longer sex as well. So clearly, there's some correlation here between prevailing sexually morays and sexual practices and sex ratios.
In terms of plastic surgery, you know one of my more interesting findings... I mentioned to you that I looked at a couple different very conservative religious groups, one of them being Mormons in the state of Utah. I don't know how familiar people are with Mormons in the UK but, they're very conservative. They get married young and have a lots of kids but, one of my surprising findings was that Salt Lake City, Utah there's a website that's kind of the leading review sites for plastic surgeons and plastic surgery. This website did a survey and they found that Salt Lake City actually lead the nation in breast implants on a per capita basis.
Salt Lake City also has about three times as many plastic surgeons per capita as other US cities and we hear stories about Mormon women feeling pressure to have breast implants or have other kinds of plastic surgery. I had talked to one surgeon who told me that he had college-age women coming in for Botox treatment. So, clearly these gender ratios do put pressure on women to appear more marriageable and to keep up appearances.
[Angel Donovan]: That's a great example. It certainly goes completely against the stereotypes you have of Mormons.
[Jon Birger]: Yep.
[Angel Donovan]: It sounds like demographics can overpower most things. Like if it's overpowering Mormons who tend to be more rigid in these kind of areas.
[Jon Birger]: That was why I wrote the chapter because, I figured if I could show that demographics effect Mormons, I figure people would buy the argument for New York City better or more.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah, yeah, it's a great, great example. It sounds like it's quite positive for college-educated men in a number of places whether they're working in New York or at that college in these schools. Is there any downside for men in these places whether be in terms of relationships or like any dating downside for a guy being in this place?
[Jon Birger]: Well, for a guy who is... you know, I'm saying all men are into hook ups and all women want to get married. I'm not trying to be the morality police and I'm assuming that monogamy is the best lifestyle choice but certainly, there are some men who are marriage-minded and who are inclined towards monogamy and it could be harder for them to find a woman who wants to settle down if they're part of a dating culture that is not monogamy focused.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah, yeah, yeah that makes sense because, people tend to be swayed by the people around them in terms of their activity and if everyone's hooking up, I could see more cheating going on for people in monogamous situations. What do you think of you know sites like the affairs websites at the moment? Do you think they play into these trends in places like New York or anything?
[Jon Birger]: You mean like http://www.AshleyMadison.com and things like that?
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah.
[Jon Birger]: Yeah, I was at a... like a couple years ago, the online dating industry actually has a trade group and I was at their conference a couple years ago and the Ashley Madison folks were there and while they didn't admit it, I really got the sense that there were very few women on http://www.AshleyMadison.com and it was really more of a business venture than and actual hookup site because, obviously if you don't really any women signed up, it's kind of hard to cheat. So, I'm not sure about that one.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah, that's interesting because, there's stats and it's in the news and so on but, I have the same feeling as you. I feel like, it's a very, very distorted ratio and it's male heavy. There's some other sites like that in Asia. That's why I know a little bit about that and at one point, I was actually talking to them about business and I got the idea that there really weren't very many women at all on these sites and it was mostly about getting guys to sign up in order to pay and then you know, there's a few girls in there but, it's too late. You paid.
[Jon Birger]: Right, it's kind of like the sex talk phone lines. You know, the guys call up thinking they're talking to somebody real but, they aren't.
[Angel Donovan]: Absolutely, yeah and you probably got paid people chatting. I don't know how dodgy it is but, it just looks a little bit... I don't know if http://www.AshleyMadison.com has any of the other's business practices. There's another interesting thing about Asian women and American women and how this might be a little bit different for them in the working age.
[Jon Birger]: Yeah, after I wrote the chapter about the religious groups, I began thinking about, "Well, what other groups have gender imbalances or gender ratio imbalances particularly among college grads." In the United States, Asian-Americans are about twice as likely to be college-educated as the norm. I figure, well given that Asians are disproportionately college-educated, Asian-American women must be disproportionately effected by what I call "the man deficit" or this college gender-gap.
So, I began looking at the numbers and it turned out that I was 100% wrong. Asian-American women are basically immune to what I call "the man deficit." I think, according to the US Census that 88% of Asian-American women age 30 to 34 either are married or had been married versus 77% for white women, 73% for Hispanic women, 46% for black women. But what was interesting is that 30 years prior, the numbers were reversed and the Asian-American women actually had below average marriage rates but, something clearly happened in the 90s perhaps that changed their marriage prospects.
I had a conversation with a friend of mind, a woman who is half Chinese and she said, "Oh definitely. When I was in high school, nobody wanted to date the Asian girl but after college, we suddenly became more popular." For her, the cultural touchstone for this was an episode of the TV show Seinfeld in which Jerry was going out on a blind date with a woman who he thought was Asian, Donna Chang. The punchline was that she wasn't Asian but, he was so excited about going out with an Asian and for my friend, this was kind of a big turning point.
[Angel Donovan]: Right, right. I mean, it gets in the US right because over time, bias against ethnicities has been worked out of the system, right? Whereas it used to be stronger when Asians migrated a few decades. It hasn't been that long they've been there but overtime, that kind of works itself out and they just become part of the dating pool. Then you could maybe base it down to that in general, a white guy is more attracted to an Asian girl just biologically. Having to raise that social...
[Jon Birger]: One dating coach I interviewed told me that nowadays a classism is a bigger problem in dating than racism and I think that's probably right. So when it comes to the Asian women, it's not that the playing field is leveled but, kind of as you alluded to, there does seem to be some extra advantage that Asian have. There was actually a study out of the UK by Michael Lewis who's a professor of cognitive sciences at Cartridge University and he did a study which he interviewed men of all races and he found that men in general did in fact perceive Asian women as most attractive.
[Angel Donovan]: If I remember correctly, I don't know if you saw this OkCupid trends blog. They do all that analysis on their data. I think they had the same thing pointed out as well.
[Jon Birger]: Yep and that's in the book as well. So, the OkCupid folks found the same thing and what was so fascinating about the OkCupid study is that it even held true for lesbians. Asian lesbians when they sent out messages to other lesbians had a higher message response rate than lesbians of other races.
[Angel Donovan]: It's interesting because, you can't just put it down to biological diversity right because then, it would be also related to African ethnicity as well but, you don't see that. So, it's kind of interesting. The other thing that evolutionists often talk about is scarcity, right? So if there were less Asian women, I don't know if that's true. I don't think that is true in the US these days in most places. Is that something you looked at?
[Jon Birger]: I did look at the why part of it but, the more I dug into the why, the more I felt like that was just going to get me into trouble because, some of the studies, while they kind of have a sheen of science about them, they kind of boil down to these like crass stereotypes about body type and things like that and there maybe something to it. I just didn't... for me, for my purposes, the why didn't really matter. For my purposes, all that mattered is that Asian women actually do have an advantage in the dating market but, the why part, it was just going to get me into trouble and it didn't matter.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah so from a guy's perspective, it means that chasing Asian women's probably going to be harder than chasing white women overall, all things equal.
[Jon Birger]: Yes, definitely, yeah.
[Angel Donovan]: So, that's the takeaway there?
[Jon Birger]: Yeah.
[Angel Donovan]: Okay so, there was one other area that I was interested that this has impacted and you've seen this is like marriage length and duration and cheating in places like NYC or others where amongst the college-educated, has it effected marriages and relationship quality and relationship duration?
[Jon Birger]: Yes and I actually have some great data for this. So as I mentioned earlier, there's one part of the US where the dating demographics are essentially the opposite of what you find in New York and that's Silicon Valley or the San Francisco Bay area, Santa Clara County which is basically geographically overlaps with Silicon Valley. What's interesting is if you look at marriage data for Silicon Valley and in Silicon Valley there's about 30% more single, marriage-aged, college-educated men than women. So it's basically the reverse of New York.
[Angel Donovan]: I've spoken to a lot of men who complain about that Silicon Valley.
[Jon Birger]: So let me share something with you. So among college-educated women age 30 to 39 in Silicon Valley, 78% of the women are married versus 69% nationally and 41% in Manhattan, in New York. But getting to your question, in that same age-group, college-grad women age 30-39, 4% of those Silicon Valley women are divorced or separated versus 9% nationally. So, you can really see how the shortage of women out there makes the marriages more stable.
[Angel Donovan]: Do you know what the divorce statistic is in New York?
[Jon Birger]: About the national average, it was about 9% but by, I think part of the problem with looking at divorce... like, I'm more interested in the concept of monogamy than marriage and because, everybody in New York is delaying marriage and people are getting married much later because, everybody's playing the field, the divorce statistics are I think a little bit...
[Angel Donovan]: ...it's a bit early?
[Jon Birger]: Yeah because, it's a much smaller share. So, if only 41% of people in Manhattan age 30-39 are married versus 69% nationally, that means there's less opportunity for divorce or separation. So, there will be fewer people who will show up as a divorce data point. Does that make sense?
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah, yeah. That makes perfect sense.
[Jon Birger]: If there were some way, if the US Census Bureau asked people about monogamy, I think it would show what you're suggesting that monogamy is more challenged in New York than it is nationally.
[Angel Donovan]: Great, maybe Ashley Madison's doing well in New York. I hear that's where all their business is. Jon, this has been a great interview. Is there any big part of your work that we've missed in this conversation?
[Jon Birger]: No, I mean the only other thing that people do ask me about here in the US (and I don't know if this has been an issue in the UK as well) but, among college students, there's been a lot of outcry and concern about sexual assault on campus. Is this something you see out there?
[Angel Donovan]: No, I don't think so. I'm not very good at watching the news but, I'm aware of the stuff that's been going on in the US. I don't think it's occurred here in the UK.
[Jon Birger]: Okay well, there's certainly more attention being focused on this and as it turns out, there have been studies done about the FBI crime data and Interpol crime data for various countries and in other locales. Sociologists who study sex ratios will tell you that as counterintuitive as it may sound, the sexual assault rate is higher when women are an oversupply. There was a study that a Columbia University professor of China and she found that the only category of violent crime that's decline in China over the past 20 years is rape which makes... which kind of fits the argument because, the young population in China has become more and more male. So, I tend to believe that this problem in the United States of campus sexual assault is actually directly related to the increasingly imbalanced sex ratios on campus.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah because, it seems like some of it is a party getting out of hand. In a more extreme hook up culture where it's more normal and people have kind of reset their expectations. They get drunk. I think you'd expect mistakes to happen more often versus a monogamous, you know more calm culture, these kind of things are less likely to get out of hand.
[Jon Birger]: It could be. I mean, that's probably part of it. I do think it goes beyond hookups getting out of hand. You know what's interesting is that Marsha Gutting, that Harvard psychologist, she looked at ancient Greece. In Sparta, because all the men were off fighting wars, the sex ratio in Sparta was disproportionately female. Whereas in Athens, it was disproportionately male and as it turns out, the punishment for rape in Athens was death. The punishment for rape in Sparta was a monetary fine and her conclusion was that... and other scientists have looked at this, the conclusion is that women are devalued when they are an oversupply and conversely, men value women more, protect them more, treat them better when women are scarce.
[Angel Donovan]: That make good sense. It's just like very good solid, economical sense.
[Jon Birger]: It's disheartening and sad in everyway but, I think it's true.
[Angel Donovan]: Great, great, thank you. Thank you for bringing that to our attention. That's really good. So, what are the best ways for people to connect with you and learn more about your work.
[Jon Birger]: Well, my website is http://www.Dateonomics.com. I'm on Twitter @JonBirger1. Those are probably the two best ways to reach out to me.
[Angel Donovan]: Excellent, very cool. We'll put those in the show notes. Who besides yourself would you recommend for high quality advice in this whole dating area, maybe people you've come across in your own studies?
[Jon Birger]: There's a couple dating coaches and matchmakers who I interviewed who I thought were really smart. There's a woman here in New York, a young woman Maria Abgatedis who runs a matchmaking service called Agape. There's a dating coach who I encountered Evan Marc Katz who I think is really smart. You mentioned that OkCupid, OkTrends data blog. I think that's fascinating. There's a lot of good information there.
[Angel Donovan]:ÊGreat, great thanks Jon. Some good references. This is a question I throw at everyone at the end. So, I'll be interested to get your perspective might be very different to some of the other people we've had on. What would be your top three recommendations to a guy who's starting out from scratch? Say he's got no prior knowledge about women and dating and all this stuff. Maybe he's in his pre-college years (in your situation, it might be interesting) to improve their dating life as fast as possible or have the best dating strategy.
[Jon Birger]: Well, there's a bigger problem here like when it comes to boys and education and boys and school and it's a problem that girls are kind of outpacing boys when it comes to education. I do believe that if you told a 14- or 15-year-old boy who maybe is a borderline candidate for attending college that he has two life paths in front of him: a working-class dating market with too many men versus a college-educated dating market with too many women. If they go to college, they can get laid more often. Maybe they'll work a little bit harder in school if they know that those are the two life paths before them.
[Angel Donovan]: I'm sure that would motivate a lot of teenagers.
[Jon Birger]: Yeah, the other upside to this is that it isn't just good for dating. This is good for the economy and good for their future earning because, it's a problem that not enough men go to college.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah, I think that's, as you say, their whole quality of life is going to improve as a result of even focusing on improving their dating life.
[Jon Birger]: Exactly.
[Angel Donovan]: Even if that's your main motivation and you're currently in high school.
[Jon Birger]: It may not be what Mom and Dad would tell you in terms of why you should study hard but, maybe this is a better motivation for some young men.
[Angel Donovan]: I guess the other counterpart of that is that you know, Silicon Valley's hugely popular of course with very driven young men and it's pretty unfortunate that that's a harder place to date.
[Jon Birger]: Yeah and I have a quote from an executive recruiter in the tech industry and he's based in Boston and he kind of is pushing back against the efforts of all of these Silicon Valley companies to convince people from the east coast to move out there. His point was, "What they don't tell is that you'll have no social life because, there are no women out there."
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah, what is... I mean, it's great... I mean, maybe your book will help bring this to light and Google and other big companies will be like, "Okay, we need to put a campus in Austin, Texas. We need to put some campuses elsewhere and spread things out a bit and then, maybe over time, it will play that dynamic down a bit but, it's probably in their interest because, it's like quality of life for their employees. You could probably measure it down to how long someone's going want to stay with you and maybe if they're going to leave you, decide to relocate at some point.
[Jon Birger]: See, I was thinking about in the other direction. My thought was that a lot of these tech companies are under pressure to narrow the gender-gap in their work forces and to recruit more women and I kind of thought that this could be a way for them to get more women to move out there.
[Angel Donovan]: Right, that sounds great too. I mean, I wonder if a lot of these companies are already actively doing it. It's just that, I guess a lot of the women aren't going for IT yet and that's still something that switches.
[Jon Birger]: I mean, it's also a tricky argument because, you're looking to give people jobs and find qualified people and it seems... I'm sure that if Google's message to women was, "Move out here because, you're more likely to find a husband," I am confident that that would not go over well. But, so it's maybe it's not Google that needs to share that message. Maybe it's more...
[Angel Donovan]: ... it's you.
[Jon Birger]: ...folks like me, like you who aren't approaching this from a professional standpoint. I'm just talking about demographics.
[Angel Donovan]: Yeah, I don't know if you know Geoffrey Miller? He's an evolutionary psychologist. He's written a book recently. We just had him on recently. He was talking about demographics also.
[Jon Birger]: Did he write the book with Tucker Max?
[Angel Donovan]: That's right, yeah and he wrote the Mating Mind before that. Anyway, that's one of his interests as well. So, if you haven't connected with him, you might want to connect with him because, I know he likes demographics. He talks a fair bit about it also.
[Jon Birger]: So how did his collaboration with Tucker Max go because, Max always struck me as one of the crazier people in the book world.
[Angel Donovan]: Opposites attract, I guess. So yeah, apparently they met at a party. I haven't personally spoken. I've spoken with Geoffrey a couple of times. I interviewed him a couple of times and you know, I think they really get along and I think Tucker has calmed down since his very early days also. He's not quite so alcohol-fueled. So, I guess that's how that worked out.
Well Jon, this has been a great interview, very interesting. Definitely some new stuff here that we've never seen before and for the guys at home to give them a bit more thought probably more about strategy and how they should go about things in their dating life over the longer term.
[Jon Birger]: Thanks for having me on.
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