Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Chances of Getting Married

Secular and liberal Jews in America are disappearing for many reasons, one of them being they marry so late in life that there isn’t enough time to have many children. By age 35, 52 percent of Jewish men are unmarried and 36 percent of Jewish women are unmarried. The key is that when the little darlings decide it’s time to get married, they should find someone in a reasonable amount of time. I mean, if a kid doesn’t get serious until their late twenties and it takes them three to five years to find their bashert, plus two to four years of hanging out and living together before they are certain, we’re talking mid-to late-thirties. It is not easy to have twelve kinderlach when you start in your late thirties.

I came across a formidable study from MIT- Sloan that discusses the topic of mate preferences in online dating. You know JDate has arrived if the social scientists are trying to figure out how to game the system. The results are not breathtaking, yet there are some interesting ideas. The study was of 23,000 people spanning a number of dating sites. The authors were allowed access to the clicks, i.e. when one person clicked on some profile, and then were given access to the list of subsequent e-mails. So the statisticians have this large database when a click results in an e-mail. If you make the assumption that e-mails are correlated to marriage, you now have a large statistical sample of what makes somebody an attractive candidate for marriage. I will now list some results with comments.

1.) Men who indicate a preference for a less than serious relationship are contacted less often than men who are serious. Women are not affected by such indications and, in fact, if they’re looking for a casual relationship, they get 17% more first contact e-mails.
2.) Outcomes are strongly impacted by looks, with the results similar both for men and women. Height matters both for men and women but in opposite directions. Women like tall men, preferably in the 6’3-6’4 range, while the ideal height for women is in the 5’3-5’8 range. Taller women experience increasingly worse outcomes.
3.) The optimal BMI for men is 27. Such a BMI is considered slightly overweight. The optimal BMI for women is 17, which is considered underweight and corresponds with the figure of a supermodel. A woman with such a BMI receives 90% more first contact e-mails than a woman with a BMI of 25. The lesson is obvious, though the means of achieving these goals is of course difficult. I’ve already discussed this problem in detail in my “Zlata Wears Prada” post and I’m pleased to see my casual observations confirmed.
4.) Income strongly affects the success of men. Outcomes improve monotonically for income levels above $50,000. The success of women is at most marginally related to their income. Higher incomes do not appear to improve outcomes. (It would be interesting to know if this result is also true for Jews.)
5.) Occupation also influences success for men, but not for women. In fact, professional women have a slightly lower success rate. In the sample used in the study, the improvement in outcomes for men was 62% for lawyers, 45% for firemen, 38% for the military, and 35% for doctors. (Clearly, they were not sampling a predominantly Jewish population. To the best of my knowledge, Jewish women do not have a thing for firemen.)
6.) Women have a preference for men with equivalent education levels. Men with college or graduate degrees do not necessarily prefer women with a similar education level. Both educated men and women are avoided by those with only a high school education. (Since men are willing to marry women with less education, but women are not, the market isn’t going to clear for very educated women.)
7.) Women discriminate more strongly against members of different ethnicities than men. (See my blog of 10/06.)There is abundant ethnic group discrimination online. Blacks and Hispanics receive half as many first contacts from white women relative to white men, while Asian men receive fewer than 25% percent. (I believe the least popular group in America is Asian men.)

I’ll say what I learnt from this study. If you are a guy you should always present yourself as seriously searching for a mate, even if you’re only looking around. A girl should talk of having fun, her interests, etc. even if she is chalishing/dying to marry and have babies (#1).

Since search times are correlated with desirability, tall women, short guys and chubby everybody ought to start looking early. Having a personal trainer and going to a gym is not a luxury when it comes to a shiduch. (#2 & #3).

The real problem comes when a young woman has to decide on going to graduate school and working for an M.A. and/or doctorate. OTOH-OTOH. The world is such that women are discriminated against in the job market, and a masters and more is always helpful in overcoming these barriers. On the other hand, there is evidence that very educated women have a harder time finding mates. I find this fact one of the great injustices that women must endure. It’s outrageous that a woman is penalized for intelligence. I think, bottom line, most intelligent women refuse to accommodate themselves to this injustice, go on to acquire as much education as they want or need and let the shiduchim problem take care of itself. While I admire these women’s courage, I must say it is a cause of the lower than average birth rate of Jews.

Two final thoughts. Internet dating in particular share features of a winner take all phenomena. Imagine a woman who is in the second lowest quartile in terms of desirable features, such as looks, personality, etc. When there are so many desirable women ranked above her, why should she choose a guy in a similar rank and vice versa. There is every incentive to aim much higher, use a scatter gun approach and hope to get lucky. The learning curve is needlessly prolonged. Because of the number of opportunities available, it takes much longer to become realistic about one’s prospects. I think Rebbetzin Jungreis has achieved the success she has by making people in their thirties aware of these biases.

I read in the Sunday NY Times Magazine (12/13/06) that homophily is the new buzzword in social networks. We seem to have an inexorable tendency to link up with others in ways that confirm rather than test our core beliefs. The result is that people’s personal networks are homogeneous. In other words we like someone like ourselves online and off. Besides explaining why MO and UO tend to cluster in non-overlapping groups it is also a useful tool in finding a mate. One can cut down on search times by only looking for mates similar to oneself. There is a way of doubling up on this insight…look for someone who is similar to you in hating the same people. A second article in the magazine claimed we enjoy meeting people who dislike the same people. I don’t think I need to elaborate on this insight after I have written four posts on how austritt holds a community together.

Have I just written Jewish self help column? (See Thursday’s post.) I hope not. I think of it as more of a gaming column, similar to how to win at twenty-one in Las Vegas.

16 Comments:

At 12:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, the main issue is how you make under 30 people face reality, that is, that they live under a rigid biological timetable. They seem constitutionally unable to understand, and when finally they start to wonder, it is way too late. Even the firsthand knowledge of a great proportion of older couples that have problems to have children, the medical treatments, the search for adopting a child, any child, any AIDS infected African baby, any drug-affected son a whore baby, knowledge that everybody knows from firsthand experience, seems to leave unmoved "healthy" people (those who 15 - 20 years ago had to have abortions or their girlfriends, and are sure nothing has changed). In former times, parents and guardians married off the children at an early age, when they were physically weak, economically dependent and unable to resist. I have no advice, but it is very good to start speaking openly and start facing reality.

 
At 1:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If homophily is in then why are all the Jewish men marrying Asian women (three alone in my extended family)?

 
At 1:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"On the other hand, there is evidence that very educated women have a harder time finding mates. I find this fact one of the great injustices that women must endure. It’s outrageous that a woman is penalized for intelligence. I think, bottom line, most intelligent women refuse to accommodate themselves to this injustice, go on to acquire as much education as they want or need and let the shiduchim problem take care of itself. While I admire these women’s courage, I must say it is a cause of the lower than average birth rate of Jews."

Are you sure this is equally true among Jews? In frum society, the further right you go the more true it is, I think there is much less of such a bias. I don't believe that women who are more educated have much more trouble finding mates. I think women having trouble are more likely to get more degrees, and are also generally not willing to marry someone with fewer degrees. The men know they are less likely to succeed with more educated women given the last (even when we are dealing with a master's in education vs a college graduate).

 
At 1:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mother in Israel: What Asian women? The only Asian women I meet here in Israel are Phillipine health care persons, and they are all married in their own country. And they are ugly like sin.

 
At 1:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Evanston Jew claimed in the Zlata meets Prada post that Asian women, because they are typically slim, push the ideal body image to skinnier, so that those prone to overweight are in even harder position. I don't buy it. Eating disorders were common in the 80s too, they are just more hyped now. There aren't many Asian models, and actually, in moviees etc actresses are quite a bit heavier than in the past. Go look at movies from the 80s and even earlier and compare to today - the women look anorexic and twiggy like compared to today!

I dont think this is why Jewish men are marrying asian women, but maybe EJ does.

 
At 4:06 PM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

In my Zlata piece I said the same as in this post…overweight people have a more difficult time marrying and I emphasized the difficulties of women over 50. I said that I PROJECT onto Asian women who are easily thin as the one’s responsible for the change in the ideal female body type. The drive to be thin is imho worse today than in the eighties. Just look at the brouhaha about runway models around the world.

Why Jewish men marry Asian women…I think because they want to. They think they are more docile,etc.I talked about it on 10/06 in my post ’Intermarriage is Driven by the Guys.’ The point gets turned on its head. Despite homophily, Jewish men are so unhappy at the thought of marrying a Jewish woman, they run after shiksas. It makes the problem even scarier and more depressing.

In response to j …the problem underscores the need to have popular secular Jewish blogs where the issues can be discussed. There are very few, and it is difficult to reach the relevant people. A 15 second commercial on The Daily Show using a few choice expletives might do a little something.

Ann Roiphe or was it her daughter Katie Roiphe wrote a widely circulated article saying her fulfillment is more important than Jewish demography.

There is also this Kahneman –Twersky model that people underestimate the possible downside of their behavior in conditions of uncertainty. The material is readily available.

 
At 4:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"........Jewish men are so unhappy at the thought of marrying a Jewish woman, they run after shiksas....."(EJ) Any theories why this is so?

 
At 5:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The drive to be thin is imho worse today than in the eighties."

Just take a look at actresses and you will see many more that are not stick thin. There is much more emphasis on health and less on weight per se. Nutritional information is better too.
The issue gets more attention today and therefore seems worse. People barely had a term for eating disorders in the 80s.
It's surprising that people believe it's getting worse when just turning on a tv, or comparing movies, I see that actresses are dramatically less anorexic-looking.

 
At 11:28 PM, Blogger TM (Jewlicious) said...

We currently have a guest at Jewlicious who goes by the moniker "Dave" who tells us that he's married and divorced a Jewish woman and has not been able to find another Jewish partner despite years of trying. It is out of frustration that he now dates an Asian woman.

To add to your interesting post, it is not only Jews who are suffering from low or late marriages, but society at large now has a vast percentage of people who never marry or remain unmarried after divorcing. I believe over 50% of adults in North America are unmarried.

 
At 12:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

j.--My relatives are in the US.

 
At 11:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

first off:
western society always trends towards marrying later as people start to earn more. Generally this leads to more indulgence in self and children become viewed as a threat to their own well-being/station. That's just my observation but it seems to be very true---don't be shocked about america, look at the result of this same trend in Europe.

people with less money who have to work harder generally recognize that marriage and children is the most worthwhile investment.

secondly:
it's practically been proven with all the public service announcements about every kind of thing that is bad for you that people don't like to hear what they are doing wrong--and they don't generally listen when told they are doing something wrong.(R'Zusha of Anapoli spoke to that end regarding bringing people to teshuvah) the only way to change the late-marrying trend is to illuminate for people how rewarding and fulfilling children and marriage can be. I'm sorry to say I think it is a losing battle. If their own family experience doesn't speak for itself, I don't think anything external can convince someone of such a big change that seems so threatening with such a low ROI.(return on investment)

I know for myself, (I'm the oldest of nine children) I wanted to be married by 22, I was always excited to be a father.. I just met my wife last year, I'm almost 29. I think at 18-22 I was mature enough to get married---from 23 to 27 I regressed. It wasn't until 27/28 that I was again ready to commit to such a serious endeavor, no matter that I wanted it so much.

 
At 12:20 PM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

anonymous 4:22... There used to be a Freudian explanation in terms of inadequately resolved Oedipal complexes.Roughly, guys who have not unconsciously sufficently separted from their mothers or who have weak identifications with their fathers need to go further afield before their anxiety level gets under sufficient control so that they they can enjoy sex and marriage.It is a powerful critique, but probably not true as a general explanation. Too many people who are perfectly normal are intermarrying. Many to most of these cases are people whose Jewish identities are weak to nonexistent. End of story.

I do notice in older,less assimilated Jews who have intermarried that they are constantly putting down their wives as shikses, despite having had good marriages for many years. The women smile and go along.It is as if the guys still feel guilty and are trying to signal that they are really loyal Jews and obedient to their father. This sort of behavior is indeed in need of a psychoanalytic explanation.

 
At 11:41 PM, Anonymous Steve Brizel said...

How about a post on what appears to be the development of a large group of MO singles who are stuck in what I could call extended singlehood?

 
At 6:31 AM, Anonymous craig l said...

Why just MO? This affects every group nowadays.

 
At 1:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

are stuck in what I could call extended singlehood

Who stuck them there? They have only themselves to blame.

 
At 2:39 AM, Anonymous Steve Brizel said...

Anonymous-IMO, and while others may have differing views, I can't blame those stuck in extended singlehood. If you grew up in a milieu where a college and post graduate education and a good job were stressed as over marrying early ( i.e.by the end of graduate school), extended singlehood is a natural developmemt without thinking of the consequences of the same.

 

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