There's been a lot of talk lately about how dating apps like Tinder are ruining romance.
A recent Vanity Fair story claims these apps are responsible for a growing hookup culture, where anonymous sex has replaced traditional romance, because they give straight young men the impression that there's a surplus of available women.
But Tinder and its ilk (apps like OkCupid and Hinge) aren't entirely to blame, argues freelance journalist and former Fortune reporter Jon Birger in The Washington Post.
The Vanity Fair article quotes a psychologist who says that apps like Tinder contribute to "a perceived surplus of women" among straight men, which promotes more hookups and fewer traditional relationships.
However, "This surplus of women is not just 'perceived' but very, very real," Birger writes.
In his book "DATE-ONOMICS: How Dating Became a Lopsided Numbers Game," Birger argues that the college and post-college hookup scene is a result of the gender gap in college enrollment.
About 34% more women than men graduated from American colleges in 2012, and the US Department of Education predicts this number will reach 47% by 2023. Among college-educated adults in the US aged 22 to 29, there are about 5.5 million women and 4.1 million men, according to the Census Bureau's American Community Survey.
"In other words, the dating pool for straight, millennial, college graduates has four women for every three men," Birger says.
Some research suggests that the gender ratio has a big influence on dating and marriage — women on campuses with more women and fewer men say they go on fewer dates but have more sex, for example. A 2010 study of 986 unmarried, straight college women surveyed in 2001 found that women on campuses with more female than male students said they went on fewer conventional dates, were less likely to say they have had a college boyfriend, and were more likely to say they were sexually active than women from male-dominated campuses were.
The findings build on work by social psychologist Marcia Guttentag, whose book, "Too Many Women? The Sex Ratio Question," describes how the balance of men and women has had a profound effect on society, from sexual norms to economic power.
When there's an excess of marriage-eligible men, research suggests, the dating culture — in which men are traditionally the active ones seeking partners, rather than the other way around — involves more romance, because men must compete for the attention of fewer women. But when the ratio is skewed toward women, as with the college grads in this study, romantic interaction becomes more about sex, because men are in high demand and don't feel pressured to settle down.
Birger says this can lead to women being more sexually objectified, while men "play the field."
A possible solution?
Another factor that makes dating difficult is that college-educated women today are less likely than ever before to marry men with less education than them, research suggests. (In the past, difference in education level was a less important factor in marriage.)
As Berger puts it, "New York City women looking for a match would be better off, statistically at least, at a fireman's bar in Staten Island than a wine bar on the Upper East Side." In other words, if women with a college education were more open to dating men without one, it would improve their odds of finding a date.
Of course, the same statistics that Berger cites regarding the uneven ratio of educated men to women in the dating world suggest that this is likely not going to happen anytime soon.
There's another reason working against the dating odds of straight, urban women: In LGBT-friendly cities like New York, Washington, and Miami, a considerable fraction of the men are gay. Birger estimates that in Manhattan's straight, college-grad, under-30 dating pool, there are roughly three women for every two men.
Birger says the picture gets worse with age, because as people get older and get married, the ratio of available women to men gets even more skewed. For example, if you start out with a pool of 140 women and 100 men (all of whom are straight and monogamous), and half the women get married, the ratio of single women to single men rises from 1.4:1 to more than 2:1.
To solve that problem, Birger suggests that women seeking love in Manhattan leave New York, "which is one of the worst dating markets in the country for educated young women." If you are one of these women, his advice is, "Go West, Young Woman."
The odds are slightly better in the Western states of California and Colorado, which each have 20% more college-educated women aged 22 to 29 than men. By comparison, Illinois and North Carolina have 36% and 41% more such women, respectively.
In Silicon Valley, which is notoriously male-dominated, women have much better chances of snagging a man. Santa Clara County, for example, is the only populated area in the country where there are more male college graduates than female ones.
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