Jon Birger is a magazine writer and contributor to Fortune Magazine. Jon is also the author of Date-onomics: How Dating Became a Lopsided Numbers Game. In this book he explains the reason behind the lop-sided dating demographics and the decline in marriage rates with a focus in one chapter on the Jewish and Mormon religions. In August of 2017, Leading Saints interviewed Jon to take a look at the Mormon applications. That podcast can be found here. This article takes Jon’s hypothesis and relates it to the way we lead the young single adults in our stewardship.
Most LDS adults can look back at their dating years and remember the social and cultural pressure the experienced to get married. Today’s generation is arguably feeling it even more as they are waiting longer and longer to get married. Is the reason for this delay in marriage generational as many have assumed? Are today’s young people too distracted or too lazy to put marriage first? This book contends that it comes down to demographics. It argues that when there are more men than women, there is more competition among the men for the women. This also results in increased monogamy and lower divorce rates. When there are more women than men, the men become pickier and less committed to monogamy, with resulting decreases in marriage rates. This begs the question – if it comes down to gender ratios – are we underserving the single members by continuing to guilt them into “trying harder”?
Recently I spent time with the YSA’s in our branch. Most are living in South Korea to teach English. They are not just spending a summer here, as they wait to “meet THE ONE”. They are living their lives and pursuing their careers. There are about 20 of them in the Seoul metropolitan area. We have a family branch that is the size of your typical US ward, with corresponding initiatives specifically for the single members. They meet regularly together for Sunday School, monthly for “break the fast”, and socialize as much as they can. I introduced Jon Birger’s concept on the gender ratio problem to them and they wholeheartedly agreed that it was one of the first hurdles they faced in their own pursuit of marriage.
As leaders are we coming to our single adults with the burden of guilt on the individual? Are we taking into consideration their current challenges and this generation’s problem of imbalance in the female to male gender ratios? We know that marriage and family is the backbone of an ideal gospel life. It is the high bar that we are all striving towards while doing the best we can within our circumstances. However, we would do well to support all our brothers and sisters in their current efforts on this path.
When we meet a single person at church, we would never say to them- “Why aren’t you married?” Yet, often we may find ourselves making assumptions and then offering unsolicited advice. When we are serving them, do we see their unmarried status first? Or do we stop, and simply see them as our brothers and sisters in Christ?
The reality is that the majority of these young single adults, in most circumstances WANT to be married. They are TRYING to be married. In many cases, these current gender-ratio disparities are making it more difficult than perhaps the dating world we came up in. Too often leaders are seeing them as having a problem to be fixed and assuming they are just lazy or “not putting themselves out there”. So what is the solution?
When we are in any position to serve this demographic of the Church, we should focus on their journey to Christ – not their journey to the altar. Marriage might happen for them, or it won’t in this life, but their relationship with Christ supersedes everything else, and is something everyone can pursue regardless of circumstance.
When I was having this awkward conversation with the YSA’s, the thing that surprised me the most was their gratitude. They expressed their appreciation for my consideration and taking the time to speak with them. They pointed out that many married people don’t know what to say to them and so they avoid them, or only give unsolicited advice. The single people in our church will be more affected by the examples of strong couples around them, then by unsolicited advice and “set-ups”. When we treat them as equal brothers and sisters in the Gospel, instead of a problem to be solved, they will instead come to us – if and when they want advice on getting married. If we take this approach, not only will the single adults of the church be supported, loved and encouraged, and benefit from this caring effort – but equally, so will the married members of the church. As we each journey towards the ideal, we can feel the unity that the Gospel of Jesus Christ provides. It is up to us to change our perspective and take a chance that by loving our single members as ourselves we will be helping them the most.
Sarah Livingston is a wife, mother, and world traveler. Through the gospel, she has made many friends all over the world, especially among the YSA’s and missionaries. She currently serves as the Seminary teacher in the Seoul English speaking branch in South Korea. Gen. 21:6