Interview Transcript Available Below
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. A big shout out to Geoff Openshaw from This Week in Mormons that helped conduct the interview. Go listen and subscribe to his podcast!
- 5:56 Date-onomics looks at the demographics of why dating may be more challenging for women vs. men.
- 7:12 For the last fifteen years there have been four women graduating college for every three men.
- 7:48 There is a college gender gap that is responsible for the decline in marriages for educated women.
- 8:22 What is the scarcity rule and how is that effecting dating influences?
- 9:32 In Date-onomics Jon studied the secular world and how they can be less susceptible to outside cultural influences.
- 12:55 The gender ratio in the Mormon faith.
- 14:00 Is there a marriage crisis within the Mormon and Orthodox Jewish faith?
- 15:36 For the Mormons living in Utah, there is a gender gap. There is a 60/40 ratio women to men.
- 16:00 The gender ratio affects our behavior.
- 18:04 The ratio can cultivate very picky men.
- 19:49 Data suggest that in all religions women tend to be more devout then men.
- 20:31 Approximately 30 to 40 percent of LDS young men go on missions.
- 21:50 Most men who fall away from organized religion are between their late teen years to their twenties.
- 23:03 The age change for LDS missions reflected a surge of those choosing to go.
- 25:00 Why Millennials don’t date?
- 26:01 Millennial men are not happy couch potatoes. Case in point is Silicon Valley.
- 27:07 The Bay area in California has more men graduating from college than women. The marriage rates are much higher and divorce rates are very low.
- 28:52 Millennials are marrying late because of a faith crisis, not a dating crisis. This has become a demographics issue.
- 30:05 The science in Date-onomics shows how some of these patterns are hard wired within us. This is based on the demographics problem.
- 31:02 To shift the demographics slant, help encourage young men to stay active in the church.
- 33:11 The gender gap is not as great outside of Utah. Young men who do not serve missions may feel less ostracized outside Utah.
- 36:09 Elder Scott, “If you are a young man of appropriate age and are not married, don’t waste time in idle pursuits. Get on with life and focus on getting married. Don’t just coast through this period of life.”
- 38:21 Freshman classes at BYU are 60/40 women to men due to LDS missions.
- 39:25 If college graduates were willing to date non-college graduates, the gender ratio may not be as bad.
- 41:46 As men age, they become locked into their ways and more rigid.
- 42:36 The plastic surgery surge in Utah can be contributed to the lop-sided demographics.
- Suggested Solutions:
- 45:47 Do not assume millennials are not marrying because of laziness.
- 46:45 Make gender ratios a consideration when choosing a college.
- 49:16 College educated women can expand their dating pool to include non-college educated men.
- 50:26 Avoid the musical chairs syndrome.
Kurt Francom: This is a simulcast along with my friend Geoff from the podcast This Week in Mormons. How are you, Geoff?
Geoff Openshaw: Hey, what’s up, Kurt? Good to see you, buddy.
Kurt Francom: Nice. We decide to tag team this episode because it’s such a fascinating topic and that we’re both going to be interviewing and having a discussion with Jon Birger, who is the author of Date-onomics – How dating became a lopsided numbers game. How are you Jon?
Jon Birger: Hey, I’m good. Thanks for having me on [00:04:30] the podcast.
Kurt Francom: Yeah, we’re excited. It’s always fun. The best way to flatter a Mormon is for a non-Mormon to investigate their life and learn more about them. And that is what you’ve done in your book.
Jon Birger: We’re such an insular people that validate us when the outside world takes interest. It’s very exciting.
Kurt Francom: Ain’t that the truth.
Jon Birger: It think that’s a compliment.
Kurt Francom: It is, it is.
Jon Birger: I’m going to take it as one.
Kurt Francom: That’s my way of saying ‘thank you for helping us figure out what on earth is going on in our religion’. [00:05:00] You’re the author of date-onomics. Maybe just give us a background of who you are and what led to a life of writing about dating?
Jon Birger: Sure. So in my day job, I’m a writer at Fortune Magazine. I write about much more boring stuff, like the stock market, oil and gas, things like that. So the first question I typically get is basically ‘how the heck does a Fortune Magazine writer end up doing a book on dating’? And the really short answer is, I just knew way too many [00:05:30] single women in their thirties and forties who had everything going for them dating-wise and were having no luck whatsoever. Yet all my single male friends, even the one’s who are barely mildly appealing, they never seemed to stay single for more than 5 minutes. So basically, the goal of the book is to figure out why dating seems so much harder for women, typically college-educated women, than for men.
Kurt Francom: Nice. So does any of this come from your dating experience? Are you currently married? [00:06:00]
Jon Birger: Yeah. I’ve been married for 25 years. So no, it’s not really related to my dating experience. Although, I must say my wife and I, when we were younger, we did try to play matchmaker with some of our single friends. I’m in my mid forties, probably late forties. And I think once we hit like early thirties, I didn’t know any single men anymore, but we knew all of these fabulous single women. [00:06:30] And I couldn’t figure out why that was. I think initially I thought that it had something to do with our unique circle of friends. But over time, it just became clear to me that there was something weird going on where women were staying single and men weren’t.
Kurt Francom: What’s the general premise of the book?
Jon Birger: The focus of the book has nothing to do with religion so to say. The book looks at the demographics of college education. So for the past 15 years [00:07:00] in the US, we’ve had 4 women graduate for every 3 men. So as a result in the post-college dating pool so to speak, we now have one third more women than men. If you look up the center status of the US, there is about 5.5 million college grad women aged 22 to 29 versus about 4 million college grad men in that same 22 to 29 age bracket. [00:07:30] So the core argument of my book is that if this college gender gap so to speak, if it’s responsible for the declining marriage rates for educated women and also for the rise of the hookup culture. There is actually a trial in social sciences that has been done on sex ratios, and it indicates that when men are in oversupply, the culture is more monogamous. When women are in oversupply, the culture was less monogamous. [00:08:00] So that’s the just to it.
Geoff Openshaw: That was really interesting. So when I came across this book, and we’ll get to the Mormon stuff, that was the other thing that jumped out, when suddenly I saw a chapter called Mormons and Jews, and I said ‘Oh really, exciting, OK’.
Geoff Openshaw: Yeah. It’s so amazing argument. I love the data that we see in the book that supports that. You basically see scarcity rules that play essentially. They want the men to feel like correct me if I’m saying anything inappropriately, that if the men basically have fewer [00:08:30] pickings, they fight harder to get the girl, because she could be taken by another guy. Whereas on the flip side of course, when men are left to their own devices and have the pick of the field, they are less inclined to as you said be monogamous, and they like to goof around, the hookup culture.
Jon Birger: That is basically my argument, although I wouldn’t leave women out of the formula entirely. I do think when men are in [00:09:00] oversupply, women become pickier. And when men are scarce, I believe women also buy into kind of a looser dating culture. I don’t believe everything is driven by the men. I believe women have a role in this as well.
Geoff Openshaw: Well, basically, how does that work into Mormons and Jews then? How is that different and what made you get by the whole section of Mormons and Jews in a book that by large deals with stuff we just talked about but then have a whole chapter [00:09:30] focused on those
Jon Birger: Right, so the bulk of the book deals with the secular world, not religion But the reason I ended up looking at religious groups is because as I was researching the book, recording the book and also just talking about the book with friends and colleagues, I would have people tell me “well, yeah, that sex ratio stuff is interesting, but couldn’t it just be the times have changed?” Couldn’t it just be that [00:10:00] sitcoms are more raunchier these days than they used to be or you know those graph videos on MTV that are kind of polluting the minds of young people et cetera et cetera. So there was this argument I needed to push back against that the reason the dating culture, the mating culture had become less monogamous and a little more libertine, that I had to push back against this argument that this was entirely a response of the culture. And the other thing [00:10:30] that bugged me about this argument is that I don’t believe times change for no reason. Obviously, the media, the movies, the music lyrics, I mean, I’m a big ACDC fan. I’m not sure that, you know, ACDC’s lyrics in the 1970’s were any better than Snoop Dog’s lyrics today. I don’t buy this idea that things are radically different now than they were you know when I [00:11:00] was younger. So this is the long winded of way of saying that one of the ways that I want to sort of make my point is by looking at groups that I thought were less susceptible to outside cultural influences. And I’ve began kind of searching for conservative religious groups where there were also sex ratio imbalances and no sex ratio imbalances were playing out in exactly the ways [00:11:30] I would predict based on the social science research that’s been done on human behavior.
Kurt Francom: Jon, I think it’s important that as you go through this, to point out that a lot of people may view within the Jewish faith or the Mormon faith could make the assumption “Oh, this is only a Mormon problem.” Right? The rest of the world, they don’t value marriage enough, so they are not trying to get married any ways, right? And that’s just not.
Jon Birger: No, absolutely not. I will say, one of the more interesting responses I had to the Mormons and Jews chapter [00:12:00] is that I had run again Christians and Muslims tell me that what they read in that chapter rang through to their own experiences. So I feel like there’s something going on here with lots of religious groups. The point is this isn’t unique to Mormons or orthodox Jews. In general, and we can talk about the details a little more, but in general, men are more likely to [00:12:30] fall away from organized religion than women are. And as a result tend to have kind of a sex ratio imbalance among very religious people.
Kurt Francom: So that said, was there any particular reason to focus it on Mormons as opposed to evangelical Christians or Catholics or any other group? Have you thought about it or did it just kind of happen?
Jon Birger: It just kind of happened. I was doing a fair amount of research, both online and in the library, looking for studies [00:13:00] or research on sex ratios in various religious communities. One of the first, actually the first study I came upon was done I think it was from Trinity college in Connecticut. It looked at sex ratios within the Mormon community. Actually the reason I ended up adding a section on Orthodox Jews is that a friend of a friend [00:13:30] actually called me about a job. I was already working on the book and I couldn’t interview for that job at the time. But he asked me what I was working on, and I told him on a log I just happen to be working on this chapter on a religion chapter and I told him about the Mormon marriage crisis. He come up pause and said “huh, that sounds a lot like the sugar crisis.” He’s an orthodox Jew, so that led me [00:14:00] to kind of pair Mormon dating and marriage with orthodox Jewish dating and marriage.
Kurt Francom: So the Jews actually have a name for their crisis? The sugar crisis.
Jon Birger: It’s the sugar crisis. I guess I should make it clear that the orthodox Jews are a minority within the Jewish American population. So I’m Jewish, but I had never heard of the sugar crisis before I began working on this book. So they are kind of a, [00:14:30] orthodox Jews probably comprise 10-15 percent of the overall US Jewish population. Just putting that out there.
Geoff Openshaw: Is the rest reformed?
Jon Birger: Yeah, I would say the majority are reformed. There’s kind of a middle group, called conservative Judaism. But that’s actually a shrinking population within American Judaism. The fastest growing groups are both the orthodox on one end and the reformed [00:15:00] Jews on the other.
Kurt Francom: So Jon, as you started diving in the research studies about, specifically around Jews and Mormons. You referenced the ARIS studies; what started the jump off the page till you think, oh this is it. This is proof that it’s happening here?
Jon Birger: Well, so I was you know the that study referenced the fact that among Mormons in Utah and then actually the numbers are less lopsided outside of Utah. [00:15:30] We can talk about that when we come long but at least within Utah there is this 60/40 ratio of women to men within the LDS community. And based on all the secular research, the social science side I had read, the scholarship that has been done on how sex ratios affect behavior, I figured that this 60/40 ratio had to be kind of wreaking havoc [00:16:00] in the Mormon marriage market. So I called up a journalist friend of mine who grew up in Utah and went to the YU and I asked her about this and she said: “Oh yeah, it’s awful.” She has all these fabulous girlfriends who can’t find a guy. She has all these stories. As a New Yorker, the idea of a Mormon marriage crisis sounds [00:16:30] absurd. It sounds absurd, because from my perspective, all you guys do is get married.
Kurt Francom: Yeah, right! In our history multiple times, you know.
Jon Birger: Yeah, I had no idea. On the one hand, I knew that I kind of a lopsided sex ratio had to be having an effect. But to hear her tell me that, I was still a bit surprised. Because [0017:00] I think outside of Utah, the rest of the nation’s conception the LDS churches, marriages, is held so highly correctly. I mean, it’s for both men and women. It’s kind of the goal. And that’s probably an understatement, right? And the idea that young people would be delaying marriage and women would be struggling to find people to marry, that surprised me. [00:17:30] Although, it surprised me, but it made sense based on the scholarship on sex ratios.
Geoff Openshaw: What’s interesting with especially with men delaying marriage, I wonder if there’s some truth to this. I see in the rest of the book for example, it does seem that in the sense of delaying marriage, this might be speaking generally, that it’s more of men pursuing hookup culture, sowing their wild oats. Not simply say you don’t want to settle down yet, whereas I feel like in Mormon culture, [00:18:00] it’s more that the men have an objective to settle down, but having the abundance of women in front of them with the lopsided ratio, means they just become super picky in their quest to do so. Do you think that’s a fair way to say that?
Jon Birger: I think it is, but although my guess is having interviewed lots of secular singles around the country, I think that the guys say they’re having fun while they wait. Until they’ve found their special someone. So don’t [00:18:30] think. Yeah, certainly there are guys out there who have just messing around.
Geoff Openshaw: Nicmo is what we call it.
Jon Birger: What was it?
Geoff Openshaw: There’s a term Mormons use called nicmo. Non-committal make out. It’s very popular.
Jon Birger: There’s kind of a– I’m not sure how much of this is pre-planned or conscious. I kind of feel like when the environment as such that men are in oversupply, or women [00:19:00] are in oversupply on the other hand, just the norms change. And I’m not sure that guys are doing a head count and saying “oh well, there’s 1, 2 ,3, 4 of us and 1,2,3,4,5,6 of them. I’m going now behave differently because there’s more women than there are men. I kind of feel like it’s more of a 1 in 1 phenomenon that everybody kind of buys into a looser dating culture so to speak when women are overly [00:19:30] plentiful.
Kurt Francom: Jon, why would you say, if I read this in the book as far as why is there a you know 150 women to 100 men in Utah? Or in church in general. Why is there this lopsided pattern?
Jon Birger: As I said before, all religions, in all religions, women tend to be more devowed. And men are more likely to leave organized religion. Now, my senses or based on the research out there, this pattern [00:20:00] has been exaggerated in the LDS community. Or at least particularly in Utah, LDS community. Perhaps because of the Mormon mission. You can correct me if you disagree, but by senses that over the past 30-40 years, the importance for men of going on mission has increased. Is that fair to say?
Kurt Francom: Since the 1970’s, but I would also say that probably even since you published the book [00:20:30] though and more in the past 2 years, we worked on men being the narratives, so that those that don’t serve for whatever reason are not social pariahs essentially.
Jon Birger: Right.
Kurt Francom: Which is what they’ve been in the past.
Jon Birger: That’s exactly what they’ve been in the past. I think what’s happened is, I don’t know exactly what the numbers are, I think it’s less than half of men, Mormon men go on mission. Is that still correct?
Geoff Openshaw: I think it’s 30-40 percent. Right, Kurt?
Kurt Francom: Yeah, that’s what I–
Jon Birger: Do or don’t?
Geoff Openshaw: Do
Jon Birger: Do go. [00:21:00] So it’s less than half that go on mission. So for guys that don’t go on mission, if they feel a bit outsider-ish so to speak, and they’re not feeling as valued, I feel like those men are more likely to fall away from organized religion or in this case fall away from the LDS church. Because you know of that what you’ve referenced, the pariah status. [00:21:30] The problem is that the age at which men are most likely to fall away from organized religion, is in the late teens and twenties. That’s exactly the age when this kind of demarcation occurs between being an RM or being a non-RM.
Kurt Francom: Right. So basically, we have within our culture there’s characteristics, whether we‘re meant for this to be or not but [00:22:00] there’s certain level of status that will age you in getting married. Which is the RM status, because generally people are looking for that status. That’s because it relates to faithfulness and commitment and those things. Some of those elements of our culture may be the land for this lopsidedness to happen.
Jon Birger: Right, although one thing I mention in the book and perhaps you can fill me out on what happened more recently, is that by moving out the mission age, [00:22:30] it seems like more men and maybe more women too were choosing to go on mission, because there wasn’t the situation where they were going to work for a year or going to school for a year. And then being asked to take a break from work or school to go on a mission. So it’s more of a natural progression from high school to a mission. Perhaps that has increased the number of particularly men had gone on mission. Is that accurate?
Geoff Openshaw: Yeah, I would [00:23:00] say so. I’m not prevail to any of the actual stats or anything. But we did see what we kind of referred to as a surge when they first change and drop the age of 18 as the minimum age back in 2012 was when that happened. But I think what Kurt and I both agreed to is the side from like more of more missionaries I think it was a big play to help those young men stay active. Because I believe if men go on missions, they are more likely to remain faithful in the church from then on out. So because like you said, those years are delicate years. There are probably [00:23:30] a lot of kids between the year of high school and then the age 19 before would drift away. So it’s a good way to keep them in the faith. Then I would assume ideally if you keep them in the faith after their mission that also can help with the gender imbalance a little.
Jon Birger: Right. Just to be clear, I have no issue with mission as a concept. And if Mormon missions happen at retirement age, like he’s 65 than you do a 3-year mission. [00:24:00] But this would all be mood because people leave organized religion at age 65, they leave organized religion at age 20. So this is not about faith or believes or practices. This is just kind of a quirk of demographics.
Kurt Francom: You know, I’m sort of representing the leadership component of the audience here. I’m just seeing any of those young single [inaudible] who, you mentioned outside of the church in the more secular world, people make the assumption “the reason why marriage isn’t happening is because [00:24:30] the morals are just decreasing, the values, and there’s the media and those things, and people are generally sowing their ulcers”. But in the church, they make the assumptions, all these millennials, they’re lazy, they don’t get it. But you would maybe say that’s not what–
Jon Birger: Bunch of snowflakes.
Kurt Francom: You’re making the argument that it’s a demographic issue, but for a lot of leaders, that seems like that answer is too easy. [00:25:00] Like it’s not demographics, it’s because they’re lazy and they don’t get it. They don’t know how to date.
Jon Birger: Yeah. They’re bad at dating.
Kurt Francom: Yeah, exactly.
Geoff Openshaw: This is actually something we hear about a lot of time. We’ve received council over the past many years, to dissuading men from just hanging out, encouraging them to date women legitimately, not to sort of fall into a relationship. I think there is sort of this porcher of a bunch of goofy layabouts. The men aren’t doing anything [00:25:30], but like Kurt said, I really wonder if it’s just the sheer demographics is fooling us. In the secular world, there is a book by an Atlantic writer, named Hanna Rosin, called ‘The end of men’. And in the end of men Rosin refers to these guys as ‘happy couch potatoes’, which is a line I borrowed several times when I’ve been [inaudible]. There is this idea that particularly with the guys that I think you call them layabouts. [00:26:00] They’re just lazy or they don’t know what is good for them. This doesn’t just apply to dating, I think. There’s this belief out there that money or men in particular professionally are kind of not motivated either.
Jon Birger: I guess, when I need to kind of push back against this idea, then what I always point to is Silicon valley, geographically is pretty close. [00:26:30] Santa Clara County California is a pretty good geographic proxy for Silicon Valley. And as you could probably guess, given the that’s where the tech industry is based these days, Silicon Valley and Santa Clara County is basically the one part of the country where the demographics among young college grads are reversed. In other words, there are more college grad men than there are college grad women. In terms of dating and marriage, [00:27:00] this plays out exactly the way it would predicted. If you look at the senses down over Santa Clara County, California, the marriage rate for college educated women is through the roof high and the divorce rate for those women is through the floor low. Which shows that when men are in oversupply, the whole culture is more monogamous. People marry more frequently and they divorce less frequently. And the [00:27:30] idea is all these apps like Tinder, they were invented in Silicon Valley. Tinder doesn’t seem to be destroying the marriage culture in San Jose or in Santa Clara County.
Geoff Openshaw: There’s got to be some truth to that actually. I live in DC and it’s more lopsided women to men if I remember my single days here. Even among Mormons. But a lot of people, their next stop, when they kind of get done with these cities are all going to the bay area. I [00:28:00] don’t think it’s been a marriage mill necessarily, but I definitely seen that become a bit– even the Mormon community, that’s become a bigger lure.
Jon Birger: In the secular world, I met so many women who went to places like San Jose, California. They have been struggling with dating in DC or Boston or NY, they move to the bay area, and basically, they were engaged within a year. Because there are just so many more men than women out there, [00:28:30] particularly among young college grads.
Kurt Francom: Yeah. So, Jon, going back to the perspective of these young single leadership, I think that the mistake that’s made there is that they make the assumption or create the stigma oh these individuals and their wards are marrying later, because they’re millennials and they’re lazy. Therefore, it causes theses leaders to create classes or a focus around how do we get these kids out dating. Because that’s [00:29:00] the problem. When the reality sounds from your research, the world problem is more of a faith crisis than a dating crisis of how they’d be better served how do we keep the men more faithful rather then how do we get them dating.
Jon Birger: Yeah. I like to say this is not a cultural problem. It’s not a religious problem. It’s a demographic problem. If we had a group of vegans who lived in a closed community and only dated and married other vegans and [00:29:30] suddenly you had a 60/40 ratio of vegan women to vegan men. The exact same thing would be happening. This has nothing to do with beliefs or values or anything like that. One of these behavioral patterns are essentially hard wired into the human brain. If you read the book, if you read date-onomics, you see there’s a lot of science in the book. The consensus of [00:30:00] psychology professors and others who’ve studied sex ratios is that a lot of these behavioral patterns are essentially evolutionary adaptations. Because you see similar kinds of behaviors in other animal species when one sex or the other is in oversupply.
Kurt Francom: Once we realize that it’s a demographic problem, what are we supposed to do with that? Because there’s many leaders out there trained to fix this problem. Maybe they just have no business trying to fix it when it’s just the demographics. [00:30:30] Do we just wait for that to shift? Or is there a solution for that?
Jon Birger: Well, if you’re looking for a Mormon specific solution.
Geoff Openshaw: Give us doctrine.
Jon Birger: No doctrine. This gets back to something that’s I think Geoff mentioned earlier. I think one of you, maybe it was Geoff, so he referenced the pariah status of non-RM’s. I think moving away from that would be helpful. Like having blogs about whether it’s ok [00:31:00] to date a non-RM is probably not good for the psyche for those guys.
Kurt Francom: Right.
Jon Birger: And if the goal is to keep those guys in the church, denying leadership positions or maybe that’s less of an issue. But certainly kind of viewing their status as having some kind of a taboo around it probably is not going to encourage them to stay in the church. But more broadly [00:31:30] I do believe that this is one of these issues that just shining a light on it is likely to lead to improvement. Like I said earlier, a lot of the science on sex ratios is an outgrowth of animal research. Scientists won’t take anomaly monogamous species being it voles or fish or something like that. And mess around with the sex ratio in a controlled population and see what happens. And [00:32:00] what typically happens is when the males are scarce, the males are more likely to abandon their mates. But the difference here is that fish do not have a conscience. At least I don’t think they have a conscience. And they don’t have morals and conscience the way human beings do. And there’s actually a lot of behavior that could be hard wired that we kind of grown out of. Over many many years. I kind of feel like [00:32:30] that could happen here. If we knew, if everybody understood the hookup culture and other behavioral patterns too link to lopsided sex ratios, I kind of feel like that would lead to discussions that would change the culture.
Geoff Openshaw: One thing, you do mention the gender unbalance in Utah but I think you argue it is not as bad for Mormons outside of Utah. Do you feel that’s really essentially, because the Mormon men who don’t go on mission don’t feel quite as ostracized outside [00:33:00] of Utah where there’s not a cultural regimen? For example is that the sort of–
Jon Birger: Yeah. That’s what came out of my reporting. Am I wrong in that assumption?
Geoff Openshaw: No, no. It’s much better living outside of Utah as a Mormon, as Kurt can not attest, but I will tell you.
Kurt Francom: I’ve seen many examples of females you’ve left Utah and have better, higher rates of dating and marrying outside of Utah as opposed to inside of Utah.
Jon Birger: My journalist friend, [00:33:30] the woman I mentioned who I first called after reading the Trinity college study, I think she had a bunch of friends who had moved to San Diego, I think had better dating prospects there than they had in Utah.
Geoff Openshaw: Oh no. The singles worse in San Diego. They’re terrible. It’s a whole other episode we need.
Jon Birger: Maybe they just got lucky or something.
Kurt Francom: No, Geoff is right .
Geoff Openshaw: All the kids live at home, they don’t– it’s the worse. You don’t want to go there.
Jon Birger: When I convert to LDS, I’ll make sure I do not [00:34:00] go to San Diego.
Geoff Openshaw: That-a-boy!
Jon Birger: Also, you are married, so that would be bad. San Diego is a lovely city. My wife’s from there. If you like surfing particularly.
Geoff Openshaw: One thing I am curious about, a lot of your sources when you go to this chapter, a lot of your sources are interesting people and thinkers from a wide variety of walks of life, some Mormons, some ex-Mormons, some doing different things. Did you try to get any word from official church leaders or anybody representing that end? Because I did feel, unless I’m mistaken, that [00:34:30] there didn’t seem to be any sort of comment from either church leader or like church apologists or anybody along those lines. And I’m not saying that in any negative way.
Jon Birger: I did have a quote from a BYU professor, David Dollahite, LDS leader Richard Scott was quoted in that chapter as well.
Geoff Openshaw: Oh, I must have missed that stuff.
Jon Birger: Steven Reinhart who was a formally single LDS member. I’m pretty sure he told me he was a late leader in the church. I know he’s very active in politics [00:35:00].
Geoff Openshaw: We don’t need to get into that. Because that is funny. We have leadership, but I just didn’t know if you tried to reach out to Salt Lake HQ like the public affairs department or any of the other like the main bodies of the church leadership to get this.
Jon Birger: I had many. I put many calls into BYU, trying to get various officials at BYU to talk to me. Part of my interest in BYU is that in the book, if you read the book, [00:35:30] you’ll see that I kind of use college campuses as case studies. Because they tend to become contained dating pools. Students tend to date other students. So you can really see how the sex ratios play out. I struck out with the BYU. I could not get to the most part because I could not get school leaders or most professors to talk to me.
Geoff Openshaw: That’s not surprising. Sorry to hear that, though.
Kurt Francom: For your benefit, Geoff, I actually have the elder Scott’s quotes here. [00:36:00]
Geoff Openshaw: Thank you.
Kurt Francom: It’s a good example of how I think generally how young single world leadership approach this is LDS leader Richard Scott was quoted ‘If you are a young man of appropriate age and not married, don’t waste time on idle pursuits. Go on with life, focus on getting married. Don’t discuss to this period of life. So from what of you’re saying, that’s a good example of somebody that they’re trying to solve the problem by motivation when it’s simply a demographics problem. [00:36:30]
Jon Birger: If I were a parent to one of these boys, it’s probably what I would be telling them.
Kurt Francom: Yeah, yeah, so they’re not growing and doing that.
Jon Birger: To be clear, listeners, Kurt just questioned an Apostle.
Kurt Francom: No, no. I’m just trying to get that point across. I think that’s– I mean, you’re not foolish in making those statements or encouraging, but there may be underestimating the problem that they’re facing. It’s a much larger problem. They can’t feel it comes by that.
Jon Birger: Not to be overly [00:37:00] libertine to minimize what you’re saying, but if you’re blaming millennials for this, is the argument that there’s something about being born between 1985 and 1999 that causes you to behave differently? I mean, I assume that’s not the argument, so the next question is: Okay, what’s changed. It can’t just be something in the water for kids who are born in that time frame. Right?
Kurt Francom: You know, you mentioned that the only time that the [00:37:30] scale flips as far as the ratio at DYI is the freshman class is 62 percent female, which is probably due to the mission age change all the freshmen boys ventured of across the world to preach, to give word. So is it safe to say that your best chance for a female getting married is during that freshman year? And they should maybe be less, they shouldn’t be avoiding marriage if their long term goal is to get married?
Jon Birger: Well, I’m not looking at the [00:38:00] BYU gender ratio data. I got confused, because the school’s overall sex ratio or gender ratio was more balanced. But the freshman classes tended to be more imbalance. Closer to 60/40. And I didn’t understand exactly what was going on. Maybe, I’m sure the mission has something to do with it, but talking to students and former students [00:38:30] they do have a sense that what happens is students who get married, freshmen, sophomore year and then the dropout rates of the girls is higher than it is for the boys. So while the gender ratio might seem more balanced to the upper classmen, a lot of those guys aren’t actually available.
Geoff Openshaw: I would say it’s likely true. I don’t know from experience a first hand but I could see that being the case. [00:39:00]
Jon Birger: I guess my bigger picture, if you’re asking me to give advise to those women, and this is really not unique to the Mormon dating. This is all dating for college graduates, for educated people. I do not believe that college degree makes you a better wife or a better husband. I kind of feel like the entire dating moral would be saner and more balanced if college grads were less [00:39:30] unwilling to date non-college grads. But the trend over the past 30-40 years has been the opposite. It’s been towards what sociologists call assortative mating, which is basically a fancy way of saying that educated people only want to date or marry other educated people. So this is the problem because in the college world you have too many women, and in the non-college world, you have too many men. I kind of feel like it’s inevitable, but some of those non-college men will eventually end up with college women [00:40:00]
Geoff Openshaw: One thing, if you ever go back and revisit any of this research, because of the age change of missionaries, it might be also be very interesting to look at the data for sophomores. Because they changed the male age from 19 to 18, but they changed the female age from 21 to 19. There has actually been a much higher percentage of women going on missions compared to men because of that. So that would also be fun to look at just at some point to see what the gender ratios are amongst that age group, at some point. I don’t know [00:40:30]. It popped in my head. I can’t help but wonder what that’s like too now more of the girls taking off when they’re 19 compared to before. Before, a lot of women didn’t go on missions, because they had to be 21. They’d about to be ready to finish college and say, “Oh, I don’t want to do this. Not really.”
Jon Birger: This is turn and cheap . The other way you could fix this problem is by creating a new taboo against non-RM women.
Kurt Francom: I like it. We’re finally getting solutions, Jon.
Geoff Openshaw: Jon, Jon. That taboo can’t be single for too long. Honestly, [00:41:00] I think the funny thing is when you look at all this research about Mormon men, and I feel like men, even in your book it says they often get pickier as they get older. I think that’s true in general. I think I was pickier through my 20’s. And I really had this idea in my head like this is how it has to be. And I think as I matured, I started to realize that there are different people with diverging interests and you can still have relationships with them. My wife today is an amazing person. We have different interests and she is not the person I got off my mission when I was 22 and said [00:41:30] ‘this is how it’s going to be’. But I did like the research that you see a lot of these guys who are in their late 30’s becoming really rigid and locked into their ways. I imagine it is not unique to Mormon as a…
Jon Birger: It’s definitely not. One of my dating observations is that people get married in their 20’s. They have like 5 or 6 things on their checklist. But when they get to the late 30’s, they have like 20 things that they have to have. I think maybe they been holding out for so long, that [00:42:00] it becomes harder to compromise.
Geoff Openshaw: It does. And I think we also become very entrenched in who we are and in our views. I think when people do get married very young, they kind of grow together through a lot of formative years instead of become a … being more an individualistic. The older we get, the harder it is to find commonalities I guess.
Jon Birger: I think that is a smart observation. I think you’re right.
Kurt Francom: You drew some observations in the book about the plastic surgery culture. I’m way too close to the problem to realize that yeah, [00:42:30] once I do pay attention, every third or fourth billboard in Salt Lake is a plastic surgeon office. I guess I assumed that was the case everywhere. There is definitely a culture of plastic surgery. You sort of make the, you maybe draw the conclusion that that is because of this lopsided demographic
Jon Birger: There is so much external pressure in any community where women are in oversupply. In this case, we are talking about the LDS community in Utah [00:43:00]. In any such community there’s going to be tremendous pressure on women to appear marriageable. I think that that’s what you see. This has nothing to do with faith or beliefs. This has to do with demographics and with the pressure that women face. If there are three of them for every two eligible men, and actually the numbers are worse for the older [00:43:30] singles. It doesn’t shock me that they’re going to do what they can to appear more marriageable and to appear more attractive, whether this is investments in cosmetics, in clothing, in shoes, or whether this is Botox or plastic surgery. I think this is just a byproduct of the external pressure on women to appear attractive.
Geoff Openshaw: This is very interesting to me, because just from my [00:44:00] observations -I don’t have any actual data- I’ve always felt that in Utah, it was more women who were already married or what I always saw a lot of was like recent divorcees in their thirties. In the book you talk a lot about single people trying to woo one another. So I thought it was very interesting to look at. I think Kurt’s in the same boat. I always felt that the plastic surgery in Utah is women in Utah County who are already married. Kurt are my observation there with the local.
Jon Birger: No, no. I mean, certainly [00:44:30] people who get plastic surgery don’t tend to be young. Older people get plastic surgery, not 20-year-olds. So that is generally true. But I did interview plastic surgeons in Utah who told me they had college age girls coming in for Botox. So yes, I would say, a majority of the surgeries or plastic surgery is purchased by older people [00:45:00] or people in their 30’s, 40’s 50’s and older. That’s true everywhere. But I do think there is more pressure on single women in Utah to maintain their looks.
Kurt Francom: So Jon, in the final chapter of your book, you sort of propose some solutions that people can maybe take into consideration. Not that you’ve cracked the code or figured it out, but with looking at the data, some possible options to do. Maybe let’s just talk about those really quickly and see what we can learn from them. The first one. Well, I don’t know if you [00:45:30] said this straightly in your book, but stop assuming that it’s laziness in millennials or this millennial culture that is causing people not to marry.
Jon Birger: Yeah again, I spent some time in San Jose or in Silicon Valley. The guys there are workaholics. They are not happy lazy couch potatoes. They work very hard and dating is hard for them. So one of the ways they try to stand out is by earning as much money as possible and by driving [00:46:00] fancy cars and that kind of stuff. So I don’t think this is a byproduct of when they were born. Although I do believe and I make this point in the book, whichever gender is in the majority does tend to be more industrious. So I think that’s why this kind of stereotype of the happy couch potato college grad guy exists and that’s why if you go to cities like L.A. or [00:46:30] Chicago, New York or Washington, so many of the go-getters are women.
Kurt Francom: As far as your solutions go, you mentioned making gender ratios a consideration when choosing a college. This is sort of difficult for Mormons because I think most Mormons default to the BYU, because they are more concerned about what religion they are before they’re considering the ratio.
Geoff Openshaw: That’s a loaded statement, Kurt. But, okay, most Mormons, okay.
Kurt Francom: What I’m saying is I think most– I’ll not use the word most. You know what I’m saying is there’s many in the church, [00:47:00] many people have an experience at BYU or at least include that on their list of applications.
Jon Birger: Yeah. So that bit of advice may not work for Mormons. That chapter is not intended to be religion-specific in the advice. But more generally, the schools, the colleges that are 50-50 or some of the tech schools like Caltech or MIT or Georgia Tech, those schools [00:47:30] who have more men than women, tend to have much more monogamous dating cultures. You see more examples of happy couples from college marrying after college.
Geoff Openshaw: It’s funny because we are like aiming for that as Mormons to have happy monogamous couples even in college. It’s actually funny talking about this. My podcast co-host on this weekend’s Mormons actually wrote an article about why we should get rid of church funded schools at one point. But basically arguing that ‘hey, maybe we’d all be [00:48:00] better off if we were in our own local areas and if you got away from the BYU mentality’. I’m not advocating that necessarily, but it’s food for thought though.
Jon Birger: I have a solution to BYU. Are you ready?
Kurt Francom: Okay.
Jon Birger: They should beef up their engineering program; attract more men.
Geoff Openshaw: But then how do we get dentists, Jon? Mormons are all about becoming dentist. If we’re not dentist, we’re nothing. It’s like Rudolph, whereas the character Rudolph wants to become a dentist. [00:48:00]
Jon Birger: Is that really a lot of ?
Geoff Openshaw: It’s kind of a running joke in Mormons as in a lot of guys are trying to become dentists.
Kurt Francom: You leave Utah to go to dental school and you come back and try and compete.
Geoff Openshaw: And then you buy your boat. It’s great.
Jon Birger: I did not know that.
Kurt Francom: Oh yeah, a lot of dentists.
Geoff Openshaw: You’ve learned a lot: dentists, nicmo, it has been a great night.
Jon Birger: Okay.
Kurt Francom: So Jon, any other, as far as the solutions in the book. I think they’re all great solutions and there’s some takeaways. But any stand out more than [00:49:00] others that seem to be working?
Jon Birger: My big one is that college-educated women should expand their dating pool to include lesser-educated men. Again, I do not believe that a college degree makes you a better wife or a better husband. My prediction in the book is that we’re going to see more of what I like to call mixed collar marriages going forward. I kind of believe if we all become more open-minded about dating, that some of these problems [00:49:30] will all solve themselves. The only other one I would mention is, and this is for women I guess. Maybe this is not an issue in the Mormon world, but at least in cities like New York and Washington, I interviewed lots of educated women who had a certain kind of life plan. Basically their intention was to focus on grad school or career in their 20’s and then when they hit 30, then all get serious about dating [00:50:00] and finding a husband, starting a family and that kind of thing. That’s fine on paper, but the dating math works against that strategy. I call it ‘the musical chairs phenomenon’. I assume you guys at some point, when you were kids, played musical chairs?
Kurt Francom: Absolutely.
Jon Birger: So as you may recall in the first round of musical chairs, you kind to have to be a dolt not to get a chair. You have to be chasing butterflies or [00:50:30] something. But in the last round of musical chairs, when there’s two players and one chair, you have a 50 percent chance of losing the game. So in other words, the longer you stay in the game, the greater your chances are of losing. This is kind of what happens to college-educated women. If you start out, I’m just going to use simple round numbers here, you start out with a dating pool that has 40 women and 30 men, which is essentially [00:51:00] what young college grads are facing these days. It starts out as a 1.3 to 1 ratio women to men. But once half of the women, once 20 of those 40 women get married to 20 of the men, the ratio among the remaining singles becomes 20 to 10 or 2 to 1. Once 5 more of those women marry 5 more of those men, the single population becomes 15 women and 5 men, or 3 to 1. So what happens [00:51:30] is the longer women hold out, the worse the math gets for them.
Geoff Openshaw: It’s really interesting. And then, at the end, I guess it’s down to 11 to 1 if the remaining four get married.
Jon Birger: I think this is why when you, at least for me, and I guess you see this in Utah as well, there are so many spectacular women who have everything going for them who are still single on their 30’s. They have moms and dads and married friends who assumed that they are just terrible [00:52:00] at dating. Right? They must be doing something wrong. They must not use deodorant or something. But it’s not that they’re terrible at dating, it’s that the math is really bad when you’re still single in your 30’s.
Geoff Openshaw: I want to make sure Jon gets the chance to let everyone know where they can find his book of any of his other material.
Kurt Francom: Yeah, Jon, where do we send people to check out your book?
Jon Birger: You can buy Date-onomics hopefully from most bookstores, certainly online, at either Amazon or barnsandknoble.com [00:52:00] and other online booksellers. You can also visit my website, which is date-onomics.com, also jonbirger.com, and there’s information about the book and how to buy the book there as well.