Too many girls for too few boys

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The morning’s Email brings word that a friend’s book Dating Secrets is about to hit better bookstores everywhere. Knowing my friend, the pseudonymous Leah Jacobs, I have not the slightest doubt that her advice will smooth the shidduchim process for many singles, and help them close on those shidduchim that should go through and weed out those that should not.

But one thing this book will not do as advertised is provide an answer to the “Singles Crisis.” The roots of that crisis lie not in the realm of individual psychology – for which a book of advice can help – but in hard, cold statistics about the demography of the Orthodox community.

To put the Singles Crisis as baldly as possible: There are too many girls for too few boys. That is true for two reasons: (1) the Orthodox community is growing rapidly; (2) there tends to be a large age gap between most religious couples, with the husbands several years older than their wives. (The exception to the latter rule is the Chassidic world in which it is not uncommon for husbands to be the same age or even younger than their wives, and in which one does not hear of a Singles Crisis.)

To understand why these two facts guarantee a “Singles Crisis” let us consider the following hypothetical. Assume that 1,000 boys and 1,000 girls are born in 1985. If the community grows by 4% per annum, the comparable cohort for those born four years later will be 1160 boys and 1160 girls. If boys marry, on average, girls four years younger than themselves (the actual figure for the yeshiva community is 3.5 years and for the overall non-Chassidic Orthodox community 3 years) we are left with a situation in which every cohort of 1,000 boys finds itself paired with a cohort of 1,160 girls. That is a recipe for disaster.

The problem here is sociological, not biological. Hashem, in His infinite wisdom, has arranged matters so that slightly more boys are born than girls. On average, 104 boys reach the age of 20 for every 100 girls. Indeed that 4% differential offers some hope of solving the Singles Crisis with relatively small adjustments in our current patterns of dating and marriage.

Identifying the gap between the average age that young men and young women enter the shidduchim process as the source of the problem points us in the direction of a solution. Either young men will have to start dating earlier (even a one year reduction of the average marriage age over time would have an immense impact) or women will have to start dating later, or some combination of both.

But changing societal norms that have evolved in response to particular realities is never easy. At present, the norm in America is for young men in the yeshiva community to learn two or three years in beis medrash after high school, and then to go to Eretz Yisrael for another one or two years of learning before entering the marriage market. Young women usually spend a year in seminary after high school, and then begin to date. Thus the age of entry into the shidduch market is three to four years older for men than women.

In Eretz Yisrael, yeshiva students tend to marry at a younger age than their American counterparts, but there are factors weighing against a further reduction in the marriage age. Consider the situation of a yeshiva bochur in Eretz Yisrael. As long as he is in yeshiva, he can learn as late at night as he wants. He is surrounded by friends, and those with whom he can talk in learning. As he advances in his learning, he has many younger students eager to listen to his chaburos and to ask him questions. While in yeshiva, he has few worries.

As soon as he gets married, he must worry about landing one of the ever harder to find kollel spots, and he cannot afford to be too choosy about whether the kollel suits his needs. He also has to worry about whether his wife will find a job. The transition from carefree yeshiva bochur to harried avreich is swift. Those who genuinely love learning will not be eager to make the leap any sooner than necessary. Such financial pressures in the first years after marriage are less prevalent in America, and allow more room for a further reduction in the marriage age for yeshiva bochurim.

Girls are more mature and accrue more varied life experiences at an earlier age. That too militates against a dramatic decrease in the age at which boys marry. On the other hand, there are clear advantages to girls marrying later. For one thing, they can acquire training that allows them to earn a good parnassah in the role of (partial) breadwinner that they have now been assigned. If they marry right out of seminary and are blessed with children immediately, they will likely never have the opportunity to acquire such training, and find themselves permanently consigned to low-paying, menial jobs. The problem, of course, is that girls panicked about getting married will never agree to delay the start of shidduchim unless that becomes the societal norm.

Failure to close the gap in marriage age, as Rabbi Chaim Tropper demonstrated, in a chilling demographic presentation at the convention of Agudath Israel of America last year, will result in hundreds of young women per year going unmarried, and the number of unmarried women between 25 and 45 reaching the many thousands within the next few decades in the United States alone.

Each of these women will have been raised to look forward to being a wife and mother as her most important task in life. The long-range consequences for our families and our society from such a large group of unmarried women are too painful to contemplate.

A letter signed by six leading American roshei yeshiva last summer describing those bochurim who feel inclined to marry at a younger age as acting in full accord with the Torah (see Kiddushin 29b), was an important first step to addressing the problem. And renowned lecturer Paysach Krohn’s speech for the Chofetz Chaim Foundation’s Tisha B’Av video urging young men to consider marrying women close to their own age was a second. (Given that women live, on average, more than seven years longer than men, the latter suggestion certainly makes actuarial sense.) The magnitude of the tragedy facing our daughters mandates many more such initiatives.

Originally published in Mishpacha magazine.

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32 Responses

  1. Joshua says:

    Dear Michoel,
    I agree with you 100% I believe a lot in barshert and Hakodosh Baruch knows what he is doing, it is we who creates the problems. I think the crux of the problem is the various demands that people have and emphasis placed on the wrong values. It is our job to emulate Hashem and as long as we do our share Hashem will do his share and we will have less problems. What amazes me is when the father is still learning, yet he is looking for a shidduch for his daughter and he has a difficult time because the financial demands of a shidduch are out of hand…. something will have to change.

  2. Michoel says:

    Joshua Nathan,
    yashar koach on your good work. Unfortunately, what I take from Rabbi Rosenblum’s article is that simply calling for more and more effort is kind of like a gerbil running on a treadmill. We need a fundamental structural change, not just more band-aids. If there are not enough boys, more shadchanim can’t change that.

    If it is true that more boys than girls leave Yiddishkeit, I actually see potential to turn the shidduch crisis into a win-win situation. We need to make out daughters know that a man who is a shomer torah u’mitzvos and works hard to support his family, even at a blue-collar job, is worthy of great respect. We then need to tell our boys that are not so matzliach in learning that it is perfectly l’chatchila for them to find a job, and is in fact a very dignified thing to do. And we need to ensure them that they will still have plenty of good shidduchim options even after leaving yeshiva. These working boys may be very good candidates for getting married young, to women of the same age or older. A) They have jobs, B) if they were struggling in yeshiva or with yiddishkeit generally, it could well be that the promise of marital intimacy soon on the horizon can help them stay strong.

  3. Bob Miller says:

    This is a topic about which many can make plausible assertions, but real supporting evidence is close to non-existent. People do studies all the time about social issues far less important than this one. What are Orthodox professionals doing now to get to the bottom of this?

  4. Joshua says:

    I read with interest Jonathan Rosenblum’s article on the Shidduch Crisis .

    I think one way of helping the shidduch crisis is that every person should get involved. Each of us probably knows of at least one single person and should make it a personal project to try to marry him or her off. Many people are afraid of involve ment in Shidduchim because they feel there is such big responsibility involved. All I am asking is asking that people make suggestions : the people involved can make their own investigations and I beg of all of you — just work on making one shidduch. This will help a great deal.

    Even if nothing comes out of your efforts and you feel a lot of effort and time is involved, the people you are helping will have a good feeling that others are concerned for them and want to help.

    We are supposed to emulate Hashem and follow in his ways . The midrash says that after Hashem created the world what does He now do all day . The midrash says that He makes shidduchim. Someone replied to this: W hy, that’s not difficult, I can do the same , and tries. And the midrash then describes what happens. We all know that “Matches are made in Heaven” but we all must do our part to make them happen.

    I practice what I preach. I was helpful in a number of shidduchim , and was actually the shadchen for 2 couples.

    On that note, I know a number of singles and I would like to help them find their Zivug (life mate) (no charge involved!). S ome are here in Israel and some are in the US.

    For further detail please contact me at

    [email protected]

    Sincerely,

    Joshua Nathan

  5. Elli says:

    Is it true that part of the girl/boy imbalance owes to the fact that more boys leave the fold than girls? I’ve heard murmurs, but wonder if people have knowledge or experience with this phenomenon.

  6. morbid says:

    What has been left out of the equation is the number of boys killed during the many wars in Israel. Yes even religous boys are involved. This problem has been around for the last 40 years when I was in the shidduch market but didn’t receive the same publicity. Children and even grandchildren of those who had difficulties put their girls on the market even before 18 years. But from my experience the boys are also getting married much younger, definitely by 21 and doesn’t seem to have made a difference.

  7. Jacob Haller says:

    Should those qualified consider phasing out a decision made about one thousand years ago (which was only meant to be temporary from the get-go) by one Rabbeinu Gershom?

    On a (slightly) more serious note….One other poster mentioned something about mainstream frum society getting over a stigma regarding Ba’alei T’shuva as prospective marriage candidates.

    On one hand (and as a BT who “started” around the age of 20) considering we’re talking about an age group of 23 and under, we might have to assume that 90-something % of BTs in that age range, even amongst the most seasoned are not yet ready for marriage for various reasons. I’m not a kiruv pro and that’s only based on observations and perhaps first-hand experience.

    However, of course should option should not be ruled out. And it’s the role of our leaders to address the issue of the BT stigma especially if the prospective kallahs find themselves single in their late 20s, 30s etc.

  8. easterner says:

    what advice would you have for a frum BY grad who does NOT buy into wanting, a kollel learner, but rather an accomplished [ or good prospective] earner?

  9. Steve Brizel says:

    Interesting article but IMO you may have missed the main issue. The fact that there are more women than men is either a fascinating or frightening statistic. Yet, the fact is that despite the fact all of the women want a “top notch guy”, however amorphously that term is defined, most yeshivos have a few top guys, many others who may head into chinuch as a choice or a default and some who are there because they are unsure of their future or don’t even belong in a yeshiva in the first place. One of the keys to the process is the determination by both genders and their parents what their respective plans are and where they see themselves-long term learner and future Gadol, possible mchanech after a number of years in kollel or a few years after shanah rishonah. I highly reccomend R Y Horowitz’s essays for any parent interested or frustrated by this issue.

  10. Yedid says:

    Both men and women in the circles described here prefer that the woman is young at the time of marriage so as to maximize the potential for raising a large family. And that is a wonderful thing. (One can argue that if the crisis were truly resolved there would be more births, but that does not speak to the individual). The suggestion that these women be encouraged to become more professional and raise smaller families is as alien to their hashkofos as it is absurd. The reverse approach with the same long-term effect is to encourage a small percentage of the men to get married earlier. (I believe the net increase would also be greater this way). To accomplish that we need to a better job of producing boys who are mature, responsible, G-d fearing, and committed to learning, albeit not long-term-full-time. Next, we would educate our girls that such men are desirable. Doing so would ease much unhelpful social pressure and create a more wholesome society.

  11. kar says:

    “Anecdotally, among all my high school classmates, the ones with the marriages that seem happiest and most stable all got married after they were 22.”

    This is my anecdotal experience also. I would estimate that around half my friends in high school (beis yaakov, 1980s) married over age 21, and these were the brighter and more mature girls.

  12. Esther says:

    There definitely needs to be a change of the attitudes that this post reflects – both the age of marriage and the excessive concern about age difference. I worked at a program for frum women post-seminary to obtain degrees, and these 19 and 20 year old women who were EXTREMELY worried about getting married were mostly NOT at the maturity level to do so yet.

    I am surprised that no one else has mentioned one other distubring part of the post. Yes being a wife and mother is extremely important – but how about NOT teaching women that this is the only thing they can contribute to the world, and that they can utilize whatever length of time they are single to contribute as human beings to the Jewish world.

  13. Heather says:

    If the men are all supposed to be in kollel, and the wives are all supposed to be supporting them, who’s raising the children? Daycare?

    Granted our children aren’t yet born (we’ve got twins in utero— and we’re starting our family at the ANCIENT age of 32 because THIS is when we’re ready), but in 18 years or so we’re going to be encouraging them both, no matter what sex(es) they are, to find ways to SUPPORT themselves. Once they are self supporting, marriage is a logical next step. Why should someone living off mommy and daddy be considered mature enough to get married?

    Then, as a couple, they can make a decision who will support them both and who will raise the children. Or maybe they’d both like to work and put off starting a family for a while.

    Full time learning is great— if you’ve been in the workforce for a while and can live off savings for a year, or if mommy and daddy WANT to support you for a year at 18 or something— but these boys who are considering themselves ready to be married at 23 when they’ve been sitting in yeshiva on daddy’s dollar since 18— it just doesn’t make sense to me.

  14. Aaron says:

    “As soon as he gets married, he must worry about landing one of the ever harder to find kollel spots”. He MUST?

    How about a different model, not unlike a hesder yeshiva, call it “hesder kollel” where there is a work/kollel model and the guy spends from 7am to noon at shul/kollel and after 1pm is apprenticed in chinuch or some form of business-based employment where he could earn health insurance benefits and “hit the ground, running” for when he needs to support his family.

    I was 23 when I got married to a 29-year-old woman. “She was young enough and old enough” to have a family with. Keyn ayin hara, we have six children.

    We need to challenge the hashkafos of the boys (and their parents and rebbes) who tell boys to marry a girl right out of high school or seminary.

    Or… maybe we need to have a male version of the word “golddigger” for the kind of boy who seeks to marry a girl whose family will support his choice of lifestyle. Way too many boys are being treated as superstar gedolim-to-be and hardly measure up.

    Does the haredi world really need more rabbis or would it benefit from a generation of emphasizing serious Zevulunism and allow no more than a tenth of the current crop to work and act as community leaders.

  15. jewboy says:

    How about this novel idea? Give young men training in a job, whether that means college or otherwise, so they can support their family instead of putting the burden on the wife? Crazy idea, huh?

  16. Rivka W. says:

    Even were there no shidduch crisis, I would support the idea of young women waiting to marry at least 2-4 years later (on average) than they do now. The number of young women who are terrified to be still single when they reach the ripe old age of (horrors!) 20 is frightening on a number of levels. (And the fact that too many people’s first question when a woman who is 21 or 22 is suggested as a shidduch for their son or nephew is, “What’s wrong with her that she’s not married already?” is truly horrifying.)

    Physically, emotionally, psychologically, and experientially the years between 18 and 21 involve more change than the 10 or 20 years that follow. While most 18- and 19-year-olds consider themselves adults, the truly mature ones know that they are not yet fully adult. It follows that before they are best able to make a choice that will affect the rest of their life, they should first be mature enough to do so.

    Divorce rates among couples where one or both are younger than 21 are several times higher than among those who wait a mere few years to marry. And since young marriages often involve women who have neither a college degree nor other post-high-school training, women who marry young are not only more likely to end up divorced, they are more likely to end up impoverished and with no reasonable means of supporting themselves (and their children).

    No matter how much babysitting a girl has done, few have the emotional capability at 19 or 20 to be a mother. Fortunately, many have the support of their mothers and other female relatives, but wouldn’t it be better if they married and had their first child a few years later (hopefully still with the same support)?

    Anecdotally, among all my high school classmates, the ones with the marriages that seem happiest and most stable all got married after they were 22. And I speak from personal experience as well. I got married at 18. And divorced at 28.

    Among the Lubavitch, the average age at which girls get married is older, and girls are expected to work for a year or two between seminary and getting married. While there are exceptions, 21 or older is the norm.

    So it can be done. The question is how.

  17. Leila says:

    In discussions with other women we have agreed on what we see as a major cause for this “jam”: the girls are trying to find a perfect situation, and they are looking for reasons to say no to second dates. When all things appear to be reasonable, but bells have not rung, the girl will not be willing to try a second date to see if the relationship might be able to go somewhere.

    Ask the people in the know in the Baltimore community and they will tell you this. There is no room for compromise; each girl is looking for the Gadol Hador, and has been told to expect to find him!

    When I was a kid and dating (a million years or so ago) I looked at marriage as a gamble at best, and hoped to find the guy with whom it seemed worthwhile to take the risk. B”H it came my way. These girls are looking for the “perfect” situation.

  18. Nachum Lamm says:

    This article, of course, is based entirely on the idea that it is a societal norm for men not to get jobs and for the wife to be the family breadwinner. Far from Jewish values, I’d say, especially as preached in all other areas of male-female roles by the Charedi world.

    How many of these problems would be solved if learning after marriage was reserved for an elite of Jews, as it has been for Jews for all history, and women, um, raised a family? Has the world gone mad?

  19. SephardiLady says:

    I am not convinced that population differences are the only problem, in fact far from it. There is so much that could be written about this topic, but I will just put forth a few things:

    1. Is it possible having guys marry earlier might exasperate certain problems, financial, emotional, etc?

    2. Is it possible that this population difference is because certain men are considered undesirable because they are working instead of learning, go off the derech in greater numbers (?), don’t have desirable jobs, etc?

    3. And, lastly, is it possible that the expectation that the girls and the girl’s families should provide the money for the married couple (taking responsibility from the guy) exasperate the problem as girls with less means get relegated to second class?

    I think it is far too simple to declare this a game of numbers. We certainly should encourage guys to date the same age or older. But, I don’t know if a guy who hasn’t stepped out of Yeshiva will feel like a man compared to a girl who is out in the world already.

    I’ll stop now. Happy Channukah.

  20. Ahron says:

    Tal accurately notes that there is a broader problem out in the world today (yes, both the yiddishe world and the goyishe world! Gevalt!) of fewer “good” men than good women. This is a near-universal problem and it is particularly painful for women.

    Wouldn’t some old-time accessories like, oh….work and income help alleviate the financial vacuums that now force frum women to work double-time as the family’s breadwinner? The prescient statistical analysis above, aiming to foresee, forewarn and alleviate a looming problem (“eize’hu chacham? Ha’roeh es ha’nolad” ) is applied astutely to shidduch figures, yet is barely even acknowledged at all in confronting the economic and financial crises that are already at a painful level in the frum world and are poised to become simply rampant within the next 10-20 years.

    I suspect it’s because there really is a welfare culture, and lifestyle is difficult to change. The dream equation of Eternal Kollel + Eternal Welfare = Bright Future is going to have to be squarely reevaluated at some point. Why can’t it be confronted as matter-of-factly as the shidduch problem is above? i.e. We have a system of doing things; That system is unsustainable; ergo, We must change the system. Such simple logic….

    The hard landing of Israel’s long-overdue tax reforms these last few years will be gentle compared to the crash-and-burner that’s inevitably ahead. It doesn’t even take chochma to see that. It’s right in front of us every day.

  21. Eliyahu says:

    Ori, in principle you are right. But we don’t live in an ideal world and people don’t always behave as they should.

  22. DMZ says:

    “Are there any statistics that the frum community grows by 4% per annum, or is that conjecture? Does that number include Baalei T’shuva, or only growth of existing families? Does that number include those who become irreligious?”

    I thought the article made it clear that this was just a number pulled out of thin air. Unless the community is decreasing or staying at zero, the logic works just the same (although, paradoxically, a higher rate of increase would cause this problem to be bigger, too).

  23. Daniel Weltman says:

    Perhaps this will catalyze the important step of realizing that Kollel is not for everyone, and that, in order to support a wife, boys should be encouraged to get degrees and mainstream jobs, while learning in their free time.

  24. Tal Benschar says:

    As the husband of an accomplished shadchante, there is also another reason for the “crisis.” In my experience, there is a higher percentage among Orthodox men than women who are, how shall we put it delicately, psychologically or emotionally unbalanced. Remove these from the shidduch pool and the rest have a higher percentage of women.

  25. Tal Benschar says:

    There is also the option of encouraging young men to date women that are older than them. My rebbe used to encourage it. I was always amazed at bochurim who were horrified by the very idea of dating a young lady even a year or two older than they were.

  26. Fern says:

    It seems like another possible way to fix this problem is to redouble kiruv efforts for young men who are high school aged. Although then you have to deal with the bias against BTs during the shidduchim process…

  27. Moshe says:

    Are there any statistics that the frum community grows by 4% per annum, or is that conjecture? Does that number include Baalei T’shuva, or only growth of existing families? Does that number include those who become irreligious?

    Not that I disagree with the gist of the article, but I’m curious as to where the statistics come from.

  28. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Shouldn’t a Yeshiva student who truly loves Torah learning prefer to marry a slightly older woman with better job skills? A wife who makes more money would be able to support her husband’s studies for longer. One who has a really good career might even enable him to work part time, and spend more hours in a Beit Midrash even after he has to enter the work force.

  29. kar says:

    “The problem, of course, is that girls panicked about getting married will never agree to delay the start of shidduchim unless that becomes the societal norm.”

    they might if encouraged to get job training and there is discussion about delaying dating and not rushing to marriage. The average age of yeshivish girls at marriage has dropped (along with average number of dates before marriage). Delaying age of women at marriage is far preferable for all the reasons you list.

    It would be helpful to discourage boys from dating younger girls.

  30. joel rich says:

    Actuarially a man should consider marrying a woman older than him if the couplle wants better odds of having a maximum joint lifetime together and minimum apart once married, but of course we’ve all heard that the good girls go young (talk about self-fulfilling prophecys)
    KT
    Joel Rich, FSA (yes I am a fellow of the society of actuaries and no don’t ask me how long you will live:-))

  31. Michoel says:

    Great article. However, women (as a grooup) marrying later is definitely not a solution that should be on the table. Terrible idea. Every extra moment out of seminary means less and less idealism, less and less purity of vision. The time for a woman to get married and dedicate herself to her husband is when she is young and pure. Not when she has already spent a few years in school or in an office interacting with men.

  32. DMZ says:

    Or, we could finally do away with this silly idea that guys need to date women younger than themselves, and open themselves to a range, with even (*GASP*) older women. That’s why your entire argument that this is somehow a demographic problem rather than an individual pickiness problem is so flawed – that need for a younger woman is what’s driving the shortage of men. We live in an age of modern medicine – women can, in fact, wait until they’re 25 to have kids, and still have a full cohort of them.

    (Admittedly, I’m biased, seeing as I’m happily married to a woman that’s three years my senior.)

    The argument as a whole makes me wince as an economist anyways – you really haven’t done a very adequate job at all of convincing the reader that the entire “shidduch shortfall” can be explained with that anyways. I’m willing to believe that this is responsible for some of the problems, but not all of them – especially if, as others have posited, this is a relatively recent phenomena.