When my daughters were small they had a favorite bit of doggerel that prefigured some early feminist leanings.
“Girls go to college to get more knowledge/Boys go to Jupiter to get more stupider,” they would chant at me, and, with more evident passion, at any young males in their vicinity. I’d try to take issue with the grammatical betise in the second line that, I would point out, slightly undermined the premise of the jibe, but it was no good. Girls were smarter than boys and immeasurably superior in just about every other respect.
On that, of course, I have never dared demur.
But as it turns out, and as my girls progress with grace and accomplishment up the gilded escalator of their liberal education, there’s a searing piece of truth in that couplet that points up a deep demographic chasm in this country and in much of the developed world.
The gender imbalance in educational attainment is getting larger every year. That may spell good news, ultimately, for income and employment equality—but it presages increasingly problematic social conditions for generations of men and women.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than 57% of the class of 2018 who graduated with bachelor’s degrees were female. The gap for master’s degrees was even wider: 59% to 41%.
This gender imbalance has existed since 1981, when more women than men graduated for the first time, and it’s widened just about every single year since then. In fact, the Department estimates that by 2027 women will account for about 60% of all bachelor’s degrees awarded.
Now, from the perspective of economic justice and equity, we can surely stipulate that this is progress. It may be the most tangible piece of evidence of a fundamental change in sexual equality since women were given the vote. If education really is the key to lifetime earning potential, then slowly, perhaps, steadily, we can expect the gap in pay and opportunities to narrow.
I realize of course that there are many other reasons for gender differences in economic outcomes, and many of those aren’t going away. But the impact of a more highly educated female population in the workforce should be substantial.
But while the economic consequences may play out this way, it’s worth pondering some of the social effects. In the much larger game of life, love and relationships, the growing educational disparity between men and women is a problem.
It is estimated that for every three men with bachelor’s degrees in their 20s and 30s, there are now four women. Most studies of human heterosexual attraction suggest both that intellectual capacity and achievement is an important attractor and that people tend to gravitate toward a partner with roughly the same level of attainment.
But every year, the pool of eligible male graduates is getting smaller relative to the number of women. Now of course college isn’t everything, and many women will find a perfect mate who hasn’t been through the four-year playground of parties, sleeping and the occasional lecture. But the reality is that more of them are going to have to if they want a meaningful relationship.
And there’s a larger problem confronting these new cohorts of well-educated women. It’s always been assumed that women are more selective in seeking out a partner of the opposite sex. Men are notoriously undiscriminating; women, obviously more refined and sophisticated, are more choosy. But with data now available from dating apps we are beginning to get a sense of just how big this gap is too.
Aviv Goldgeier, an engineer with the dating app Hinge, was recently interviewed about data he’d compiled on the “likes” of straight men and women. If we think of attractiveness in terms of an economic asset, we can measure how evenly or unevenly distributed that asset is among men and women. Economists use a measure—the Gini coefficient—to estimate the level of inequality in an economy. The nearer the number is to 0, the more evenly distributed the wealth. The closer it is to 1, the more unequal it is.
It turns out that the Gini index for males is 0.542—a high level of inequality. A small number of men hold most of the attractiveness assets. For women, in the eyes of men, the attractiveness assets were much more evenly spread—a Gini index of just 0.376. Grim confirmation: A much smaller number of men are considered eligible by women than is the case for women as viewed by men.
In other words, when they’ve finished college, it’s women who may need to go to Jupiter to find a decent partner.
This article appeared with original title, A Good Man Is Getting Even Harder to Find on WSJ, and written by Gerard Baker.