Why clever girls can't find love
Although there is no firm scientific evidence, it has become widely accepted that it is harder for Jewish singles to find marriage partners today than it was 20 or 30 years ago, particularly if they are observant.
In this country, 36 per cent of Jewish households are single-person, compared to 30 per cent in the general population. The situation is as worrying in America and Israel. Hendon, New York’s Upper West Side and Jerusalem’s Katamon neighbourhood are teeming with singles who can’t find that special person, even after 10 or 15 solid years of dating. A matchmaking industry which didn’t exist a generation ago — consisting of dating websites, singles events, and even old-fashioned matchmakers — has developed to help them.
The so-called “shidduch crisis” has been explained, variously, as the result of over-fussy women, commitment-phobic and work-obsessed men, and too much choice for both sexes. But the analysis of the 2001 Census information released last month by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) suggests another, more deep-seated factor, and that is the exceptional educational achievements of our younger women.
According to the report, Jewish men still outperform Jewish women in almost every age group, but the girls are catching up. In the 55-59 age group, 32 per cent of Jewish men have degrees, compared to 25 per cent of women. But in the crucial 25-33 band, 57 per cent of men have degrees, as do 54 per cent of women, just behind them. Between the ages of 16-24, the women actually outperform the men.
They are also gaining ground compared to the general population. In the 65-74 age group, Jewish women are 50 per cent more likely than their non-Jewish peers to have high-level qualifications, but in the 25-34 age group, they are twice as likely. In fact, Jewish women are such high educational achievers that they actually outperform the average British man.
These are statistics that all Jews — men and women — should celebrate. But they come at a price. The sad truth is that smart and educated women are at a disadvantage when it comes to the marriage market. Throughout history, men have generally preferred to marry women who were less intelligent and less educated than themselves, either because it made them feel dominant, or because they were more interested in other attributes such as beauty and home-making skills. Women, by contrast, have generally sought to marry “up”, looking for men who were smarter and more accomplished than themselves — helping to guarantee their financial stability and status.
It is no surprise, then, that according to a 2005 study at Aberdeen, Bristol, Edinburgh and Glasgow universities, for every 16-point increase in IQ, men’s chances of marriage go up by 35 per cent, while for women, they drop by 40 per cent. In an age when women account for a majority of students at universities, this is a concern for the population at large. How much more so in a community like ours, in which our young women are such educational high-flyers — and in which the pressure to conform to traditional gender roles is still strong.
Is it any wonder that some of my brainiest girlfriends have come to the conclusion that they must actively hide their intelligence from their dates, at least until they can get the chemistry going? One friend has told me that she knows that the more interesting the conversation gets, the less chance she has of a second date.
So what can be done? The solution is not — as some will maliciously suggest — to limit women’s education. The opportunity for women to expand their intellectual horizons and fulfil their intellectual potential is one of the greatest blessings of the past century.
The answer, rather, lies in a revision of expectations. Men must begin to come to terms with the fact that, if they wish to marry, they may have to accept a partner with better educational qualifications than themselves. They must learn to see high-achieving women as a source of pride, as stimulating and desirable company, as good teachers to their children, and even as a source of potential valuable income — and not as a threat to their masculinity or to family life. They should also prepare to take a greater role looking after the kids, as mum is as busy as they are pursuing her career.
Women, for their part, must stop putting such a premium on superior education and intelligence in their partners, and learn to put a higher value on other attributes, such as kindness and family values, which may have come lower on their list beforehand.
And if all else fails, perhaps we can send our single men back to university, en masse, to sign up for PhDs.
Miriam Shaviv is the Comment and Letters editor of the JC
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