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Plenty of Men to Go Around, Part 1 by Candice Z. Watters
"I think I may have raised my daughter to be lonely." That's what a friend of mine said during our conversation about the seeming famine of eligible Christian men. We were seated around a huge oak dining table, eating dinner with six single women and talking about the challenges they face in our culture.
Included in the conversation — seated directly opposite my friend — was her daughter. I tried to gauge her expression following her mom's pronouncement. How does she maintain faith in the face of such doubt? I wondered. She's a beautiful 22-year-old with long dark hair and blue eyes. Surely the other gals around the table felt in her shadow, If she's not likely to marry, what hope is there for me?
Why would a mom think her lovely, smart, talented eligible young daughter is doomed to a life of unwanted singleness?
Maybe it has something to do with our perception of single men — specifically, the lack of them. Popular singles writers have cited a Barna finding about Christian women outnumbering Christian men. And in this case, it's no small gap. The number I've heard and seen is that there are between 11-13 million MORE Christian women than there are single Christian men. Shocking.
A few weeks after the dinner I was talking to another friend who was writing an article about the challenges single women face. She was trying to respond to the charge that because there are so many more Christian women than men, "I've heard between 11-13 million more!" (there's that Barna number again), maybe we should set aside the prohibition against marrying nonbelievers in favor of the Genesis creation mandate to marry and be fruitful and multiply. "Given the lack of men," she asked, "should we be encouraging single women to simply find a nice, moral, but unsaved man to marry?"
Finally, this week I received an email from a Boundless reader with the same question. She too cited the figure from pollster George Barna that my writer friend had been given.
That number kind of reminds me of the stat about how many wives and girlfriends purportedly get hit by their abusive husbands and boyfriends on Super Bowl Sunday. Those stories sent feminists through the roof. And I suspect they went a long way toward raising money for battered women's organizations. After all, how could people not be mobilized to act knowing so many women are being abused? Trouble is, the stat wasn't true.
People acted on the shock value alone. I guess they were too stunned by how horrible it sounded to take the time to check on its veracity.
The shock value of the purported Barna stat is enough to send me to snopes.com. Before the number takes on mythic proportions — and one more single woman uses it to justify her despair — I have to set the record straight.
Barna on Barna
So what does Barna himself say about single men and women? According to his website, as of the year 2000:
The survey data show that nearly half of the nation's women have beliefs which classify them as born again (46%), compared to just about one-third of men (36%). In other words, there are between 11 million and 13 million more born again women than there are born again men in the country.
The first thing I noticed is that Barna is talking about ALL Christian men and women — not just singles. The second is that the stat is outdated. It was published in 2000 and Barna's 2006 numbers show the gap is narrowing. Even though the percentage of born-again women has swelled to 49 percent, the percentage of men has grown too: up 5 points to 41 percent of men who describe themselves as born again. That change alone shrinks the deficit between Christian men and women to something like 10 million.
So, who are those 10 million women? Are they the young never-married women who feel outnumbered at church? The ones citing these depressing stats? When you look more closely at the numbers, you find that almost all of the gap between the number of Christian men and women is simply due to healthy women outliving their husbands. That great gap is primarily made up of widows. In fact, Christian widows outnumber Christian widowers 4 to 1.
Another category in which Christian women outnumber Christian men is the divorced — but even that gap is much more modest. See the following chart:
So what about Christians who have never married? The surprising reality is that there are more men than women — a lot more. The 2006 Statistical Abstract of the United States identified 29,561,000 never-married men compared to 23,655,000 never-married women — that's almost 6 million more never-married men than women.
If you apply Barna's most recent faith percentages to the totals for never-marrieds, you come up with 12,120,000 never-married Christian men for 11,590,000 never-married Christian women — a variance of 1,530,000 more Christian men. See the following chart:
You may wonder if that's true of only some age categories — if the surplus of men only exists on college campuses; among twentysomethings but not elsewhere. Surprisingly, the only age segment where never-married women outnumber never-married men is among those 75 and older — which is also tied to greater life expectancy for women.
Yet every time I've heard the "more women than men" stat cited, it's been in the context of never-married women bemoaning their chances of finding a mate. If we're trying to get a sense of a never-married Christian woman's probability of getting married to a Christian man, we've got to honestly (and I'd say thankfully) admit women have the advantage.
A Matter of Faith
I feel like celebrating: Never-married Christian women don't outnumber never-married Christian men. But what if that stat were true? Or what if, on a more personal note, it seems true in your life? What if you're the only never-married single under 40 in your church and you work with the elderly or teach preschool and live in a small town? What if there aren't any prospects in your world? And more importantly, doesn't any disparity between the sexes mean some women — or men — who want to marry won't, simply because there aren't enough spouses to go around?
There have always been anecdotal reasons to doubt the likelihood of getting married. A seeming disproportionate number of women to men is nothing new. Consider the prospects for unmarried women in 1865 following the deaths of 620,000 soldiers in the Civil War. What about the single women worldwide after World Wars I and II? They had plenty of reason to doubt. By 1918 9 million soldiers had died and by 1945, military deaths numbered as high as 25 million. And yet for all the shortages of marriageable men, whether real or imagined, the age of first time marriages was much lower then than it is now, and the same percentage of people got married then as now. Historically 85-90 percent of Americans eventually marry. Ninety percent!
You have every reason to hope for marriage. You just have to keep your focus in the right place.
Never-married women are a lot like Peter walking on the water. Having confirmed that it was Jesus, and not a ghost, coming toward them, Peter had the confidence to get out of the boat and join Him in a miraculous stroll. "But when he saw the wind," the Scripture says, "he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, 'Lord, save me!' Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. 'You of little faith,' he said, 'why did you doubt?'"
It wasn't that the wind suddenly appeared to throw Peter off, the storm had been raging, but that he suddenly shifted his focus from Jesus to the weather. He lost sight of what was most important — God's presence in the midst of the storm.
Blaming our current problem of protracted singleness on "not enough men," "lack of male initiative," "men with unreasonable expectations,"1 or any other probable cause is like shifting our gaze from Christ to the stormy weather. It's no wonder so many women are discouraged. From appearances, things look bleak.
Thankfully we have more to go on than appearances. God is still God. He designed us for marriage and despite all the roadblocks our culture puts between us and the altar, He's still in the business of "setting the lonely in families." He hasn't rescinded the Creation Mandate to be fruitful and multiply. His solution to man's loneliness is still a wife — the suitable helper. He's still in the business of making good matches. And no matter what happens in any one woman's life, He's still able.
This is not to say women don't have a part to play in God's plan for marriage. Or that men are doing everything right. Yes, men need to be more active in pursuing us ("He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD"). They need to be preparing to be providers and protectors and make sure they are not taking advantage of their sisters in Christ. And women need to do a better job of preparing to be helpers, esteeming marriage, seeking out mentors for Godly counsel and practicing modesty.
But at least we now know we can move on from the fallacy that there simply aren't enough men to go around. The real question is, where are they? Barna's study did find that more single women than single men are in church. So we're left wondering how to find them. If all these Christian men aren't in church on Sunday morning, what are single Christian women who want to marry supposed to do?
That's a question I'll come back to next month.
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1. Even this is an illegitimate claim. There's no evidence that women are any less guilty when it comes to unrealistic expectations. According the National Marriage Project there is "no significant gender gap" between the number of men and women who are holding out for a "soul mate."
Plenty of Men to Go Around, Part 2 by Candice Z. Watters
In Part 1 of this article I reported the promising news that single Christian men outnumber single Christian women. Still I did concede that more single women than single men are in church, leaving us wondering how to find them. Now to answer the cliffhanger, "If all these Christian men aren't in church on Sunday morning, where are they?"
The short answer is Bozeman, Montana. You might also consider Cullman, Alabama or Ames, Iowa. According to the Census Bureau they're among the cities with the biggest gap between single men and women.
OK, realistically, without the prospect of a new job, the lure of some extreme hobby or the draw of relatives or close friends, would a single woman really uproot and move cross-country to improve her chances of finding a husband?
Thankfully, in almost every region of the U.S. there are more never married men than women. The overall national ratio of men to women (unmarried, ages 15 to 44 years) is 108.7 men to 100 women. You can see from the chart below that only two states — Mississippi and Louisiana — have more unmarried women than men. And even in those two states, the numbers are close (with 98 men for every 100 women). The District of Columbia ranks pretty low at 93.4 men for every 100 women, but even that area favors men (105.7 men to 100 women) when you add in the metro area around the city.1
I realize this is review but we received a lot of email from readers who doubted my numbers and questioned my optimistic conclusions. So we went to the Barna Group and asked them for the breakdown among never married Christians. They told us they estimated 48 percent of never married men are believers and 52 percent of never married women are. Applying those estimates to the Census numbers,2 you end up with 14,189,280 never married Christian men and 12,300,600 never married Christian women.
While you may increase your odds of marrying by casting around for men in some male-dominated regions of the country, the point I made in Part 1 stands — there are plenty of men to go around right where you are.
Where the Men Are
Never married Christian men who want to marry are closer to home than you may think. Historically we've looked to bars, school, work, church and friends or family3 as reliable places to meet or be introduced to future spouses. Add to that the Internet and you've got a fairly complete picture of where couples meet.
Let's take each in turn. I've talked before about pitfalls of meeting someone in a bar. Obviously, for the Christ-follower, it's a less than ideal setting; the odds of finding someone with whom you could be equally yoked are slim.
School holds a lot of potential for readers who happen to still be in that setting. In fact it's one of the best places you can meet a like-minded, spiritually compatible mate simply because of the volume of candidates and opportunities. Yes, the cultural stigma against going for your MRS. degree along with your B.A. is deeply ingrained. But that's no reason to despise the possibility. Lots of college grads look back now and realize how good the college setting was for finding and getting to know potential mates and wish they could relive those days with an open mind.
If school's no longer an option, your next most likely place to look is work. While many are finding spouses over the cubicle wall, it's not without its drawbacks; most notably the H.R. cautions about office politics and policies that get in the way.
What about church? The upside is that if you meet someone there, you can be fairly confident he shares your faith. The problem, as I mentioned in part one, is that churches aren't doing a very good job of retaining their single male members, especially mainline denominations. You could certainly consider moving to a body where the Word is pre-eminent. Those churches have a better record at attracting young men and they are more likely to have a biblical view of marriage that encourages male initiative. But few are comfortable hopping from church-to-church on a mate hunt (rightly so).
In view of the shortcomings of the above options, many singles are turning to the Internet for help. The most obvious draw there is the vast pool of singles. Feel like your town is the problem? Too small? No one very interesting? Go to a place with no geographic boundaries and virtually endless possibilities. Maybe too many. I've talked about this before, too.
Then there's the age-old tradition of getting help from your parents. This goes all the way back to Genesis where patriarch after patriarch went out himself, or sent a surrogate, to find a wife for his son. And it's enjoying a vital resurgence. The recent New York Times article, "Spouse Courtesy of Mom the Matchmaker," reported it as one more facet of "helicopter" parents. Writes journalist Stephanie Rosenbloom, "Parents say they attempt to make matches because of the joy in helping someone find love, particularly for those who have happy marriages of their own."4
While interviewing men for his book Voice Male, Neil Chethik found that "husbands who were introduced to their future wives by friends and family members were most likely to pronounce themselves happy in their marriages later on.... Those who know us best may know what — and who — is best for us."
Still not everyone has parents who are willing or able to help them find a mate.
If none of the above options are for you, what's left to do? Who knows all these supposedly single Christian men who desire marriage? Someone must. I'll wager it's the older women in their lives. These are the women who taught little boys in Sunday School, gave them piano and art lessons, and loved them as sons, nephews, grandsons and neighbors. Some still have their pictures in photo albums or on their fridge. Many are still praying for them.
Not surprisingly, the Bible instructs us to go to them for help. In Titus 2, Paul instructs the older women to teach the younger women how to live godly lives. Specifically "to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored." It only makes sense that if the young women are having trouble finding husbands in the first place, that the older have a vital role to play in helping them marry well.
I was reading a little brochure by Nancy Leigh DeMoss called "The Truth that Sets Us Free: 22 Liberating Truths for Today's Woman." Truth number 17 reads, "In the will of God, there is no higher, holier calling than to be a wife and mother." She gives as evidence Titus 2:4-5. That's no small statement coming from a woman who, in her 40s, is still single and hoping to marry. It's worth getting help to get there.
Ask yourself, am I taking advantage of this rich resource? This wealth of life wisdom and spiritual guidance? Is an older Christian woman mentoring me?
There was a time when the older women's role as mentor was honored. Their gray hair was a sign of glory. But recent history finds their efforts scorned, their advice belittled. It's far trendier, and less awkward, to simply seek the advice and help of your peers. But as great as peer friendships are, when it comes to finding a mate, older women have a lot more to offer.
Not only do they have wisdom, and possibly even names to suggest, they also have a wealth of life experience to share about everything from education and career choices, church involvement, cultural discernment and political activity to candid advice about health and beauty. It's like having a mom who's dispassionate (not a bad thing when you're talking about your eating habits and hairstyle).
The woman who mentored me when I was hoping to find a husband mentioned in a very non-threatening, almost off-topic sort of way, that I might have better success if I lost some weight. She was right that I was on the pudgy side, and even for health reasons alone I knew I'd benefit from dropping a few pounds. If my mom had said it, I would have ended up in tears. For some reason, hearing it from Mary was easier.
And I wasn't the only woman she'd helped. As a college professor's wife, she spent 17 years informally relating to students in their home, and three years doing so formally as a women's chaplain at a Christian university. She found the college years to be a pivotal time for mentoring because they are "years of fast maturing and foundation building for life. It is also a time for those who want to have children in their 20s to find mates."
What's the best way to find a mentor? And to get her to agree to spend time with you? I asked two of the women who've mentored me for their thoughts on the subject. Next month you'll hear directly from them.
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1. Among several other cities that scored high in a recent Census Bureau report on the ratio of unmarried men 15 to 44 years per 100 unmarried women 15 to 44 years. The chart shows the states with the greatest ratio of men to women in this category. 2. The Census Bureau reported that as of 2004, there were 29,561,000 never married men and 23,655,000 never married women. 3. According to a national survey conducted last fall by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 38 percent met at work or school, 34 percent met through family or friends, 13 percent met at a nightclub, bar, café, or other social gathering, 3 percent met through the internet, 2 percent met at church, 1 percent met by chance, such as on the street, 1 percent% met because they lived in the same neighborhood, 1 percent met at a recreational facility like a gym, 1 percent met on a blind date or through a dating service, The remainder cited a variety of other ways they met, such as growing up together. 4. "Spouse Courtesy of Mom the Matchmaker," New York Times, p. E1. July 27, 2006.