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In recent years, we’ve been treated to plenty of articles regarding the romantic and sexual habits of the young and college-educated. In general, the observation is that the ladies are finding it difficult to find men who are interested in committed relationships or marriage, while the guys are blithely bouncing from bed to bed. While no stereotype is true of the whole — as my early-20s self of a decade ago would have bitterly pointed out to you — this one seems to reflect at least a part of reality.
Though there’s no shortage of likely causes — including the ongoing effects of the Sexual Revolution — two factors that have rightly attracted attention of late are the power of scarcity within different dating markets and how those markets are largely demarcated by education (e.g., college graduates generally limit their dating pools to other college grads). Among college-aged Millennials, for instance, there are four women for every three men. In that demographic, this means that men’s preferences dominate, not in spite of their low numbers, but because of them. Consequently sexual mores tend to be loose and committed relationships relatively rare. (“Won’t sleep with me? Sorry, baby, there’s plenty who will.”) When you factor in youthful hormones, it’s little wonder that sex tends to happen relatively early and requires less commitment.
(The outcome is deeply ironic, given that most feminists seemed to assume that, as college become more dominated by women, their preferences would become ascendant. Chalk this up as yet another example of the dangers of political thinking divorced from economic understanding).
Of course, if women are over-represented among college graduates, then that also means that they’re underrepresented among those without a degree. Indeed, according to Jon Birger in this Cato Daily Podcast interview, there are about 9.5 million single, working-class men in their 20s and only 7 million comparable women. And while this demographic’s romantic life has fewer think pieces and Hollywood screenplays devoted to it, the dating market here is apparently much more commitment-friendly. As such, we’re in the weird position where even Pajama Boy types can wrack up notches on their headboards, while middlingly-attractive working-class guys either marry relatively young or go to bed alone (I’m not wholly sure how to reconcile this with Coming Apart, though I sense part of the answer is that Belmont and Fishtown are extremes, and that Birger’s research focuses more closely on the young).
Birger predicts that something is going to break, and that the most likely point is our hang-ups about inter-class dating; specifically, that college-aged women are going to start dating (and marrying) firemen, plumbers, soldiers, and technicians who are skilled and gainfully employed, but lack a college degree.
Given that many of these careers now offer impressive salaries based on a few years’ training and education, going to technical school just became that much more attractive.