Monday, August 14, 2006

Defending math for more married men

In a recent post, gortexgrrl wrote:
As much as we were due for a break-down of Barna's 11-13 million man shortfall stat in terms of never married, married, divorced, widowed BELIEVERS (not nec. "AT CHURCH"), you can't just splice together two sets of data, willy-nilly, this set from Barna, that set from census, etc. Statistics just don't work that way.

Since I helped Candice process these numbers, I wanted to respond. The first thing I should point out is that it's perfectly fine to apply percentage estimates to Census Bureau population numbers--it happens all the time as polling groups survey small samples and then project their proportions onto the general population. It's exactly what Barna did. Notice the footnote to Barna's study making the claim that there were 11 to 13 million more single women than men:
The research is based upon six telephone surveys among 4,755 adults over the age of 18 who reside in the 48 continental states - 2,439 of the interviews were with women and 2,316 were among men. The estimated sampling error for the survey is +2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
How in the world did Barna determine there was a gap of 11 to 13 million if he only surveyed 4,755 adults? He obviously applied his percentages to the population estimates made available by the Census Bureau.

Because the Census Bureau clearly shows that never married men outnumber never married women in every age category except those over 75, the gap that Barna points out is clearly among widowed and divorced women--supported by the Census Bureau. Barna affirms this point in another article drawing from his singles research in which he says, "Whereas men slightly outnumber women among those who have never been married and divorced women slightly outnumber divorced men, widowed women dwarf widowed men by a 4.3-to-1 ratio."

The bottom line is that anyone who wants to use Barna's research to accurately characterize the reality of how never married men compare to never married women should refer to the quote above instead of trying to guess which women he's referring to when he says that Christian women in general outnumber Christian men in general.

While eHarmony registration and Christian colleges may skew female, their numbers say more about who is seeking out online matching and higher education than it does about the actual breakdown of never married Christian men and women. Courtney Camerin's global perspective, unfortunately, is only anecdotal. At the end of the day, gortexgrrl is right that there still are many churches and other Christian settings where never married women outnumber never married men on a regular basis. However, there is no way you can legitimately interpret Barna's research, or anyone else's, to show that there are more never married Christian women in American than there are never married Christian men.


At 8:29 PM, Blogger Mike Theemling said...

One way for the layperson to verify that taking a small percentage of a whole population and getting an accurate representation is as follows:

Get a large bag of M&M's and throw them into a bowl or jar. Mix them up. Then RANDOMLY (this is important) take out a handful of M&Ms. I'd say about 30. Count the colors and then figure out the percentages by dividing it by the entire number of M&Ms (e.g. if you get 5 Blue M&Ms in your sample of 30 you have 20%).

Now, count up ALL the M&Ms from the bag (including the 30 you took). Again, count up each color. Now compare the percentages you got from the X/30 with the percentage from the entire bag. You'll find that the percentages will be amazingly close (by the way this concept is called the "Central Limit Theorem" in statistics).

So, as long as you take a sufficiently large enough RANDOM sample (1,000 is actually a decent amount) the percentage you get will be very close to the actual if you were to count up every Tom, Dick, and Jane in the country.

The key is getting that random sample. Sometimes samples people take are not random, thus they end up with bad results ("Dewey Wins!"). But most institutions that gather data often do get a fair representation.

At 7:03 PM, Blogger gortexgrrl said...


I have looked through Barna's website and all the links you provided and cannot find anything that even remotely suggests that Barna crunched his 2000 or 2006 gender study numbers with census data to show a surplus of born again men. Nor did his article on singles (as per your link) which used census data claiming "men slightly outnumber women among those who have never been married" suggest that there's a surplus of born again men in that demographic. If this had been the case, wouldn't he have reported it?

This surplus of born again men appears to be coming from your own calculations. Unless, of course, you've spoken to him yourself or have access to his analysis of the data that he may have omitted from his public website (if so, I'd love to see it).

Certainly, Barna's 11-13 million gender imbalance figure needs to be broken down by age and marital status. Given the implications, I think Barna himself should pony up the numbers and speak to that. But as far anyone else taking those same figures and extrapolating from census data some kind of theory that there's a surplus of never married Christian men and that "women have the advantage"-- well, these bold claims seem awfully premature.

At 9:17 PM, Blogger Firinnteine said...

I believe God is big enough to find me a wife regardless of who the numbers favor.

I'm honestly wondering -- if we prove, definitively, that one side or the other has the demographic advantage -- will that really help us any? At all?

Just thought I'd ask. :)

At 2:11 PM, Blogger gortexgrrl said...


I guess that depends on how pronounced the imbalance turns out to be. If it's quite obvious, then of course, that's going to affect people. If any discussion of those effects are met with denial and admonishments about lack of faith, then not only is than unhelpful, but that could cause harm. It's crazy making for people to be told that what they are seeing isn't really there.

At 4:24 PM, Blogger Elena said...

I'm with you, firinn. Demographics, schmemographics...

The demographics I care about are "what single Christian guys with whom I am compatible and vice versa are in the places I'm likely to go?" and "if they ain't where I am, to where do I need to git mah butt????" Er....some such question.

Either that....or I need a fairy godmother with a very powerful wand.


At 1:27 PM, Blogger K said...

I'm honestly wondering -- if we prove, definitively, that one side or the other has the demographic advantage -- will that really help us any? At all?

It’s an important question for several reasons. Single people have to be very honest with themselves and others, and wrestle with difficult, uncomfortable, and politically-incorrect questions. When considering our singleness, is it due to a lack of access to eligible people, some deficiency on our own part, or a mismatch between our market value and that which we want to attract? And isn’t our own “market value” in any situation largely a function of the local gender balance in our area? See for an example of how even seemingly small imbalances really make things tough for people in the predominate gender.

One reason we need to know is that, as someone said, statistics can be right everywhere but not right anywhere. I’ve said before that, even if the nationwide ratio were 50/50, many of us would still have many complaints about our individual lives: the typical Christian male engineering student at a majority-male technical university and the typical female elementary-education major at the Christian liberal arts college would both have valid complaints about the unavailability of partners. Personally, I began looking into the numbers because I wondered whether I was being adversely affected by the ratios at my particular church or town. If goretexgrrl is correct, then a little time and money invested in church shopping (I’m a member of mine, or I would have tried already) or weekend travel to another city would be rewarded by expectant throngs of beautiful Christian women who are desperate for a Christian guy with a detectible pulse. But, if there’s a national surplus of never-married men (which I think is more accurate), then I should save my time and money for mate-searching activities that focus more on self-improvement, or just take a deep breath and be prepared to be single (and, more accurately, dateless) for a “lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, long long time.”

Another reason to consider it is that, as single people, we have to honestly confront politically incorrect questions about ourselves and others. One real question we have is “how attractive am I?” and “what kind of people can I attract.” Maybe I’m really an 8, and I’ve been rejected by 4’s and 6’s only because my local environment is bad. Or maybe I’m still an 8, but the nationwide shortage of never-married Christian women means I’ll have to settle for a 6 at best. Or maybe I’m really a 3, and gortexgrrl’s nationwide shortage of Christian men is the only reason I’ve ever had a positive interaction with an average girl.

I think that we have a lot of stress about the uncertainty of it all. In the job market, we know that radiologists earn $300k and young engineers less than $60k. So a graduating radiologist getting offers in the $60k range in his area has objective knowledge that he’s worth more and decides to relocate for greener pastures. It’s not so clear in matters of the heart.

At 4:54 PM, Blogger Mike Theemling said...

k definitely makes a good point there about how one's immediate situation and environment affects his/her standards.

For example, I was one of those who went to that small tech school where the ratio was like 5:1 not in my favor. You can be sure that just about every woman there was either in a relationship, was being pursued, or both. What's more, is that women who would normally be "average" at larger more balanced universities were much more appealing. It's like the old addage: the hungrier one gets, the less picky he is.

I think everyone has some minimum threshold standard out there. Let's say for Joe Single it's a 4 (out of 10). But he'd much rather be in a pool of 6's or 7's (or higher). So if his regular pool of acquaintences consists of a lot of 4-5's and a few 6+, he might hold out because he doesn't want to commit to a 4 when an 8 might come walking in next week. However, if his pool is full of nothing but 1-2's he might very well jump at the first 4 that comes through the door. Or he might just leave for an environment as stated beforehand. As harsh as this may sound, I think everyone (male and female) do this to some extent. We are brought up in a culture where we need to leave all our options open for as long as possible.

The huge problem with the advent of online dating is that it gives us the ILLUSION that our entire community now consists of a plethora of 7's, 8's, and even a decent number of 9's and 10's. Therefore, one NEVER needs to settle for a 6 and certainly not his minimum 4. Of course what the websites fail to mention in their fine print is, "Oh by the way, everyone thinks this way now." So unless you were a 7 or 8 in your local pool of singles to begin with, odds are you will never be given any serious thought by anyone. All the online scene does is makes unrealistic expectations and raises everyone's minimum threshold up while at the same time lowering his/her own number down.

So what shall we say then? If you are looking for a husband/wife you ought to move to where you would have a demographic advantage? To me that sounds kind of cold and heartless, yet I do think there is some wisdom in that one ought to make as many opportunites as possible. After all, no one will really feel sorry for you if you expect to find a mate and don't go to church, don't go to single's groups, don't make an effort to make friends, etc. etc. I think the key here is balance. Obviously, if one's only goal for church hopping is to find a man/woman then I think there needs to be an examination of the heart. However, moving from a small town of 500 to a larger city can be perfectly legitimate.

Any thoughts on how to deal with this?

At 7:38 PM, Blogger gortexgrrl said...

k and mike,

WOW! You guys have made some excellent points here, ones that are hard to say but let's face it, we all go through this process to some extent. No doubt about it, Christians fall in love and get married the same way as everyone else: it's mostly function of PHYSICAL ATTRACTION.

Proof of this is that couples almost always MATCH when it comes to level of physical attractiveness (yes, IQ and earning potential do factor in, but bear with me), even when it comes to the most godly ministry couples! Even Neil Clarke Warren of eharmony affirms this fact and has a way of quantifying it.

Inevitably, we need to get out there and test our expectations by interacting with real people in order to know ourselves, who we are, who we are not, who we can have, and who we can't. Previous generations had lot's of elder interference to bust any illusions: old aunts and uncles that would say "what's a guy like you going after a girl like her?" (and vice versa), but no one dares to challenge anyone's romantic aspirations nowadays because we don't want to hurt anyone's "self-esteem".

I think straight talk, a la "The Rules", "He's Just Not That Into You" and "Ladder Theory" are indicators of a need for realism, instead of all these romanticized divine matchmaking fantasies (which drive up expectations, because if God is doing it all, the result will be nothing less than perfection, right? This is what often happens).

Time and nature always has its way with us. Both women AND men have a finite range options to choose from within a finite period of time. We need to tolerate a few reminders of that, here and there, especially for those of us who have been hiding our unrealistic expectations behind pious "waiting on the Lord" postures.

This is anything but cynical, if anything, it supports masculine initiative. Ironically, guys who get out there and ask lot's of women out have been judged as "church romeos" (even if not sexually active with them), but who cares, as long as it leads to realistic pursuit with an end in sight, which the earnest nursing of crushes do not.

We should stop worrying about guys being motivated primarily by physical attraction. As long as his expectations about looks aren't too high for him (which hopefully they won't be, if he subjects them to a bit of reality testing, so we need not worry about this creating more body image issues in girls), and as long as his mojo isn't blinding him to problems in terms of yoking, girl's character, etc. At least physical attraction gets the job done, which is exactly what God designed it to do!

Go for it, you guys!

At 11:09 PM, Blogger K said...

Of course, when I mentioned numbers, I was actually referring to a composite score, including looks, personality / social skills, earning potential, etc. But looks probably the dominant component for both men and women (though they’re less likely to admit it).

As far as reality-testing, there are so many variables and, often, so few experiments that it's difficult to draw valid conclusions.

I was once very hurt when a good friend’s sister (who had been out of state for years) accepted and then lied to me to break a date. We seemed to hit it off, and her family knew I was safe, so I couldn’t chalk it up to Ted Bundy-phobia. A few months later, I heard about her wedding plans. So what I thought was “I’m rejecting you even though my family knows and likes you” was actually more like “I’m very serious with my boyfriend from high school and we’ll be getting married within a year” (but why couldn’t she, as a socially-adept Queen Bee type gal, just say "thanks, but I have a boyfriend"?!). And other times, it may be more a preference for someone taller / shorter / more talkative / quieter / less white / in full-time Christian service / in a high-paying secular job / more country / more metrosexual / more conservative / more liberal / pro-contraception / anti-contraception.

There’s also a situational aspect: for instance, our church schedules the college and post-college Sunday School classes at opposite hours, so the college girls experience college graduates only as “that random older guy who hit on me at church.” Things might work differently if they were able to interact more as peers.

Also, I’ve not found much of a pattern in the responses I get from different girls. Once, within a few months, I was rejected by a 4 from church (I did like her, but she was at the low end of my range) and went on a couple of dates date with a model I met in a bookstore…so I’m either a 3 or 10, depending on which opinion you count.

As Camerin Courtney validly points out, many of us don't really have a "dating life," but sometimes go years between interesting meetings. A married man said that my church was “great…like a Christian meet market” in the 1980’s. I suppose that people could draw some valid conclusions in that environment. But there have been several years where I can honestly say “No new unattached, reasonably attractive young women came to church that year,” there’s not much reality testing that can happen.

I have to disagree with the whole “honest advice from older people,” though. It’s easy to romanticize the past, and easy to look to “wise older counsel” as a solution for everything. I'm not sure how involved older people got throughout history. Not only are older people sometimes out of touch ("the young Mr. Dynamite boy is so well-dressed and respectful"), but remember how silly and counterproductive the general advice from our most well-respected authors has been: do we really think that random average people from the generation that told us "dating is of the Devil" and "only marry if you hear the voice of God telling you to do so and if a perfect spouse drops through the roof" would be helpful and accurate? Also, the romantic advice I’ve gotten from my “elders” has been laughably inconsistent. This summer, we had a visitor to the church who had just graduated from college: she was stunningly beautiful and was a member of an exclusive sorority. One couple basically set us up on a date (they invited us to a group lunch, acted like our being together was a good idea, and gave me a chance to get her number on the way to the restaurant). A few months ago, this couple had made a point to introduce me to another girl who is even more attractive (we had already met once for a brief date, but my conversation skills didn’t show up that evening). The week after the sorority stunner, another married woman asked me if I had “considered” a young lady who is essentially a quadriplegic. She’s only slightly deformed, and very sweet, though rather sheltered and childlike. I was pretty shocked and confirmed that “considered” meant “considered for a romantic relationship.” So, depending on who I listen to, I’m either incapable of attracting a healthy person who can provide active companionship and can bear and care for children and need to look into the severely handicapped market, or I’m a plausible match for 9’s and 10’s!

(For accuracy, I think the sorority girl decided to look for another church, and the other may be one of one or two attractive single girls to come to our church and stay during the last 3-5 years…otherwise, I wouldn’t have a complaint!).

But all this "market value" stuff is pretty much common sense; I'm still more interested in the idea of whether there is a numerical imbalance among Christian singles, and, if so, which direction it points. I'm very thankful for the recent updates: I've been calling for such study for a while, and they definitely square with my experience emailing a woman who complained of a man shortage in her church only to clarify for me that the surplus women were elderly widows, not single young ladies, and with having a male majority at most church and para-church meetings I've attended over the years.

I think we need to also adjust for the increasing popularity of single motherhood: not only does Barna say that more men are never-married (more women are divorced), but nobody has touched the single motherhood issue. I don't think that any of the ladies posting here are that type, but I know, indirectly, of at least one never-married single mother in the Bible Belt who claims to be a Christian and attends church, but the fathers of such children seem rarely to be involved with church. Not that I'd be interested in the type of person (selfish and irresponsible) who gets pregnant while not married, but it is something that affects the numbers at least a little bit for those of us who have been relatively chaste and expect some semblance thereof from our mates. I don't expect virginity from a woman these days; I'm willing to accept a few mistakes, but at least be discreet and prior marriages/shack-ups or children, please.

And, for a humorous take on the male experience, here's an award-winning (PG-13) cartoon:

At 8:44 PM, Blogger gortexgrrl said...

Sorry to hear about the girl who lied to get out of a date, but men are no less likely to do this as women. It's true that people break off dates for any number of reasons. Coping with rejection is something you get better at over time, part of that is realizing that we all do it (btw- guys do it by not asking).

It's also true that "honest advice from older people" doesn't come with any guarantees, but what else is there? I've heard it said that "life is too short to learn only from your own mistakes"

As for your contention that there aren't even women to go around for all the guys, I still contend that this is the case in the minority of churches. If you adjusted for "single motherhood" and divorce as you suggested, well, that means you'd have to also adjust for "men behaving badly factors" (ie. criminal record, addictions, sexual acting out-- all of which are overrepresented among men).

At 9:37 AM, Blogger Mike Theemling said...

Coping with rejection is something you get better at over time, part of that is realizing that we all do it (btw- guys do it by not asking).

I don't understand this last phrase. I agree that not being asked is the equivalent to being "rejected" for whatever purposes. However, there is an important difference between "not being asked" and "asking, and having someone say 'No'".

With the latter, a person is soliciting a specific response (hopefully in the affirmative). To the solicitor (not an English lawyer by the way), the rejection is a negative response. To the solicted, it may or may not be viewed negatively. She could think, "Is this the best I can attract?!" or she could think, "Well at least I can get some guys to ask me out...I just need to get super-hunk to do so".

However, how would a girl feel if a guy asked her out, she accepted, and then he said, "Oh wait I changed my mind. I just asked out out of guilt or sympathy so you wouldn't feel rejected"? Now there are some who are so hungry for any type of affirmation they will eat a counterfeit even if they know it is such, but the vast majority I believe would reject such patronizing.

The big problem with the whole "taking-the-initiative" complaints is that it can have the unwritten caveat of "I only count those who I myself would be interested in".

A pure hypothesis not thoroughly tested, but have noticed, is that girls will only "flirt" or "warm up" to those guys they are interested in. All others they will either act neutral or give the cold shoulder. Then, they complain that "no guys ask me out" when the fact is they have modified their behavior to only set themselves up to be asked by guys they themselves are interested in. I'm not suggesting that girls or guys put on a false facade of interest (see 2 paragraphs ago), but I do ask that we are all HONEST with ourselves about what we really want and not be surprised at the outcomes.


Post a Comment

<< Home