Tuesday, August 15, 2006

More on Barna's numbers

People who have started looking more closely at Barna's articles (such as Mike Theemling and gortexgrrl) have noticed the same thing we did in our research: Barna doesn't break down gender differences between never married men and women. It would have been helpful if he had. Consequently, we don't know exactly the percentage of never married Christian men vs. the percentage of never married Christian women. In his book Single Focus, Barna offers the percentage of believers among never marrieds, marrieds, divorced and widowed. While he shows a much higher percentage of believers among those who are married or widowed vs. those who have never married, he doesn't divide those marital status categories into gender. That leaves us with his gender gap of 41% to 49% (it isn't broken down by marital status).

Ultimately, this is the primary issue: Barna estimated in 2000 that there were 11 to 13 million more Christian women than Christian men (an estimate he must have arrived at by applying his percentages to Census Bureau data, the same way other statisticians do -- unless he has his own army of headcounters). Nowhere does Barna indicate specifically what several singles writers have implied -- that the gap he is referring to is among never married men and never married women. Until I can track someone down at Barna to see what other information they may have, a reasonable interpretation of what they make available is that the playing field between never married men and never married women is at least mostly level and most likely slightly in favor of men.

-- Steve

I'd like to add that my point in writing the article was not to start a debate about who outnumbers whom, but to clarify that where never marrieds are concerned, the 11-13 million number has absolutely no bearing. It's disingenuous to quote it in the context of a conversation about how many singles aren't getting married and it has the effect of leaving many women feeling unnecessarily depressed.

It is good news for never married women who desire marriage that the 11 million man shortage is a fallacy.

Now that we know there are enough men, or at least nearly enough, we can stop feeling sorry that we live in this generation and start asking the harder questions like what makes for a good potential spouse, where are the good potential spouses to be found, and what part can can I, as a woman, play in God's plan for marriage?

-- Candice


At 5:44 AM, Blogger A. LaLande said...

I personally appreciate the optimistic spirit of your latest article! Singles like me who really desire marriage don't need more doom and gloom - encouragement is a much better fuel to inspire us! I've been saddened by the many Christians who insist on denigrating marriage - sorry, Satan is working hard enough at that, we need MORE people to stand up for marriage, not less.

At 10:05 AM, Blogger Robert said...

I agree. This bit of number crunching is good as far as it edifies, but numbers aren't the point. We still know that 90% of all people do get married. The only question, is what would be helpful from church families in guiding young people to marriage. We don't need to worry about how many boys and girls there are, just how to get a fairly equal number together in one place. If (worst case scenario) we find 13 milliion extra girls when we are done, there really isn't anything anyone could have done about it anyways, so there is no use stressing about it. I'll trust that God didn't give 13 million girls a desire to get married with no way to fulfill that wish. He does, after all, know how to give good gifts to His children.

At 10:43 AM, Blogger Tidy Bowl said...

Seems to me that, also, this is in large part a faith issue. God is omnipotent - I don't think anyone here will disagree with that. And the truth is that you might move to a country with a horribly "off" gender ratio, like China, where it is believed that there are somewhere from 120 to 150 men per every 100 women. Or, domestically, you might go to a university that has four to six men per every one woman (as does one university in my state).

But the fact is this: There could be one man and one million women, and if it is God's will for you to meet and marry that one man, he will make it possible. Now, it is our responsibility to respond to God's leading. But if God wants you to be married, he will provide the way.

It's all about faith. Trust God first, marriage always comes second.

At 3:42 PM, Blogger Elena said...

Actually, the issues are fear and mistrust of other human beings---and our trust in God is key in helping us learn to trust people again. Numerous Christian singles want marriage but have various fears which form the basis of their attitudes, beliefs, speech, and actions regarding social interactions and the opposite sex. We singles still have much to learn about how our fears and mistrust manifest themselves in our lives and how the implications play out.

Men and women are still learning more and more about one another each year---what men really do care about and what women really do care about, when it comes to relationships and marriage; how we're wired; what men and women find attractive. We're unlearning the idiotic idea that men and women are basically the same. And it takes time to unpack the previous ideas we held and pack the right and good ideas and understandings into our brains (and act upon that new info.).

Faith means that we act against our fears. Faith means we trust that there are still good guys and good gals left. Faith means that we try AGAIN to get to know someone new. Faith means we face our fears and go out for coffee or say hello or smile back or host/hostess a party or a myriad of other things which help connect us to other people.

For me, faith means getting back to doing the things I enjoy which take me out of the house and get me around people---esp. those activities at church which afford opps to interact with adults. Thus, tonight I go back to choir rehearsal!

I think what is more helpful to Christians who are already seeking God, is concrete, practical advice about improving communication skills and social skills, especially with the opposite sex. God is telling so many of us to go get help to discover our blindspots and to heal from hurts, but we think we don't need other humans...we think we "just need God." Baloney... God meant for us to be in relationship with Him AND with people.

Seeking God and seeking marriage CAN coexist!

At 7:32 PM, Blogger gortexgrrl said...

It's good to clarify that Barna's 2000 calculation of 11-13 million less Christian men than women is an over-all count, NOT the number of missing single men. However, I wouldn't say that this number has "absolutely no bearing" where never marrieds are concerned. In that same 2000 survey sample, women outnumbered men in almost every dimension of religious practice and belief measured (not as many details were provided on the Barna website for the 2006 gender update). Of course single women are going to have a presence in those surpluses! Also, Churchformen.com has reported that for U.S. congregations, "the gender gap shows up in all age categories", the whole point of their ministry being to find ways of drawing more men to church (young single men being quite a challenge for them!). In all, the shortage of young marriageable Christian men in the single-digit millions is not likely to be far off the mark.

BTW- about those census figures mentioned in the Plenty of Men article that show more unmarried men in almost every age bracket: Last week's The New York Times article on men and singleness claims that much of the early 40's segment is comprised of high school drop outs and the unemployed. Chalk up one for the "stay in school" activists!

Of course we do need to be careful in how we interpret statistics and put our faith in Christ, not numbers. Nevertheless, talking openly about the facts of the demographic make-up of our Christian communities must not be regarded as "lack of faith" or "doomsaying", as if faith and realism cannot co-exist. For some reason the man shortage has been for years a taboo subject, which may explain why Barna hasn't given us a full picture of his findings. Identifying a problem and putting it on the table for discussion can be a corporate exercise of confession and repentance leading to solutions.


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