Why do men appear to be far more likely to be married than women?
October 17, 2014 8:18 PM   Subscribe

This question isn't about my life situation - I'm just genuinely curious. Why does it seem as if there are almost no never-married straight men past the age of about 35 - but a good number of never-married straight women? Am I misperceiving things? I have of course heard of exceptions to this, but startlingly few. I would just like to clear up my perception and, if I'm onto something, better understand why this phenomenon exists.
posted by Tess to Human Relations (35 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The never-married straight men over 35 of my acquaintance like their routines and don't enjoy socializing with new people. If you don't already know them, you're unlikely to meet them.

Marriage in our society overall tends to be a better deal for men than it is for women. There are many men and many women who perceive this, and who choose accordingly.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 8:27 PM on October 17, 2014 [24 favorites]

It's 25, not 35, but the report about marriage that's been going around this week suggests it's actually men who are more likely to have never been married

I suspect this effect is largely confirmation bias, though perhaps it's possible that the disproportionately higher number of men who are incarcerated might skew the numbers a bit in terms of who you encounter on a day-to-day basis.
posted by gerryblog at 8:27 PM on October 17, 2014 [10 favorites]

In my experience, yes, you are misperceiving/overstating this. I'm in my early 30s and know about the same number of never-married single men and women.

If I had to guess why you're seeing it this way, it's because you're female and most of your friends are female. I felt the same way you do until I fell into a social scene composed of a bunch of single guys, all of whom have the same trouble meeting women that the single women I know complain of in regards to men. When this happened to me, to be honest I felt like I'd just fallen through the looking glass into an alternate universe.
posted by Sara C. at 8:28 PM on October 17, 2014 [32 favorites]

One mathematical possibility is that a few women marry many times, creating lots of previously married men, as well as never-married women.

A more likely possibility is that never married men are less social/less likely to socialize with your specific group than never married women. Or, alternatively, women drop out of your group once married, and that effect doesn't happen to men.
posted by fermezporte at 8:30 PM on October 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

My experience is exactly the opposite of yours. So maybe confirmation bias.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:36 PM on October 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

59, straight, never married here. what bentobox said in comment #1. i am certainly friendable will a little effort, but nigh unrelationshippable at this point unless you want to parachute into a world of insanity. the reasons for this are complex, would take longer than i have to tell you, and depend on what mood i'm in "a devil imp cast its shadow over my conception bed."
posted by bruce at 8:36 PM on October 17, 2014 [10 favorites]

I probably know an equal number of unmarried men and women around 40 but overall I know more women who would like to be married or are pursuing it than men at my age.
posted by fshgrl at 8:38 PM on October 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

This presentation from the U.S. Census website (pdf) has a chart on page 15 that is very close to your question.

Specifically, "Percent Never Married among Those Aged 35 and Older by Sex: 1890 to 2010." For the most recent figures, about 14% of men 35 and older were never married, while about 11 percent of women 35 and older were never married. The only aspect of your question that is missing is sexual orientation.
posted by 1367 at 8:40 PM on October 17, 2014 [10 favorites]

Most people want to be with someone, so if you're seeing a lot of single people in your circles past their prime, they're likely to be imbalanced male or female.
posted by michaelh at 8:43 PM on October 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's probably mostly your misperception. You haven't given us any information about yourself, so we could only speculate about why your perception might be skewed. It strikes me as absurd to say "there are almost no never-married straight men past the age of about 35." I'm a 33-year-old straight man; I'm single and have never been married, and I highly doubt I'll be married within 2 years. Of course I'm increasingly less common among my male peers as more and more of them get married as we get older, but I don't think I'm some bizarre anomaly.

This comment makes no sense to me: "Marriage in our society overall tends to be a better deal for men than it is for women. There are many men and many women who perceive this, and who choose accordingly." First of all, how is marriage a "better deal" for men overall? Do you really think men are far more enthusiastic about marriage than women? Also, every time a man gets married, there's also a woman getting married (aside from same-sex marriage, of course, but that's a very small percentage of all marriages). So even if men were a lot more enthusiastic about it and women were usually reluctantly dragged into it (despite all evidence to the contrary), that alone wouldn't cause more men to be married than women. (I realize there can still be a gender gap for various reasons — but as another commenter pointed out, it's actually more common for men than women to have been never-married.)

Some kinds of men might be ones you'd be unlikely to meet in social situations — men in prison, or homeless men. Obviously, men are far, far more likely to be in those situations than women are. Not even close. The lowest classes of society are overwhelmingly male. Naturally, the marriage-eligible men are going to be found in the rest of society: men who don't have a criminal record, who are making a decent living, etc. So there may be a larger number of women competing for that smaller number of men. Also, men are more likely to do the deadliest jobs of society, which is part of why men die much younger than women; that eliminates some men from the population and again gives women a smaller pool to choose from. This could go some way toward explaining why the women who you end up talking to are more likely not to have gotten married. You're probably not likely to talk to someone who's in prison or homeless, and you definitely won't talk with someone who's dead. Those are situations men are much more likely to be in — hidden or invisible.
posted by John Cohen at 8:52 PM on October 17, 2014 [13 favorites]

Why does it seem as if there are almost no never-married straight men past the age of about 35 - but a good number of never-married straight women? Am I misperceiving things?

Yup, you are misperceiving things! There are a great many more never married men than never married women. See for example Pew Research.

And in fact this trend is widening. I thus diagnose you with a severe case of confirmation bias.
posted by Justinian at 9:02 PM on October 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

Aaaaand GerryBlog posted the same link in like the second comment. Curses.
posted by Justinian at 9:05 PM on October 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do you live on the East Coast?

That's womansville, especially New York.

I promise you, move to Alaska (or anywhere in the "true West" of the U.S.) and suddenly it's raining bachelors.
posted by quincunx at 9:09 PM on October 17, 2014 [11 favorites]

I think its the friend groups we keep, I know more single eligible men(hello ladies, im here all week) then single women. Even living in a theoretical surplus of single women city.
posted by TheAdamist at 10:12 PM on October 17, 2014

Why does it seem as if there are almost no never-married straight men past the age of about 35 - but a good number of never-married straight women? Am I misperceiving things?

I think you can take a gander at online dating profiles and see tons of never married ones. I'm sure not all are telling the truth about it, but even in my real life encounters, there are a lot. And there are probably even more never married men who don't socialize regularly/have difficulties cultivating social lives offline and just hole up in their apartments after work.
posted by discopolo at 11:02 PM on October 17, 2014

First of all, how is marriage a "better deal" for men overall?

Aside from the fact that the last I heard, married men live longer, I don't think this is necessarily any of it an inherent thing, but there's a lot of socialized baggage. I'm under 40 and dated a lot of men who could not cook anything more complicated than boxed macaroni and cheese, in my 20s. Men who took their laundry home to their mothers. This is improving by leaps and bounds, but I don't think we can pretend that we haven't had a period of a few decades of disparity--girls were increasingly being told that working outside of the home was a viable option, but boys weren't being taught that they could manage a household just fine. Single men have typically taken much more of a lifestyle hit. Now, well, there's Google.

Just glancing at the older end of people I know, I'd say there's a thing that women are more likely to have deliberately de-prioritized it when they were younger and later on be looking for romantic rather than lifestyle reasons; the men are more likely to just never been "good enough with women" to get that far. But get to the 20s and 30s crowd, and I'd put it closer-to-universally at "are you kidding, I'm broke and I don't know what I'm doing with my life, of course my relationships have turned into train wrecks if I've bothered at all". The economy has had a way of evening things out, which makes it harder to comprehend why the generation who had stable jobs weren't taking advantage of their opportunities.
posted by Sequence at 11:36 PM on October 17, 2014 [10 favorites]

"Men were less likely than women to have never tied the knot, and the less educated those men were, the less likely they were to marry. That wasn't true for women: Women of all education levels were about as likely to not be married." Link.

Your cohort perhaps?

It might also be that men that were married once are more likely to divorce and marry again whereas divorced women said "fuck this".

There is also a financial advantage to being not married WRT government assistance. If one person is raising the kids and paying the the rent there is likely more governmental assistance available even though the parents are working in tandem. It's a financial reality that shouldn't be.
posted by vapidave at 12:55 AM on October 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

My personal anecdote: I'm female, married once. My partner is male, never married at 56. He's handsome, erudite and highly idiosyncratic; he never even thought he'd have a long-term relationship at his age (3 and a half years now) because he's an unusual person. Fortunately, I am also an unusual person, so this works well for us.
Partially, in his case, I think it's because he doesn't value stability in a conventional sense at all and really that's what a lot of people are looking for in a marriage.

I think you may be experiencing a bit of confirmation bias, because you're at the age when many people are thinking about marriage, and many have just started families. Women, who have a more limited amount of time in which to reproduce, seem to be more likely to be seeking a husband in their thirties than do men, and a lot of men who remain unpartnered into their thirties and beyond are not actively looking for a partner at all. The more time goes by, the less likely they are to seek partners, because restructuring their lifestyle to accommodate another person is really not attractive to them.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 3:36 AM on October 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

I believe that a contributing factor is that there is an endless supply of younger women, and once a woman reaches a "certain age," many men will not consider marrying her when they can have someone younger.
posted by Dolley at 5:19 AM on October 18, 2014 [12 favorites]

I believe that a contributing factor is that there is an endless supply of younger women, and once a woman reaches a "certain age," many men will not consider marrying her when they can have someone younger.

Totally anecdotal, but I have seen this (which leaves the 35 year old woman choosing between dating the fewer men her own age who aren't trying to date younger women, or dating an older man), plus it feels like the women that age I know are almost all serious about finding someone soon while not as many of the men are looking that seriously. Add those two factors together and you end up with what feels like a dearth of available men, even if demographically the single men are out there.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:27 AM on October 18, 2014 [10 favorites]

Statistically your perceptions are wrong. There are more never-married men than women, and the numbers here are expected to rise. The explanation I've read is that this number reflects economic conditions. Higher income earners are more likely to marry. Unemployed/underemployed people are less likely to marry. Women are less likely to "marry down" in income, so if there are equal numbers of unemployed/underemployed men and women placed together in a Gedankenexperiment petri dish, at the end of the day you end up with more never-married men compared to women, because the unemployed men are less likely to find a willing partner.

Of course, there are people who deliberately choose not to get married, for personal reasons. This is just one explanation of the trend based on survey data.
posted by deathpanels at 6:46 AM on October 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think as a society we hear more about unmarried women because "old maids" are considered to be a problem. There are self-help books and media stories about unmarried women, unmarried celebrities. It's a topic of many "chick lit" books and non-fiction books. Whereas, there isn't nearly as much in the media about unmarried men because unmarried men tend to be looked at as "bachelors" who are having a good time.

Therefore the fact that it is "reported" about more, and reflected more in media and the arts, and in turn women are more anxious about it and talk about it more, makes it seem like singlehood is more common among women even if it's not.
posted by bearette at 7:29 AM on October 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have known a ton of never married guys but yeah, they're pretty geeky and tend to travel in packs to each others houses for art projects or LAN parties or whatever, under the cover of darkness...
posted by small_ruminant at 7:43 AM on October 18, 2014

Can also be regional - there are parts of the country/world that have more men than women, and parts that have more women than men. If you have, say, 102 men per 100 women, and 90% of 'all people' get married, you'll end up with 12 unmarried men and 10 unmarried women - a full 20% difference. And vice versa for areas with more women than men.
posted by Lady Li at 7:54 AM on October 18, 2014

First of all, how is marriage a "better deal" for men overall?

There are a fair number of studies showing that married men live longer, make more money, and have better health outcomes. But there's likely a lot of correlation-not-causation there, since married men are statistically richer, which tends to lead to living longer, making more money, and having better health. It's true that men seem less likely to pursue marriage, but they do better in it, so this may be one of the many self-destructive behaviors men engage in on a mass scale.

So that's certainly a contributing factor to the perception that there are more single women: There are more women talking about wanting to be married, while many confirmed bachelors just never mention it. That said, I think you're basically right that it also has much to do with the ways that unmarried men are often forcibly removed from society, usually by incarceration, but sometimes by shaming unto invisibility.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:21 AM on October 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yeah, come to silicon valley- sooo many guys. (Suuuch poor social skills.)

I wonder if it's that guys are a lot more mobile in their quest for work. Look at Silicon Valley, North Dakota, Alaska...
posted by small_ruminant at 8:39 AM on October 18, 2014

Marriage in our society overall tends to be a better deal for men than it is for women.

apologies for the hijack but as a 35+ man who is struggling to not get married can you please explain this to me?
posted by krautland at 9:06 AM on October 18, 2014

krautland, check out some of the responses above to this question.

The classic essay "I Want a Wife" also talks about cultural perceptions of what American men have gotten out of being married.
posted by cadge at 9:19 AM on October 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

Nthing that it's regional. I don't know where you live, but my state (according to Wikipedia) is 51.6% female and 48.4% male. In my current city, "for every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.0 males." In my previous city, "for every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 93.8 males." I think this gets even more noticeable around your 30s-40s. (Oh help, why do I live here.) I assume the greater number of single men also becomes more noticeable in one's 30s in places where the reverse is true.

I think the point about 35+ single guys just not socializing with new people as much is also very good. Single women are really pressured/expeted to do this in a way that AFAIK, men are not.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 9:37 AM on October 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think this perception might be based on your social privilege. Men in general are far more likely to be imprisoned, homeless, or unemployed. They are less likely to receive a college education. These are people your social class has no interaction with.
posted by Willie0248 at 9:39 AM on October 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm 55, divorced for a number of years. Amongst my group of friends and wider acquaintances - middle-aged, professionals - there are far more unmarried women than men. The men are either still married to their first wife - and they married in their 20s - or are married to a second or third wife who is significantly younger than them. None of my divorced women friends have been able to find another long-term partner.

You only have to look on any dating website to find that men generally look for women who are at least 10-15 years younger than them - and often 25+ years younger. Whether they're being realistic about finding a much younger partner is debatable, but the fact remains that many, many men will discount a women around their own age.

This may well cut these men off from any realistic prospect of finding a compatible partner from their own age group. After all, a a 55-year-old divorced man weighed down with debt, child support, living back with his mother and being a weekend dad is likely to be of limited appeal to young, free, single women. But if these men do find a younger partner, it means that the women in their own age group are more likely to remain single, as there are fewer men in their own age range who are available to them.
posted by essexjan at 10:01 AM on October 18, 2014

Also, while unmarried people of both genders over a certain age are scrutinized, women over thirty are still traditionally regarded as "spinsters" in our culture while men are often allowed to be "bachelors" well into middle-age without too much eye-batting. Even though these lifestyle choices/living situations are quite similar. Women are also traditionally portrayed as passive participants in the dating market who need to sit around waiting for a suitable mate to seek them out, so a never-married woman would traditionally be seen as having failed to attract a man rather than voluntarily putting off marriage for whatever reason. So maybe you are more conscious of never-married women of a certain age because there are more negative presentations of them in the media.
posted by deathpanels at 10:32 AM on October 18, 2014

Are you a highly educated upper middle class person living in a city? If so, it could be an effect of your network. Highly educated men tend to be married, whereas highly educated women tend to marry later or not marry at all. Data pulled from The Love Market.
posted by Milau at 1:58 PM on October 19, 2014

I am 52 never married and I think the older you get, chances are you'll always be single.If you haven't met anybody at my age it's just not going to happen no matter what.Thats just my opinion,for what it's worth.
posted by Dustin 1 at 1:57 AM on October 24, 2014

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