As a married Modern Orthodox man who’s only child so far is a boy, I am entirely unaffected by, and unfamiliar with the crisis in the shidduch world. Upon reading the recent article by Yitta Halberstam that has caused such backlash, I became intrigued by this odd problem, and entirely mystified by Mrs. Halberstam’s solution.
The problem, as she tells it, is the fact that, in the shidduch world, the men have all the power, and more or less have their pick of women. The women, on the other hand, have no power at all. They wait by the phone for their call to come. And when it does come, they certainly can’t afford to be choosy. Mrs. Halberstam vaguely hints that the source of this problem is “the stark realities of supply and demand.” Her solution is for women looking for a husband to wear makeup, lose weight, get plastic surgery, whatever it takes to find herself a husband.
Setting aside the danger of this advice on individual women, and the detrimental effect it would have on the Orthodox world as a whole, it is a terrible solution because it misses the point entirely. Mrs. Halberstam’s solution makes as much sense as saying we could add wealth to the economy if everyone just robbed their next door neighbor. It’s a zero sum game. True, a bigger woman losing weight would increase her likelihood and ease of finding a husband. But, for every woman who drops weight and cuts to the head of the shidduch line, there’s one more somewhere else that will find she just missed the cut. There is a fixed number of orthodox men that are dating, and makeup and plastic surgery will do nothing to change that. Many others who have responded to the article with alternate solutions also don’t address that basic fact.
This problem of imbalance in choice and therefore power between men and women is what caught my eye on this whole debate. On the surface it seems to make no sense. In the Jewish world, as in the rest of the world, there are approximately an equal number of men and women (there are slightly more women than men in the country in general, but at ages when they would be dating they are the same). Barring a major discrepancy between the number of orthodox men dropping out of the dating pool and that of women (for reasons other than change in marital status, e.g. dropping out of orthodoxy, or choosing not to marry at all), which I can’t imagine is the case, There should be equal numbers of men and women in the orthodox dating pool. So the difficulty of a woman finding a man should be equal to that of a man finding a woman; if men are being set up with one woman after the next, and there are an equal number of men and women in the dating pool, then women must be getting set up at exactly the same rate. They therefore must have an equal amount of choice. However, as Mrs. Halberstam’s article points out, this is not the case; as she puts it, “boys are constantly being courted and pursued, while the best girls’ resumes barely elicit a modicum of interest.” There is a curious disconnect between what math and economic dictates should be happening and what actually is.
After pondering the issue for a while, I realized the solution to the puzzle, and the source of the shidduch problem. In a population into which men and women are being born at the same rate, and dropping out of the dating pool at approximately the same rate, it is still possible that there can be more women than men looking for shuddichim given two conditions, both of which happen to be the case in this situation. First, the Orthodox population is growing, and second, women enter the dating world younger than men on average. Thus, for every group of men that enters the dating pool, there is a slightly younger, and therefore slightly larger group of women entering at the same time. Even if every man from that group gets married, there is still not enough of them to marry all the new women out there, so some women will be left behind. The same happens with the next year’s class; a larger class of men enter the shidduch scene, but an even larger number of women enter as well. There’s already a surplus of women from the years before who are still looking for husbands, so even more women will find themselves with a lot of competition for husbands. The women are forced to take what they can get, and are thus left with little choice and little power in choosing her husband.
This may be only one facet of the problems the shidduch world is facing, but it’s one that shouldn’t be ignored. A solution, then, is for women to start dating later, or men to start dating earlier in order to close the gap. However, this isn’t quite so simple, since one would expect the problem to create a feedback loop. Women, realizing the difficulty they will face in trying to find a husband, will naturally begin dating earlier to get a jump on the competition, thus exacerbating the problem. Men on the other hand, will only start dating immediately before they want to get married since they will expect no trouble in finding someone. The Orthodox community needs to look into ways to equalize the marriage ages of men and women. Maybe put more emphasis on women going to college and putting off marriage for a few years. Perhaps there is some other solution. There are many ways to address this problem; however, nose jobs and makeup isn’t one of them.