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gender wars
The Sources of Hookup Culture

Most explanations for the rise of hookup culture focus on, well, culture—the steady ascent of social liberalism since the 1960s, especially among the upper classes, and the decline of traditional norms surrounding courtship and dating.

Mixed in with this cultural story, however, is a more straightforward demographic one. According to the writer Jon Birger, one reason a certain slice of today’s young people—well-off college graduates in urban centers—is having so much casual sex is that there is shortage of men among their ranks. The female-heavy gender ratio among the yuppie elite makes it easier for men to find sexual partners, and thus less likely to take the time and effort to court them. Birger wrote in Thursday’s Washington Post:

In 2012, 34 percent more women than men graduated from American colleges, and the U.S. Department of Education expects this gap to reach 47 percent by 2023. The imbalance has spilled over into the post-college dating pool. According to data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, there are now 5.5 million college-educated women in the U.S. between the ages of 22 and 29 vs. only 4.1 million such men. In other words, the dating pool for straight, millennial, college graduates now has four women for every three men. No wonder some men are in no rush to settle down and more women are giving up on what used to be called “playing hard to get.”

These demographics represent the true dating apocalypse, as stacks of social science show how dating and mating behavior is influenced by prevailing sex ratios. When there are plenty of marriageable men, dating culture emphasizes courtship and romance, and men generally must earn more in order to attract a wife. But when gender ratios skew toward women, as they do today among college grads, the whole dating culture becomes more sexualized.

Of course, men remain overrepresented at the highest echelons of American society—the U.S. Congress, the Fortune 500 executive suites, the mastheads of major newspapers. But as Hanna Rosin argued in her blockbuster “End of Men” article (and book), young men are, on the whole, falling behind compared to their female peers—earning fewer college degrees, fewer graduate degrees, and, in a growing number of cities, earning less money. There are a variety of reasons for this—some of them cultural, others economic (Rosin speculates that “a postindustrial society is simply better suited to women”)—but regardless of the cause, the increasingly skewed gender ratio is clearly one reason why, as Birger says, “Manhattan’s hetero, college-grad, under-30 dating pool” is essentially “a sexual playground for men.”

In other words, the fortunes of both genders in the sexual and economic realms are tied together. The transition to a post-industrial economy has generally been kinder to women than men from an economic perspective. However, this female-friendly economic landscape also seems to have contributed—in some spaces—to the rise of a no-strings-attached sexual culture that is, on the whole, more suited to male than to female preferences.

Of course, demography is not destiny: gender relations are shaped by culture as well, and millennials could come up with new norms to regulate the modern sexual landscape if they decide that the status quo is in need of a correction (and based on Vanity Fair’s recent dispatch from the world of Tinder, it seems that a correction wouldn’t hurt). We’re not sure what these new norms would look like, exactly, but a good place to start would be to take on the whole system of elite cultural segregation that leads modern college graduates to only date within their social class.

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  • Andrew Allison

    OMG! When there are more guys in the dating pool, the gals compete for them, and vice versa. What a stunning revelation!!
    The hookup culture is about women making themselves more accessible to men, whether just for sex or, as the Vanity Fair article suggests, in the hope of a relationship. The cultural shift here is sex before potential dating as opposed to dating before potential sex. The silver lining is that it gets rid of dating only to have sex; if the sex is out of the way, maybe the dating has some deeper basis?On a different note, TAI is confusing the class of modern college graduates with another startling [sarc] revelation, namely that Ivy league graduates socialize with each other. Who’d of thunk?? The truth is that college graduates are not a social class, and social classes socialize with each other.

  • Kevin

    Wow is this analysis focused narrowly on one class. Those young men who didn’t attend college didn’t cease to exist (as this article implies).

    Of course this means is that among the non-college educated group men are more numerous and will face greater difficulty finding partners. What could possibly go wrong with a society in which there are large numbers of poorer young men who lack prospects for forming families? It brings to mind the Chinese “bare sticks” problem.

  • Jester40

    Disparity in college graduation rates? A natural result considering the last 20 years has seen much discrimination against boys from kindergarten through college. You know, too many boys that are good in math and science: encourage girls to take an interest. Boys are too aggressive. Tone down their attitudes so they become more passive and don’t develop leadership skills or any sense of independence. Let’s kill their desires to be assertive. Of course, to implement such a program you need an institution dominated by people that are believers in the “rightness” of the state and its philosophies. No surprise education was prime for implementation of these social theories. You needed people that are easily led, believers in dogma and a profession with a high percentage of women since an active program of discrimination against boys was being implemented.

  • ValleyBargue

    Every time someone illustrates how women are out-competing men by invoking their greater rates of graduation from colleges and universities, strangely left out of the discussion is the fact that college degrees have never been worth less in history; and how college degrees have never in history left their holders in such a great amount of debt. College degrees are no longer any guarantee of a job, They are the largest source of debt in the United States, and the fact that women are acquiring them at a greater rate than men is somehow a positive thing for the female gender?

    And if anyone disputes the claim that college degrees have never been worth less, only consider the fact that college degrees are now required where a high school diploma used to suffice – that they have essentially become high school diplomas that cost $50,000.

    And consider rampant grade inflation – it came about because idiots flocked to colleges because of easy student loans; colleges refused to kick them out because of the money, and instead pressured professors to grade easier and teach easier. This has seriously sapped college courses of their value – pretty much everyone knows this, especially people doing the hiring. Hence the new need for academic accolades, internships, etc.

    College is a complete scam, pretty much any graduate with half a brain will tell you. You spent 50K to learn how to teach yourself things out of a textbook. There is no academic culture. Go anywhere college kids hang out and you’ll see that academia is treated as a distraction from the important task of drinking and partying, a distraction that is dealt with at the last minute and with the same attitude of someone cleaning a gutter. People go to classes in pajamas, spend the entire time on social media, pathetically plea with professors for extensions on their five-page essays on the cause of the American revolution. I’m saying this as someone with a degree in science & math and who can get a job interview within a week of starting a job search. Go hard science/math, or start your own business. “But they’d never give me a loan to start my own business!” And yet they have no problem giving you a loan for a $80,000 degree in medieval literature.

    • FriendlyGoat

      Your last two sentences may be true mostly BECAUSE your business can declare bankruptcy and your student loan cannot.

      • ValleyBargue

        Hey buddy, you ever ask why the government felt the need to forbid students from wiping out their student loans via bankruptcy? I guess all those students were using bankruptcy to wipe their debt before signing up for their $80,00 a year job at Goldman Sachs, right genius?

        “As soon as some entrepreneur figures out how to measure and market what someone may have actually taught himself/herself from a textbook, the “scam” is going to blow up. No?”

        It seems like your critical thinking skills need some work. The point wasn’t college is valuable because of the things of the things you teach yourself out of a textbook, it was that the “education” itself has become so irrelevant at colleges that most of the learning can take place out of a textbook, and colleges will continue to operate. Please learn to read critically before posting again.

        • FriendlyGoat

          At first I thought you had some sense and maybe even some comment section manners. You lost me at Hey, Buddy.

          The reason student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy is that there never would have been the present degree of government-backed loans in the first place without that provision. As for the rest of your rudeness, cram it.

          • ValleyBargue

            Student loans were first made available by the government in the 1950’s for limited demographics, then made available more broadly in 1965. The ban on discharging loan debt through bankruptcy did not come until 1976. They did indeed make government-backed loans available without that provision. The US government has continually passed laws making student loan repayment laws stricter, as the price of college reached ridiculous levels, and did absolutely nothing to address the high cost. Laws against discharging student loan debt via bankruptcy also apply to private loans, not just government ones.

            A huge number of first world countries, excluding the united states, offer free or very cheap college educations. It is interesting to wonder why the United States is number one in college costs. I highly doubt this has anything to do with the quality of education offered at American universities, considering the number of students who are delinquent on their loans and the number of student unable to get jobs relevant to their degree.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I think I’ll just stand by my statement that neither private lenders nor the government would have extended the DEGREE of loans they now have without the bankruptcy hole being plugged. I’m not arguing that it has caused any good result.

  • FriendlyGoat

    Here is a clip out of the End of Men article, which raises a couple of questions:

    “The sociologist Kathryn Edin spent five years talking with low-income mothers in the inner suburbs of Philadelphia. Many of these neighborhoods, she found, had turned into matriarchies, with women making all the decisions and dictating what the men should and should not do. “I think something feminists have missed,” Edin told me, “is how much power women have” when they’re not bound by marriage. The women, she explained, “make every important decision”—whether to have a baby, how to raise it, where to live. “It’s definitely ‘my way or the highway,’” she said. “Thirty years ago, cultural norms were such that the fathers might have said, ‘Great, catch me if you can.’ Now they are desperate to father, but they are pessimistic about whether they can meet her expectations.” The women don’t want them as husbands, and they have no steady income to provide. So what do they have?

    “Nothing,” Edin says. “They have nothing. The men were just annihilated in the recession of the ’90s, and things never got better. Now it’s just awful.

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