In the conclusion to my post All the lonely feminist spinsters I mistakenly stated that Kate Bolick had misquoted Susan Walsh on the statistics of the college sexual marketplace (SMP). It turns out that I was incorrect, and that Susan’s view of this has changed. Initially Susan believed that 20% of the men on campus were sexually monopolizing 80% of the women. She shared this perspective in a youtube video which I previously embedded here. Since then she has reviewed the data on this at the urging of some of her readers, and has changed her opinion on the question. She describes her thought process here, but her conclusion is that:
20% of both women and men are quite promiscuous, and that 80% of women and men are very dissatisfied in this SMP.
The essential distinction for Susan is whether the 80% of women who she identifies as not highly promiscuous are in fact having sex with the top 20% of men or not. She clarified this in a comment defending her position a bit further down:
…as Badger claims, 80% of women give “disproportionate attention” to 20% of the men. I don’t doubt that if you asked every woman on campus who she’d most like to get with, 20% would get the most votes. That is not the same thing as what percentage of women are having sex with those 20%. This question of semantics is critical.
This sparked a heated debate with a number of my readers. Commenter Basil Ransom did his own analysis of the data, and concluded that it wasn’t trustworthy enough to draw any hard conclusions from. I think there is general agreement that the available data on partner counts is very problematic. I haven’t taken the time to dive into the data myself, in large part because I don’t believe that it is credible enough to provide greater clarity.
Perhaps more importantly, I don’t think the passionate disagreement from many of my readers is truly about the data, since unreliable data can’t be used to bolster either side’s views. I also don’t think the core disagreement is with Susan’s assertion that 80% of the women in college are very dissatisfied with the hookup culture. I think the frustration is that the original 80/20 representation, while likely flawed numerically, provided a generally accurate impression of the basic dysfunction taking place in the college SMP. Leaving aside the actual numbers, I do think that a large number of college women are ignoring average (beta) college men and only considering a small group of the most attractive men (alphas). Susan’s re-characterization of the numbers is most problematic because it gives the impression that 80% of college women aren’t focused on the alphas, but that somehow they can’t connect with the betas they crave so much.
To reiterate, to the extent that I am correct in my argument immediately above, this isn’t really an argument about the correct data/statistics. One could accept Susan’s interpretation of the data entirely and still vehemently disagree with her on her conclusion about how this describes the college SMP.
I think the final conclusion Susan draws is the true weakness in her argument. If 80% of men and women are left out of the SMP, one side or the other (or both) must be refusing to connect with their SMP counterparts. Someone must be holding out. Young people will naturally pair off even in the total absence of a functioning courtship tradition. While I can’t prove this with data, I believe that the holding out is being done by the women. The alternative is to believe that the beta men are refusing to match up with their SMP peers (the female 80%), and instead are holding out for the most slutty 20% of women. I posed this challenge to Susan in the discussion of one of her blog posts:
I think suggesting that 80% of college women are “sitting out” the carousel because they aren’t having frequent sex with alphas is misleading, but I also don’t think that is your intent. The economist in me sees a market that won’t clear, and I think we would agree that it is the women who are holding out; I don’t think the 80% of men on the sidelines are there because they are holding out for the sluttiest 20% of women. The original 80/20 stat captures this sense, even if not all of the 80% of women are racking up douche-bag frequent flier miles.
Susan agreed that the beta men weren’t likely doing this. She pointed out that the culture has feminized men and masculinized women, which has created an attraction mismatch (I agree). She also thinks that something else in the dysfunctional SMP is keeping a large percentage of college women away from the beta men they really want. She sees this as an opportunity (emphasis mine):
I agree that 80% of men are not holding out for the sluttiest women. Female commenters sometimes claim that unattractive males demand hot female companions, but that is not my sense at all. If anything, I’ve learned that men are quite malleable in their perception of female attractiveness 🙂 Good news for us!
I also believe that quite a few women are what we might call “beta females.” They would no sooner bang a frat star as climb Mt. Everest. They would love to meet a nice, earnest boy. These are not the women who appreciate Dark Triad traits. So there is a real opportunity, I am certain! To get these beta women with beta guys. But right now they’re like the kids at the middle school dance standing against the wall and not interacting. We have to find a way to bridge that gap. Or they do.
I think Susan is right that there are a significant group of women who aren’t pursuing alphas. However, I don’t think that these women are being prohibited from finding suitable beta mates. I think these women are operating outside of the visible SMP. They aren’t hooking up, and they very likely aren’t going on many “dates”. Despite all of the dysfunction in our culture, young women interested in long term relationships and especially marriage are still in a very fortunate position in the SMP. They can pair up with men their own age or men who are older than themselves, and are at the height of their attractiveness. Additionally, a young woman looking for a mate has the numbers in her favor. Because there are slightly more boys born than girls, and because women tend to prefer to marry men who are older than them, there are more young single men than young single women. The numbers advantage is even bigger however, since a large percentage of women are not interested in the majority of men at this time. Young women looking for a husband are essentially able to find them at fire sale prices.
In addition to the three advantages mentioned above, young women looking for a mate have another great advantage; they are surrounded by large numbers of single men their own age and older in normal social settings (work, school, church, etc). This allows them to gain the benefits of casting a wide net, without dating large numbers of men or going to keg parties and/or bars to meet men. There is nothing magic about eating dinner or watching a movie with someone which allows us to get to know them.
Take a young woman like Susan described (not chasing alphas, attracted to beta men in their own league), and she is bound to find a man to pair off with. While these women don’t attract much attention when the dating scene is being discussed, they definitely show up in the numbers. The same US Census data which shows that many more women than in the past are postponing marriage also shows that a significant number of women are still marrying in their early 20s:
The age brackets in the data above make it impossible to know the exact percent of women who married at any given age. However, I think the figures for each bracket very likely are close to the figures for the average age in each bracket. Therefore, we might assume that roughly 22% of 22.5 year old white women in the US have already married, and roughly 56% of 27.5 year old white women in the US have married. If you wanted to tune this a bit to account for the fact that marriages are likely taking place at a faster pace in the end of each bracket than in the beginning, we might adjust these estimates out another 6 months, which would give us 22% of white women marrying on or before their 23rd birthday and 56% of white women marrying on or before their 28th birthday. Any way you slice the data however, a large percentage of women are still marrying in their early 20s.
This is important because marriage is typically preceded by several years of engagement in the monogamous relationship SMP. A woman who marries on her 23rd birthday will generally have spent several years assessing her options, finding the right man, getting to know him, being engaged, etc. Riding the carousel not only doesn’t bring her any closer to marriage, it generally will make this goal harder to achieve since it will inhibit her ability to bond with a prospective husband.
The weakness of the census data is that it doesn’t just focus on women in the college SMP, which is where the 80/20 assertion has been made. I did some searching on this and found statistics specific to college graduates in the paper Who’s Getting Married? Education and Marriage Today and in the Past by Stevenson and Isen:
College-educated women rapidly began postponing marriage after birth control became widely available. In 1970 the vast majority of those who would ever marry had done so by age 25. This was even true among college-graduates, for whom nearly three-quarters had married by age 25. By 1980, only about half had done so and that proportion fell further to around a third in 2008. In comparison 90% of 25-year-old high school graduates had married in 1970 and this fell only slightly to 83% in 1980. The postponement in marriage among white high school graduates has happened only recently with a fall from nearly three-quarters marrying by age 25 in 1990, to only half having done so last year.
So roughly a third of women who graduate from college are married by age 25. I would suggest that this isn’t a group of carouselers suddenly snagging a beta provider for marriage. They don’t fit with the description of carouselers in the manosphere, since they are marrying in their early 20s. As I mentioned before, the year a woman marries represents the end of a process which likely started several years earlier. The vast majority of these women must have been involved with betas while still in college.
But this still leaves two thirds of college women unaccounted for. A small group of them likely are in the same camp as the women who are married by 25; they just haven’t married yet. I would guess that the bulk of the remainder however are either active carousel riders, or passive ones. One of Susan’s recent posts has an example of what I would consider a passive rider of the carousel. She quotes a letter from a 22 year old virgin to Dear Margo:
I chose not to lose my virginity in high school; my mother always told me not to settle. I went to college, and a voice in my head told me to wait. I was not interested in one-night stands in a fraternity house. I was mysterious, an enigma.
The “virgin thing’’ went from enigma to stigma in the real world. I’ve been working for a year, and I’m 22 and still a virgin. My confidence makes me attractive to men, and I have a head-turning, Kim Kardashian figure. Desirable men flirt with me, but I know they are only after one thing. Men don’t ask me on dates; they just invite me to their humble abodes. I don’t accept any of these offers because of my “secret.’’ All I really want is for someone to see me for me.
The only men this woman is aware of are player types. In her world, beta men simply don’t exist. I would say this woman is passively riding the carousel without even knowing it, as are undoubtedly many others.
Note: I was hesitant to reopen this topic yet again as the discussion in the last two posts which touched on this turned in large part to personal attacks on Susan. However, I think it makes sense to go ahead and get this out now verses dig it up again at a later date and I do think the basic question is worthy of discussion. Feel free to disagree vigorously with Susan’s analysis and/or position, but personal attacks on Susan or her blog will be deleted and the commenter posting them will be placed in moderation. There has been plenty of opportunity to air these opinions.