Monday, March 26, 2012

Stats of Single Men

Yesterday, I heard a statistic on the number of single men for single women above age 30 in the Church.  It was shocking, disconcerting but it at least led to some very fascinating conversation with a number of friends.

In any case, my curiosity was piqued so I did a little research.  (Operative word: little)  I found this marvelous gem.  It's an article from 1960 written by Eleanor Harris for the women's magazine Look about the state of single men.

While I do take some issue with this article, there were a number of aspects that left me feeling I honestly could do little but laugh at it (and point out its gaping flaws).

For one, the lists that men create for the women they are looking for.

Man 1 is looking for a girl who is:
Catholic, acceptable to his family, short, as good-looking as his sister, a logical thinker, willing to have five children in three years, distinguished looking rather than just pretty so that she'd still be handsome at 80.

Man 2 is looking for a girl who is:
Protestant, tall and slim, pretty, smart (high IQ), rich (family money), outdoorsy, a good cook, willing to live in a small community, of compatible blood type, between 20 and 25 years old, even tempered, a non-smoker, a non-drinker, a non-swearer, concerned about her makeup and void of a a history of inherited disease.

While I don't doubt that religious preferences, family considerations, looks and intellect are important, it is absolutely laughable to me that a man would specify that his wife must be willing to have more children than years available or that he would even care about blood type (unless he lived in Asia where there is still some idea that blood type indicates personality type).

Not unfamiliar with lists (and ridiculous ones at that - my 14 year old self cracks me up), I found these lists so contrived that I could just see the author trying to think of an "impossible" list for a man and after realizing that those things all seemed normal threw in a few off-the-wall items that would have every matchmaking busybody shaking her head in disgust at those "picky perpetual bachelors".  I'm sure the result would also have some women in fear of never matching up to all the expectations men place on a suitable marriage partner.

As if that wasn't enough, the article tries to bring in a science base to the entire process by citing the "Scientific Marriage Foundation".   The process this organization utilized included applicants filling out forms, supplying character references and attaching photographs.  You have an interview with a foundation counselor who writes down impressions of the potential bride or groom.  So far, this sounds nothing different than a typical old-fashioned matchmaking agency.  But no, they send all the results to an IBM sorting machine in Indiana which successfully pairs people.  This is 1960.  Computers were nothing much more than large rooms of adding machines.  And how did this magical computer sort people?  Based on their age, race, religion, education, etc.  Essentially, it doesn't matter what that counselor thought of you - this is no database looking for key words.  It's simply a matter of quickly comparing quantifiable information and spitting out matches.

And then of course we get to the most scientific of all measurements: statistics.

"Widowers and divorced men (20–44) are four times as likely to be killed in automobile accidents as husbands. Five divorced men commit suicide to each married man. In homicide, the picture is even blacker. Out of every 100,000 men (20–74) in this country, 24 divorced men are murdered, as are 17 widowers and eight bachelors—while only four married men die at the hands of a killer."

As any statistician knows (or should know) correlation does not equal causality.  I don't think murderers are running around targeting single men because they don't have wives or children.  Nor do I think auto accidents are more likely to be fatal if one of the parties involved is a bachelor (even a crotchety old one).  

I wonder how this article was received back in 1960.  I'm more curious about the article that preceded and prompted this one.  Another interesting point of this article is the discussion of homosexuality which manages to proves to be highly ignorant and offensive even while trying to challenge traditional social mores.  (On second thought, I guess it's treatment of homosexuality is no different than it's treatment of heterosexuality)  

In any case, this article like others shows the struggle we make to address the state of singleness and it's  perceived problems as well as the risk of citing science to back up an argument.  Failed logic = failed logic = failed logic. 

I close with probably the only true line of the entire article: 
A man in Missouri writes: “Having been indoctrinated in college with the ideal of the scientific method of solving problems, I found that method was applicable in almost every area of life, except in choosing a wife."

I couldn't agree more.  

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