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Single? It's Not You, It's Your City

Why you may want to check local gender ratios before taking that job

Single? It's Not You, It's Your City

[Illustration: Alvaro Dominguez]

This is the time of year when college seniors get deluged with grown-up advice—and, like Dustin Hoffman’s character in The Graduate, start running for cover. I had the misfortune of having a father who actually worked in plastics, which turned every family friend into a backyard comedian. ("Hey, Jon, I’ve got one word for you.")

Well, I have my own "one word" advice for this year’s graduates, and mine is way more interesting than plastics. It’s sex—or sex ratios, to be precise. Okay, that’s two words. But hear me out on why young people should consider sex ratios before accepting their first job—and also why Silicon Valley recruiters should turn these ratios to their advantage.

Women outnumber men when it comes to higher education. In 2016, 33% more women than men will graduate from four-year colleges, which is four women for every three men. In 1971, it was four men for every three women. Few people go to college just to find a spouse, of course (and it’s important to note that not every student is heterosexual or interested in dating). But the uneven numbers don’t disappear upon graduation. They spill over into the postcollege dating market.

According to the Census Bureau, in 2012 there were 5.5 million college-educated women in the U.S. between the ages of 22 and 29 versus 4.1 million men. Combine those numbers with college grads’ preference for marrying fellow grads, and you’ve got the makings of a demographic time bomb for marriage-minded women.

Sex ratios do vary, however, from state to state and city to city, and this is why grads may want to include such data in their first-job checklists. Say a female grad’s choice is between working for Google in Santa Clara County, California, or Goldman Sachs in Manhattan. Manhattan has 39% more women than men among college grads age 22 to 29. Just ask single women in Manhattan how this plays out.

Santa Clara County—a good geographic proxy for Silicon Valley—has 12% more such men than women. It’s arguably the best marriage market in the country for heterosexual women, with 78% of educated women in their thirties now married. Nationally, that figure is 69%, and in Manhattan, it’s 41%. Santa Clara County’s marriages are more stable too: Only 4% of women are divorced or separated compared with 9% nationally.

Executive coach Elise Lelon says she sees firsthand how New York City’s gender imbalance affects the lives of unmarried female execs. "I had one client," she says, "late twenties, a VC, smart, beautiful, making enviable money—absolutely miserable." The woman relocated to San Francisco. "From the moment she got off the plane, she was flocked by men. One year later, she’s engaged."

Lelon knows—as I do—that advising women to worry about marriage in their twenties may sound anachronistic, or worse. But she makes no apologies. "Men can wake up at age 50 and have families," she says. "But because of biology, women need to think more holistically. Engineer a whole life, not just a professional one."

Do I expect Northern California tech companies to start touting demographics in order to solve their gender-diversity issues? Probably not. But Amy Andersen, the founder of Linx Dating, a Silicon Valley matchmaking service with lots of nice-guy clients looking for Mrs. Right, wishes they would. "Facebook and Apple offer egg freezing," she says. "Why wouldn’t they also market the benefit of a more fruitful personal life outside of work? Because when it comes to marriage, the odds here really are stacked in women’s favor."

Jon Birger is a freelance writer. His book, Date-onomics: How Dating Became a Lopsided Numbers Game, includes sex-ratio data on all 50 states plus most U.S. cities.

A version of this article appeared in the April 2016 issue of Fast Company magazine.

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