Thursday, July 29, 2010

Fabulous Girls Part III: JAPs and Education Gaps

Intro to this series here.
Part I here.
Part II here.

Money and education are big factors in why Jewish women have a hard time finding Jewish mates. But the way they affect matters – the reason that these are important aspects of the dating game -- depends almost entirely on whether you ask the women ("it's hard to find someone as educated as I am") or the men ("Jewish women are only concerned about money and success").

But what it boils down to for the women is this: There aren't that many Jewish men who are "successful" enough to be appropriate mates for most Jewish women, and additionally the Jewish men who are appropriate are more likely to feel active antipathy toward Jewish women, or at the very least (unless they are Orthodox) to not mind dating non-Jews – which means that Jewish women are "competing" for those few men not just with other Jewish women but with gentile women as well. (I assume this is the case for American Jews but not for Israeli ones; I wrote my original story for an American audience.)

Let's start with the point of view which was generally presented with more objectivity and less emotion, the one that puts Jewish women in a more sympathetic light. As I wrote in my article:

Jews are among the most highly educated minorities in America. More than half of all Jewish adults (61 percent of men and 50 percent of women) have received a college degree, and a quarter (29 percent of men and 21 percent of women) have earned a graduate degree. Jews are almost twice as likely to hold a college degree than Americans generally and four times as likely to hold a graduate degree.

Unfortunately, their academic and professional success decreases their dating pool since, as Cohen says, “men want to ‘marry down’ and women want to ‘marry up.'"

. . . . Although no one is advocating that women avoid graduate school, Dr. Michael J. Salamon, a psychologist and the author of “The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures,” says “the problem [in the Jewish dating scene] is that women are overeducated and find the men boring. The men are intimidated. And the women are not getting what they want.”

He also notes that this phenomenon makes “in-marrying” a difficult proposition for Jewish men with low levels of education. Fishman goes a step further and says that many Jewish men are attracted to gentile women because non-Jewish women and their parents are perceived as easier to impress.

OK, let's unpack this.

First, let's look at the women's viewpoint. Let's say you are a Jewish woman in your late 20's or early 30's and you have a master's degree and a job that gives you a certain level of leadership or autonomy and/or financial success. You probably have the intelligence, professionalism, and people-skills that your education and professional success indicate. And so even if you really, truly don't need a husband who earns as much money as you do or has an equivalent education, you probably do want someone who has at least a college degree and who shares (or exceeds) your intelligence, professionalism, and people-skills.

The problem is that you are so highly educated and successful that a smaller proportion of men – even Jewish men, who are more educated than the population in general – will share or exceed your success. Again, maybe you don't care about money per se. Maybe you are open to marrying someone who never went to college but is astute and engaged with the world and knows what he is about. The point is that you want someone who can think and speak and interact with life in ways that are similar to yours. But what you are most likely to hear from, say, potential matchmakers, is "I'm sorry, but there aren't that many men who are smart enough for you." And so you are lonely.

As Dr. Cohen put it in a quote that didn't make it into the original article:

Given the hierarchical nature of marriage, higher-educated women are at a competitive disadvantage in the dating market, whereas for men, being highly educated gives them an advantage. Jewish women are among the most highly educated in America, so they are at a comparative disadvantage in the marriage market. On every social hierarchy, men tend to marry down, and women tend to marry up. It relates to age, height, social class, and social status. On every one, husbands tend to outscore their wives. The most high status women who are single have trouble finding men of their status who they find attractive, and they have trouble being attractive to many men, because you need reasonably secure men who are attracted to high-status women.

Now let's look at the point of view of the Jewish man who never went to college, or who isn't in a prestigious field. To you, the world of Jewish dating is simply a minefield of women who don't find you "good enough." You, too, are lonely because it's hard to find a Jewish woman who doesn't expect you to somehow be more than what you are. It probably seems to you that Jewish women are money-seeking and/or prestige-seeking and that the values of the Jewish community are out of whack. You might find yourself open to dating women who aren't Jewish, because, since they are less likely to have advanced degrees, they don't think of you as "less." It feels a lot nicer to be around people who appreciate you for what you are.

If you are a Jewish man who has an MBA and is VP of a Big Famous Company, things are easier for you. More of the Jewish women find you impressive and engaging and want to be with you. But you, too, might decide that they are not seeking your company, but rather your money and prestige. Perhaps you aren't considering the idea that the women you meet are excited to meet you because they see you as their intellectual and professional equals, not because they have dollar signs in their eyes. Or perhaps, as Fishman posits, you are transposing your ambivalence about your Jewishness onto Jewish women.

(An important statistic that Fishman has uncovered is that, although the intermarriage rates among Jewish men and women are pretty much the same, Jewish women who intermarry do so, on average, three years later than Jewish men who intermarry. The inference from this finding is that Jewish women are more likely to want to marry a Jew, and intermarry only when they "give up" on finding a Jewish partner.)

Please read this excerpt from the original article carefully:

Disproportionately, compared to non-Jewish men, American Jewish males harbor active antipathy toward Jewish women. They complain, Fishman and Parmer write, that dating Jewish women is more work than fun and that Jewish women are “demanding, overbearing, and best escaped.”

Fishman conducted studies in the late 1990’s in which groups of Jewish men, non-Jewish men, Jewish women and non-Jewish women in and around
Los Angeles were asked to choose, from among many photos of anonymous females, a “typical Jewish woman” and to describe her. They were then asked to describe the “ideal Jewish woman.”

The last three groups—male and female gentiles, as well as Jewish women
-- overwhelmingly described Jewish women in neutral or positive terms such as “smart,” “able to talk about anything,” “beautiful,” “voluptuous” and “well-read.” In describing the ideal Jewish woman, they used the same terms.

The responses of Jewish men were markedly different. They were likely to describe the typical Jewish woman as “talking too much,” “having to have an opinion about everything,” “obsessed with food,” “overweight” and “materialistic.” And when they described the “ideal” Jewish woman, they chose different photos
--of supermodels--and described them in opposite terms, as “quiet,” “not saying much” and “likes to listen.”

So, at a singles mixer, if a Jewish woman asks a man what he does for a living, “a Jewish man will interpret that question as hostile,” Fishman says. “They say ‘all Jewish woman care about is how much money I make,’ as if there is no other reason for a person to ask you what you do when they are getting to know you. If a non-Jewish woman asks the same question, it does not get interpreted that way.”

“These are self-image issues,” Fishman continues. “Men are ambivalent about their Jewishness, and they project that onto the women. They feel that if they are attached to a non-Jewish woman, it will break the curse.”

In other words, statistically, everyone likes, or feels neutral about, Jewish women except for Jewish men. Fishman, Cohen and Bayme all linked this antipathy to men's general ambivalence about their own Jewishness (as I'll discuss later, Judaism is generally more important to women than it is to men). But men themselves say it's because Jewish women are gold-diggers, JAPs, hostile, aggressive, etc.

Here are a few telling quotes from Evan Marc Katz, the dating expert (who, probably not coincidentally, was himself dating a non-Jewish woman when I interviewed him; however, to be fair, his goal in our interview was not to excoriate Jewish women --or men-- but rather to help women look practicality in the eye and take actions that lead to the results they want):

The answer is not to say “men are this, men are that.” Even if it’s true, you can’t change it. But a woman can say “given that there is a problem, what can I do?“ Maybe the answer is to date non-Jewish men. Maybe dating a clone of yourself is not a good idea. Maybe you need someone who is more balanced and has fewer demands. That’s for both Jewish women and Jewish men. In general we are not an easy people. If Jewish men find Jewish women to be difficult, then perhaps the answer for the women is to date men who are themselves easier. We have to either become more likable and more datable, or change our focus on what we are willing to date.

. . . . The stereotype about Jewish women is not from the media, it’s from people’s experiences. It’s from 3 years on Jdate.

. . . . We’re a bright people, a questioning people, but a neurotic, complaining, and negative people. Would you want to be around that? We’d be well-served to at least get aware of that and somewhat responsible for it, and not be too surprised if others aren’t responding well to it. We have a lot of meshugas. It’s no wonder we don’t want to marry each other. We’re very lucky when we find someone who loves us.

Interestingly, Dr. Salamon, too, suggested that Jewish women themselves "give off this vibe" (his words) which is off-putting to men, though he was a bit more kind in his theory as to why:

A woman feels she has invested so much time into her career, and now men don’t want her. It’s true from her own perspective. Outside the Orthodox world, the men are not put off by it, but they are put off by her anxiety. She is put off by herself.

Men are put off by the fact that the women are not confident about their decisions or themselves.

(Note the implication that in the Orthodox world, a woman's career success is, itself, off-putting to men, in addition to whatever anxiety the woman herself feels about it.)

So there you have it. On one side, you have Fishman, Bayme and Cohen saying that women often want to marry men who are as successful as they are; that men often are intimidated by women who are more successful than they are; that since Jewish women are very educated it creates an imbalance in the Jewish dating world; and that Jewish men often misinterpret women's interest in their education and jobs as greediness or aggression.

On the other side you have Katz and Salamon suggesting that Jewish women, for whatever reason, are in fact anxious, neurotic, or demanding, and that their negative vibes are off-putting to Jewish men.

Flip sides of the same coin?

Next: More About Intermarriage

Monday, July 26, 2010

Fabulous Girls Part II: Shrinking Pools

Intro to this series here.

Part I here.

Today I start listing reasons that single Jewish women have a harder time finding partners than their male counterparts. Disclaimer: If you are single and looking for a partner, please do not take what I write here to be about you, personally. These blog posts are about trends as observed by those who deal with hundreds, or thousands, of singles. If you are a man, these posts are not meant to "blame" you, individually, or to imply that there is something wrong with you. If you are a woman, these posts are not meant to suggest that you are a "victim." In addition to the trends outlined here, each person has his or her own "issues," and there is no way I can account for the life struggles of each person out there.

Disclaimer #2: These factors are not presented in order of statistical significance, but rather in an order that makes for manageable blog-post lengths.

There are more women than men. Most of the experts I interviewed declined to give precise statistics about how many single Jewish men there are in each age bracket than women – I have the feeling no one has drawn up those numbers. But according to Dr. Salamon, "there are more women born; that is always the case. All over the world, 51-52 percent of births are female." I'm stating this at the outset to sort of get it out of the way; the slightly higher number of women doesn't begin to account for "the crisis."

There are more straight women than straight men. According to Dr. Cohen, "homosexuality is somewhat more frequent among men than among women." He didn’t give me statistics and I didn't ask for them. My impression was that, again, the differences make a slight impact but not enough to account for "the crisis" by themselves. Unfortunately I didn't ask how he knows this, nor did I follow up with questions such as whether it's possible that women are simply less likely to be "out." In any case, this isn't something that we can really "do" anything about, so I'd like to move on to issues of greater social concern.

There are more commitment-ready women than men. This is a widespread problem brought up my many of my interviewees. Men who, by nature or nurture, are keen to enter a long-term relationship are most likely to get married young (outside the ultra-Orthodox world, this means, for men, in their 20's). This is not necessarily the case for women. A woman who is ready to get married might spend many, many years searching for a husband without success, whereas, in Dr. Fishman's words, "when a guy who is not resistant to commitments meets a girl he likes, he marries her." Therefore, as a woman ages and she is starting to panic, the percentage of men who are "resistant to commitment" (Fishman's words) is getting larger and larger. There are men to date, but a smaller proportion of men who will actually follow through to the aisle.

Next up: Education Gaps and JAPs

Friday, July 16, 2010


(Sorry about the screwy formatting in this post. Blogger isn't being cooperative today.)

At the beginning of 2008, I got a call from Simona Fuma, who was the Israel editor of the World Jewish Digest. She had an assignment about singles, and wanted me to do it because I'd written about various issues relating to Jewish singles in the past, for The Jewish Week of New York.

The assignment was this: Given the perception among many Jewish women and matchmakers that it is more difficult to find a "quality" man than a "quality" woman, my job was to find out:

a) Is this perception correct? Is it, in fact, harder for Jewish women to find a partner than for Jewish men?

b) If the perception is incorrect, what accounts for its widespread nature?

c) If the perception is correct, then why is it harder for women than for men?

The topic hit a personal nerve because I myself was 35, single, and often the recipient of news like "Sorry, Sarah, I can't think of anyone good enough for you" and "Sorry, Sarah, I tried to set you up but the guy has a long list of people trying to set him up so it might be a while" and "Sorry, Sarah, I tried to present your profile at a matchmakers' meeting the other day, but they have a rule now that you can only present men, because everyone has a long list of women and there aren't enough men to set them up with."

(This is beside the equally oft-repeated statement of "Sorry, Sarah, I tried to set you up with someone but he will meet only thin girls," which, while annoying and frustrating, doesn't necessarily indicate a widespread problem for all, just a problem for me and other not-thin women. Perhaps that is an article for another day.)

From the start my goal was to base conclusions not on anecdotal evidence (though I got lots of that, too, from singles I interviewed) but on information provided by sociologists, Jewish demographers, directors of Jewish dating websites, and well-known matchmakers. The "experts" I interviewed included:

  • Steven Bayme, Director of Contemporary Jewish Life Department of the American Jewish Committee.

  • Sara Brownstein, dating coach who was also a popular matchmaker (focusing on unaffiliated Jews) in Los Angeles until her aliyah a few years ago.

  • Dr. Steven M. Cohen, sociologist of American Jewry; research professor of Jewish Social Policy at HUC-JIR/New York and professor at the Hebrew University Melton Centre for Jewish Education.

  • Dr. Sylvia Barrack Fishman, sociologist of American Jewry and professor at Brandeis University

  • Danielle Jacobs, COO of and a founder of

  • Evan Mark Katz, dating coach and self-styled "America's Leading Dating Expert."

  • Michael J. Salomon, Ph.d., member of the psychology faculty at Hofstra University and author of "The Shidduch Crisis."

It emerged quickly that the perception is, indeed correct; it IS harder for Jewish women to find Jewish dates than it is for Jewish men to do the same. Here was my "nut graph" (the "thesis paragraph" of the story):

What is commonly referred to as the Jewish “singles crisis,” and in Orthodox communities as the “shidduch crisis,” appears to affect women more drastically than men, both practically and emotionally. Both statistical and anecdotal evidence . . . paints a picture of a dating scene in which many more women than men attend Jewish singles events; more women actively use Jewish dating sites; matchmakers are flooded with applications from women; and single Jewish women in their late 20’s and 30’s are panicking. . . . As well they should be, sociologists say. As difficult as the “dating scene” can be for many men, it is often more challenging for the fairer sex, especially in the Jewish community.

But the reasons given by each expert, while often overlapping, covered a wide range of social phenomena. This isn't happening because of X, or Y, or Z, but because of X and Y and Z all "cascading together," as one interviewee put it.

Because of the nature of my assignment, my story focused on all the reasons that Jewish men aren't dating Jewish women (or aren't dating Jewish women their own age, or their own level of education, or who have the same religious values as the men's parents, etc.) The paper got letters complaining that I was putting the blame for the "singles crisis" exclusively on men and not at all on women, which had not been my intention at all.

In fact, I did interview two experts who blamed the women for their own problems, and included a quote from one of them. More about this later.

The end of my article gave suggestions of what individuals and the community can do to lessen the "singles crisis." The suggestions all came from the "experts," not from me. Among them is the recommendation that women be more open to dating men who are much older than they are, so as to remove the obstacle of the "age squeeze," a phenomenon which I'll discuss in depth pretty soon and which, the interviewees said, is a big problem especially in the Orthodox community. But it raises the question of what "settling" is, something I wish to address here in the blog.

That's it for now. Have a Shabbat shalom.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

In Answer To Their Unstated Question

Being in a musical or play requires a significant investment of time for rehearsals and shows, and so the 63-member cast of "Fiddler," for the most part, consisted of four types of people: 1) retirees 2) schoolkids 3) college/army/sherut leumi student-age people and 4) single adults. When I say "single adults," I'm referring primarily (though not exclusively) to myself and a few other women in their 30's and 40's.

During performances, there is a lot of "down time" for most cast-members; in "Fiddler," the "non-principals" had almost all of Act II to sit around chatting or doing crossword puzzles backstage. It was terrific getting to know new people, and because of the wide age range it truly felt like a village, a community that spanned generations.

More than one fellow castmember – all men in their retirement stage or almost there – commented (in a very friendly, tactful, not over-the-line way) that he "can't understand why you girls aren't married yet. You're all so lovely, smart, talented, wonderful people. It's mind-boggling." (I'm leaving aside the whole "girls vs. women" thing. Context and tone are important and I didn't detect any particular condescension; it felt more like a generational thing, since the speakers could have been our dads. I'm also leaving aside the fact that they assumed we all want to be married since, in this case, I happen to know that all of us do, or did for a long time.)

I actually wrote an article on this very topic in 2008, for the now-defunct World Jewish Digest, but since the story was about 4,000 words (incredibly long, even for a cover feature), it wasn't something I could explain "on one foot." But on my blog, I can explain as comprehensively as I want. I feel the article I wrote was important, and the information it contained should be read (or read again) and available on the internet. I'd also like to be able to send the links to those gentlemen who asked about it, saying that here are some answers to the mystery.

I set out to write a blog post, summarizing and commenting on my original article, about why such "wonderful girls" aren't married yet, but now that I've compiled my notes, I realize that to cover this properly will take about 4-6 separate posts. So, over the next few days, that's what will be coming up.

The first order of business will be to explain why I'm focusing on women, with an assurance that men will have their day in a future post (my notes about this are already written up). I'll also explain where I got the information.

Get ready.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Known Idiocy

Have you been checking out the blogs on my blogroll? Have you been reading Single Dad, Disabled Daughter? Because if not, you should. I've learned much about issues affecting the disabled and their families.

Single Dad's daughter, "Pearlsky," is, in his words, "messed up." She can't control her muscle movements, she can't talk, she can't always see, she can't communicate in any way. Based on when she laughs and how she responds to stimuli in her environment, her team of caretakers and therapists think that she probably has the mental capacity of a child of six or seven (she's actually sixteen), but they can't be sure. She has siezures a lot. Her body doesn't produce a certain amino acid, and if she doesn't get it as a supplement twice a day, she'll die.

As you can imagine, in addition to being the benificiary of many generous and sensitive people and systems, Single Dad also puts up with a lot of crap in his life from many people and systems -- sometimes the same ones. I want to share an exchange in which I participated recently in his comments section, because I think the response to my comment was funny:

Never in my life have a seen one man surrounded by so much idiocy.


Sarah B. says:


Based on the experience of my mom, who is chronically ill, the issue is that there’s a certain amount (let’s call it X) of idiocy in health-care systems, and the more chronic your need for help from that system, the more of X you will witness. Also, the more time and motivation you will have to complain about X.

People whose needs for help are acute, not chronic, might witness some idiocy, but either not realize how big X really is, or “let it go” because once their problem is resolved, they don’t feel a need to invest any emotional energy in fixing it.

Barbara says:

My compliments to Sarah for stating the relative ratio of known idiocy.

Can we make "relative ratio of known idiocy" a regular part of the English language? Because I think that is awesome.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Tap Tap. Is this thing still on?

Oy vey oy vey oy vey. It has been a VERY long time since my last post, as many of you have told me again and again. Since the last post, I've played Shaindel (Mottel's mother) in 12 performances of "Fiddler on the Roof" (which was phenomenal in every way; pictures here), enjoyed the cast party, said "ouch ouch ouch" over the whole Flotilla Disaster, found a teeny bit of common ground with Lisa Goldman (my Token Lefty Blogger friend), thought a lot about dating issues that might have interested you, and gotten sucked into Facebook.

That's right. Instead of blogging, I've been writing Facebook status updates to keep the world aware of my goings-on. This is unfortunate for some of my blog readers, because I only "friend" those whom I've actually met in person. I'm sorry for ignoring the rest of you.

The good news is that I've realized over the last couple of weeks that when I have Serious Thoughts percolating in my mind, I can't get any paying work done until I get the Serious Thoughts out on paper and – while I'm at it – onto a blog. Facebook status updates have a limited character count. Blogging provides more scope for the imagination (points to those who can identify the reference).

So, the plan is to start blogging more regularly again, so I can get those pesky Worthwhile Opinions and Astute Observations out of my brain so I'll have space for my Very Boring Paying Work.

See you soon.