The Story: American churches don’t just have a deficit of men—they have a shortage of unmarried young men. This trend makes it harder for young women to find mates who are spiritually compatible.
The Background: In a new analysis of demographic data, Lyman Stone looks at the balance of young, unmarried Christians in American churches. Rather than focusing simply on the ratio of men to women, he looks at the ratio of young men and women younger than 50 who have never been married, or who are widowed. He finds that in every major Protestant group there are less than 100 prime-age, unmarried men per 100 prime-age, unmarried women.
Among historically black churches, the situation is especially severe: there are less than 50 men for every 100 women. Among evangelicals, the imbalance is slightly less dire: there are about 93 men per 100 women.
Stone also finds that when looking at religious attendance, the gender ratios get more severe. Unmarried women are unlikely to find eligible men in their churches—or even in their local area. “Even expanding this scenario to assume that same-denomination churches in a region are a single dating market,” Stone says, “you can expand to five or 10 churches and still end up with a single-digit number of men who meet the basic demographic criteria and aren’t currently in a relationship with someone else.”
The odds are even worse for both men and women who want to marry a similarly devout partner. “For every 100 eligible women, there are 85 eligible men,” Stone notes. “In other words, large shares of devout Christian women will have great difficulty finding a similarly, or even passably, devout Christian romantic partner.”
Why It Matters: “If there are large gender imbalances, with far more men or far more women, then young people may have difficulties forming families,” Stone says.
“What makes American churches bad places to meet a spouse is that American churches just don’t have many unmarried young people at all,” he adds. “Finding a good spouse requires a considerable volume of options, which is why online dating and other digital options are so popular.”
Finding a suitable marriage partner should not be a primary reason to belong to a church, of course. And at least for the past 100 years, the church has not been a prime spot for finding a mate. As Stone points out, only 4 percent of people today meet their spouse in church, down from a peak of 12 percent in 1940. But there are numerous reasons why we may want to reverse this trend in our secular age.
A number of social maladies in American could be alleviated if there were more families with devout Christian men serving as spiritual leaders within their home and communities. If men who will become such leaders cannot be found in our churches, where will they be found?
Some congregations, Stone notes, are constrained by sex ratios while most are simply constrained by economies of scale. Churches, especially smaller churches, could work together to find creative ways for young people to find like-minded partners. One way would be to host special joint singles events with other gospel-centered local churches. (This approach would also prevent church functions such as community groups from being turned into “dating markets.”) We must also find ways to ensure that young men are brought into the church and discipled in such a way that they have a biblical view of sexual ethics.
Over the past decade, churches in America have begun to better recognize and appreciate that many Christians are called to singleness. But we must not overlook that marriage remains the cultural norm (by age 45, 81 percent of men and 86 percent of women have married at least once). If we want spiritually healthy Christian families in our churches, we should do more to help create the pool of marriageable disciples that make such families possible.