Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Paying Attention to the Numbers

Our local bakery is also a kosher grocery store and when they get busy you can stand in line for quite a while. While doing so this morning I overheard what was to me some fascinating information. I asked and was told that one of the speakers has an MS in Social Work and is going for a PhD in the same field. The other teaches biological sciences on the college level, so at least an MA/MS in biology. What they were discussing was shidduchim, more particularly the statistics about shidduchim.

First, there are no exact and reliable figures about how many Jewish frum singles there are in the US--all data is informal, some of it gathered from shuls in the tri-State area and some from major Jewish centers outside of the tri-State area. Some information was gathered from shadchanim and from shidduch making sites online. Some was gathered from the 5-year studies that are done on day school/yeshiva enrollments. The general consensus seems to be that from 10-20% of singles in any given age cohort will not get married, either because they are not looking to get married or because they can't find a shidduch. And, no surprise, the percentage may be higher among females than among males.

Now, what percentage of frum Jews in the US are of marriageable age? Again, there are no exact figures. What one of the speakers did was to look at day school and yeshiva enrollments for the past 10-20 years. Here there are some figures to work with. Extrapolating from those figures they came up with an estimate of how many of those students would not be married.

The 2003-2004 study of day school populations (including Chabad and Yeshiva/chasidishe schools, as well as affiliated Conservative and Reformed schhols; however, Haredi or ultra-Orthodox schools are not included in this survey), there were 205,000 children enrolled, 4- years-old to 12th grade. An even distribution would mean approximately 14,645 students per grade level. We do have facts to support that Jews are having larger families today, so that the younger cohorts may be larger in size than the older ones. In the seven years since the study was done that would be approximately 102,550 people of marriageable age who entered the "shidduch market." And what the speakers in the bakery were saying was that about 10,255 to 20,510 of them are not yet married nor likely to be.

One of the speakers is trying to work out a statistically reliable way of gathering more exact data. His feeling is that we in Klal need to know these figures. He was appalled, and expressed it, that at least 1/10 of the population of marriageable age can't seem to find partners. He said that when a figure is that high we absolutely must look at how shidduchim are being made to see if the method of shidduch making is flawed and contributing to the numbers of singles.

Someone else listening to the conversation asked "What if the number of singles isn't that high? What if it's only 5%? How do we know that that isn't a percentage in Klal that has always remained unmarried? Has there ever been a major time period when virtually everyone was married?" Someone else mentioned that the percentages would seem to vary according to how much to the right you were--those more to the right get married perhaps in larger numbers than those in the middle or to the left of religious practice.

Maybe these numbers are correct and maybe they aren't--it could be that the percentage of singles is smaller, and it could be that the percentage is larger. I agree that we really need to find a way to gather data and to re-examine our approach to getting married. If the way shidduchim are made is contributing to the percentage of people who don't get married then we clearly need to rethink that way.

Let me put it this way: if only 1% of those students graduating high school in 2011 through 2020 did not get married, and assuming that class size did not get larger (which is not the case), then by 2020 there would be 10,255 singles in the age range from 19-28 who are going to remain single. And taking it a step further, assuming approximately equal distribution of males and females and using the figure quoted today of family size of 4-5 children on average, that is 25,640 children which will not be born. Forget what percentage of the population those numbers represent for a moment: these are living, breathing human beings who have the same hopes and dreams that the rest of the population does, and whose dreams are going to be dashed.

Okay, my personal opinion is that this study desperately needs to be undertaken. For me, ANY percentage of our population that remains single points to remediation needed of the shidduch making process. I wish these gentlemen success in their undertaking. Klal could sure use more "mazel tovs" and less "it's bad for shidduchim-itis).

Note: thank you to GM for sending me the link for the day school population survey.


Ezzie said...

It's hard to believe there's a pinpoint number like that, considering a new group enters the scene each year. And that number seems *really* high as a "never" number.

Still, all really interesting, and I'd love to see a study.

JS said...

Would be great if someone conducted a real scientific study. Anecdotal evidence is no way to make decisions.

In the end though, it's not as bad as you think because the people who are single have connections to many others in the community be they family or friends. It's not like they're off in the shadows, unknown and uncared for. So, the problem can be solved by people being more proactive in helping those they know who are single and wish to be married.

Which is another matter - surely not everyone in the world wishes to be married. Some people like to be single. Others are simply toxic in any relationship they are in. And still others, as controversial as this may seem, are homosexual and don't wish to be married to someone of the opposite sex. Thus, there will always be some percentage that is single and that is likely for the best of everyone.

Also, I think the word "single" really needs a better definition. When does someone become "single"? Surely an 11 year old is not single, but is a 17 year old? What does it mean that a person "does not get married"? If a person is 25 and still single are we now concerned to the extent that we feel that person will never marry? What if we're talking about a woman who is nearing the age when she can no longer have children? What about someone who divorces or is a widow/widower? Are they now single? Does it matter how young they are?

There are lots of definitional issues that cause people to have different ideas as to the scope of the problem. Someone who thinks it's a tragedy when a person isn't married by 22 is likely to have a very different perspective than someone who thinks the time for concern is 35.

English Major said...

I find the need to analyze numbers regarding single individuals to be rather irreligious. When it comes to bashetezachen, we need to rely strictly on the Man upstairs. If marriage is broken down into cold, calculating numbers, I think that would exacerbate the problem rather than help it.

I'd rather not be a statistic. I have my own story that Hashem plans for me. I'm not one of many; Hashem will send my spouse in the proper time. In this, it is between me and God. As it is in most things.

ProfK said...

English Major,

Nothing irreligious about counting the cohorts--just how do you think the numbers that are given in Chumash and in the Gemorah came about?--clearly there was a form of census taking going on even in our early periods. If the numbers weren't of some import, why are we told with how many people Yaakov went down to Mitzraim or how many of Klal finally left Mitzraim, and how many entered into Eretz Yisroel? Why do we need to know that the population was counted every year when members of Klal would make aliyah l'regel and go to the Bais HaMikdosh?

As to shidduchim specifically, yes Hashem is me'zaveg zevugim. This does not mean, however, that human beings settled back in their armchairs and did nothing to try and find that zivug. Our history is replete with stories of those acting as shadchanim, as helpers in the search for a zivug. There is nothing in the idea of a basherte zivug that says that zivug will be found one block over from you or even anywhere within your vicinity. Since the members of Klal are spread out all over the globe some type of human interaction would seem to be necessary so that people from all the corners of the world can possibly see if their basherte is located elsewhere. The idea of a shaliach as a type of go-between in the shidduch process can be seen as early as when Avraham sent Eliezer out looking for a shidduch for Yitzchak.

The reason I find this possible study to be of interest is really fairly simple: I think that the way shidduchim are made today--the system in place--is antithetical to producing the largest number of shidduchim possible. There are huge numbers of people who are in the shidduch parsha who have had no success with the methods any number of groups within Klal insist are the "ideal" methods.

Yes, even without any hard numbers, I have my doubts that we have ever had 100% marriage across Klal. JS enumerated some of those reasons--I'm sure there are others. Not much we can do about some of those reasons for not getting married. However, if a methodology is at fault, if a methodology is too narrow and will only apply to a particular percentage of those who are looking to get married, then the methodology needs to be tweeked, or multiple methodologies need to go into practice. And yes, to a population that seems to "live or die by the numbers" getting some real figures would be helpful.

Miami Al said...

What would the "full marriage" rate, analogous to full employment... The US Economy is considered at full employment with unemployment around 4%, the structural rate of people changing jobs, etc.

If 80% of the people are getting married, that's decent, but not amazing. If 90% are, that's much higher.

The real question is, how many people WANT to marry? If 95% of Orthodox women want to marry Jewish men, and 90% are doing so, the system is workings 94.7% of the time.if 80% are, then it's working for 84.2% of people.

So while I think that the "process" is stupid, immoral, and dehumanizing, it certainly isn't ineffective.

It seems more practical to work on plan B for the 5% - 15% that are underserved than to try to tear apart plan A that is working. If Plan B scooped up 50% of the women seeking a male Jewish mate and solved that part of the equation, the "crisis" drops back to personal tragedy.

Anonymous in Teaneck said...

The 2003-2004 Avi Chai Census of Jewish Day Schools did include Haredi and Chasidic schools. The total of 205,000 children included those schools; in fact, 50% of the children enrolled in Jewish day schools in 2003-2004 were enrolled in what the census calls "Yeshiva and Chassidic" schools.

Furthermore, there is no reason to suppose an even distribution across the grades, as a count is given for each year.

The survey is available for download on the Avi Chai website:

The Rebbetzin's Husband said...

I'm with Miami Al. And I'd love to see the numbers on general society.

ProfK said...

Rabbi T,
The numbers are available for general society at the Census Bureau. Here is a link for one of the tables from the 2011 survey.


ProfK said...

OOps, that's the 2010 survey numbers given.

English Major said...

I don't think one can compare the concept of a half-shekel census by divine decree to counting off unwed heads, but I would also counter that the "singles" issue (which I don't believe is an issue) can be considered an entity in itself, ignoring other cultural happenings. Such as, for instance, the escalating divorce rate, which seems to be happening evenly across the board - no "sect" is free from it. Does that deserves its own separate census? Or is part, as I would think, of a different malady?

Frankly, I go with the perception that in this new era of comfort and security for all (relatively; no one is scraping a living off the ground anymore) and we are now free to dabble in our minds more. We have psychoses, neuroses (none of which has Yiddish terms, because in times if fluent Yiddish who had the freedom to indulge in such things?)

Nothing can be fixed by a survey. We, individually, have to get real. We have to treat others properly, not giving in to our low self-esteems. We have to be religious-minded, not just by action.