By Naomi Rosenbach, PhD
The term “shidduch crisis” has been bandied about for many years. Until recently there has been relatively limited research to support some of the assumptions people have made. Over the last few years I have teamed up with several researchers and we conducted multiple studies on shidduch dating. In the last few weeks some of that significant data has begun to emerge.
In the largest of those studies, which was recently reported, we gathered numbers on marriage rates. That same study allowed participants to express their thoughts, experiences, and opinions on the subject of shidduch dating. I led a qualitative analysis on these replies and we published a paper titled “Struggles in the Jewish Orthodox Jewish Shidduch Dating System” in the Journal of Community Psychology. This paper highlights the pain that many individuals experience in the shidduch dating process. The difficulties were evident in the poignant voices of the participants. Many women noted the struggle of not being able to find a suitable marriage partner and lacking dates. Surprisingly, another strong finding emerged from the data; women felt pressured to get married before they felt ready (too young) and pressure to decide to marry someone in too short of a time span. Many women expressed that this pressure came directly from constantly hearing about a “shidduch crisis” and believing that there were not enough men for all the women in the Orthodox community. In a separate study, I found that, on average, Orthodox single women and men believe that for every group of 100 single men there are 215 single women. This means that young girls and boys are walking around with the perception that more than 50% of women will be left without a spouse.
In another study, my dissertation, I found that there are mental health consequences to these beliefs. When people think that their gender is in oversupply and there are not enough marriage partners to go around, they are susceptible to increased anxiety and depression and decreased life satisfaction. I also found that when women believe there are not enough men they are more likely to endorse settling for a spouse they do not feel is the best fit for them. Additionally, when men believe they are in undersupply, and they have the upper hand in the process, they are less likely to commit to relationships and become more selective in their dating criteria. In one of the more fascinating findings, I found that there are mental health consequences for men as well; when men believe there are more women available, this can also lead to increased male depression and anxiety. In a follow-up study, we found that lack of dating opportunity and stigma in singlehood in the Orthodox community can also lead to increased depression and anxiety and decreased life satisfaction.
The data shows that women believe that they have a 50% likelihood of not getting married. We found that these beliefs are severely skewed. We have evidence that people believe that there are more than double the amount of men than women. This, too, is far from reality. What we glean from our studies is that it is more likely that more than 95% of the Yeshiva Orthodox population gets married. Not everyone gets married in their early twenties, and lots of people get married throughout their twenties and thirties. While there is evidence that there are slightly more single women than men available after the age of 30, the difference is about 1% more, meaning 101 women for every 100 men, and not double as people believe. These numbers are powerful. Additionally we found that when it comes to the age gap theory of a four-year age difference between spouses, the actual age gap is closer to two years. This age gap may account for a slight increase in female availability, but the age-gap hypothesis should be reworked to account for the smaller age gap. There also may be other reasons accounting for slightly more female availability, such as more men than women leaving the Orthodox community.
However, in no way do these numbers discount the pain of those who are struggling in the shidduch system. Our qualitative analysis indicates that this process is extremely painful for many individuals. There is the pain of those wanting to get married but not finding suitable spouses and the pain of those jumping into marriages out of fear of not getting married. These numbers and findings are meant to decrease the overall fear factor and provide some relief and hope for those who are struggling.
These studies, the largest ever conducted in the frum community, were six years in the making, and many talented individuals put their time and effort into helping with this effort. Notably, my co-authors on the various publications include Yosef Sokol, PhD; Isaac Schechter, PsyD; Michael J. Salamon, PhD; Craig Johnson, PhD; Chayim Rosensweig; Chynna Levin; Devorah Bernstein, PsyD; and Shifra Hubner. Additionally, there were many individuals who worked on this research in different capacities over the years who deserve a big thank-you! While the data needs further analysis and replication, the findings thus far are important.
Naomi Rosenbach, PhD, is a clinical psychology postdoctoral fellow and researcher. Her research focuses on factors that influence well-being in the Orthodox Jewish community.