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An Important Update to the Shidduch Story
My recent “The Largest Shidduch Crisis Ever?” article attracted a lot more discussion than I’d expected. We’ll get to some of the insights that came out of that in just a minute. But first: not one, but two people sent me an article from last’s week Ami Magazine authored by Channah Cohen and Akiva Friedman - two data professionals (“Towards Solving the Shidduch Crisis”). Their work only makes my own article more timely.
The Ami Article
Cohen and Friedman analyzed actual government demographic data describing the population of Lakewood over the past three decades. They discovered that, by any reasonable interpretation, there is no significant difference between the numbers of 19 year old girls and 23 year old boys. Or, in other words, there is no age gap.
If an age gap isn’t causing the crisis, the authors wonder, what could be happening? They offer four possible explanations:
23 year-old boys, as a population, may not be adequately socialized and may therefore not be prepared for marriage
Girls may have unrealistic expectations (i.e., there aren’t as many kollel-bound boys as kollel-aspiring girls)
The shidduch system may be inefficient in a way that unnecessarily prevents enough young people from meeting each other
Nearly everyone may eventually be getting married, but in some cases it just takes longer than it should
As an aside, the authors went to some trouble to explain why they thought generic government data on Lakewood was useful for this study - despite the fact that non-Jews were also included. Well I can add another data point to that argument.
According to US Census data, the total 2021 school-aged population of Lakewood (based on the numbers between ages 5-19) came to 45,654. This number is based on the age breakdown that’s available to us. The actual number is probably noticeably higher: even though 19 year-olds shouldn’t be there, we would prefer to include three and four year-olds.
In any case, the most recent available number for the total enrollment in all Lakewood public schools is 5,471. In other words around 88% of Lakewood’s school aged children aren’t in school. Well, unless you factor in a few yeshivas and Bais Yakovs. So it’s pretty clear that, by their numbers, Jews dominate the population - and, therefore, the population statistics.
Are There Any Practical Solutions?
But the discussion that followed my own article did lead to some interesting insights. Let’s assume there’s merit to Cohen and Friedman’s second suggestion, which might be reasonably summed up using my words:
Would it not make sense for single girls to broaden their shidduch criteria to include bnei Torah who also happen to work for a living?
Even without seeing the scary parallels in that Atlantic article, it’s easy to imagine a disconnect between the attitudes held by our own young men and women:
In nearly every Bais Yakov - and especially in seminaries - the primary message is that the ONLY possible path to a meaningful life is choosing a kollel life. There simply aren't any other options for serious Jews.
By contrast, my sense is that there’s a “subtext” that’s common in the yeshiva world that implies that roshei yeshiva and rebbeim are fully aware that many of their talmidim will eventually work one way or the other and that that's not a bad thing. They may not all talk like R’ Aaron Lopiansky, but most of them probably think like him.
That cultural disconnect - something that’s been building for decades - may have created a river too wide to bridge. But is there anything that can be done about it? I guess we could turn to a much-respected rosh hayeshiva for his take.
Many years ago, a friend told me about a (then) recent interaction he had with his rebbi, R’ Mordechai Gifter. My friend, returning to Cleveland for a brief visit, entered R’ Gifter’s office as he was in the middle of a heated telephone conversation. From what my friend could hear of the conversation, it was clear that R’ Gifter was trying to convince parents to allow their daughter to go out with one of R’ Gifter’s talmidim. And it was equally clear that the only thing holding them back was the fact that this talmid - in addition to his ongoing serious Torah learning - worked.
Hanging up the phone in frustration, R’ Gifter turned to my friend (who had since become the menahel of a Bais Yakov) and shouted “This is all your fault! All you teach is ‘kollel, kollel, kollel’!”
“What should we teach?” my friend asked.
“Ben Torah, ben Torah, ben Torah.”
I tried replicating Cohen and Friedman’s results using US Census data. But, because the Census presents the numbers in five year cohorts (0-4, 5-9, etc) rather than for each year individually, I couldn’t get sufficient precision.
However, that may help us understand where the “age-gap” proponents originally went wrong. Let me explain.
Here’s what I got when I compared the number of 15-19 year old girls with the number of 20-24 year old boys in Lakewood for the most recent available five years of data:
Indeed, there are significantly fewer boys of the cohort needed by those girls - between 18% and 28% fewer, in fact. And that’s almost certainly mostly due to the fast-rising Lakewood population. Just how fast is Lakewood growing? See for yourself:
But the fact that I only have data from 5-year cohorts to work with means that my results are badly - and falsely - exaggerating the problem. And that, as Cohen and Friedman explain, is because the real differential between male and female marriage ages is almost certainly no higher than 2.5%. In that sense, their data would be far more accurate than mine.
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