In 19th-century America, men of marriageable age outnumbered women, in part because the immigrant stream was heavily male and because many young women died in childbirth. Changes in immigration and mortality now mean that the reverse is true. In 1890 there were 107 males for every 100 females in the 20- to 44-year-old group, but in 2002 the ratio had dropped to 98 per 100.
The present imbalance has led to exaggerated reports of female marriage prospects. For example, a widely publicized report in 1986 claimed that a white college-educated woman still single at 35 had a 5 percent chance of marrying; at 40, her chances declined to 1 percent. The conclusion seemed credible because it fed the stereotype that women who have a college degree have trouble finding a husband--a notion apparently originating in the late 19th century when marriage by female college graduates was low. A far more reliable forecast, based on more sophisticated analyses, comes from two Princeton University demographers, Joshua R. Goldstein and Catherine T. Kenney, who estimate that 97 percent of white female college graduates born between 1960 and 1964 will eventually marry.
This article was originally published with the title A Surplus of Women.