Age is just a number

Back in 2009, I did a story for JTA on the so-called shidduch crisis, the reportedly vast numbers of Orthodox singles — mainly women — unable to find mates.

If you cast around the Orthodox world, you’ll find a number of reasons for the crisis. But I was particularly eager to talk to a guy in Queens named Moshe Pogrow who was convinced the problem was mathematical. Guys want to marry girls who are younger. So if you’re 24, you can date someone who is 20, 21, 22 or 23. That creates an imbalance that favors the men, leaving them with more opportunities and more unwed Jewish women.

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I must admit, the math makes no sense to me. If the orthodox birth rate is roughly equal between the sexes — and this isn’t China here, so there’s no reason to think it isn’t — every unwed Jewish woman should somewhere have a corresponding unwed Jewish man, regardless of age. But when I tried to put this question to Pogrow, he refused to engage me. In fact, he insisted that unless I was willing to accept his viewpoint as God’s truth, and ignore the other theories being bandied about, he had no interest in talking to me. It was one of the more maddening conversations I have had as a journalist. And I politely declined his conditions.

Regardless of its correctness, age-as-crisis-cause is still a prevalent view in the Orthodox world, as this video makes plain.

I don’t doubt there’s a reluctance among men to marry older women. I’m willing to venture there’s a similar reluctance in the non-Orthodox Jewish world too, and hell, probably in the non-Jewish world as well.

But does that account for vast numbers of unmarried women? And has anyone demonstrated empirically that this is even true?

Ben Harris is JTA’s news editor. In his seven years with JTA, he has reported from more than 15 countries. His writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, New York magazine, among other publications.