It used to be one of the favorite lines offered by advice columnists. Women would write in, describing a recent string of bad relationships and ask where, oh where, they could find a decent man. Forget about websites or bars. "Church" was the answer that often came back.
Alas, it seems these days that young women must look elsewhere. According to new data from the U.S. Congregational Life Survey, the female-to-male ratio in the pews is becoming more skewed than ever. An article published by the Austin Institute, a new marriage and family think tank featuring the work of some of my favorite researchers (Mark Regnerus and Christian Smith, among others), draws attention to the problem.
The ratio has been about 3 to 2 for decades now but it's getting worse among singles and among evangelical singles in particular.
Among 18-to-29-year-olds, the score is about 57-43 in favor of women. But the disparities widen considerably among singles, particularly as the population ages. In other words, unmarried men are unlikely to go to church when they're young, but as they get older, well, let's just say church is looking more and more like a girls' morning out. Men comprise only 27% of never married evangelical churchgoers.
All of which is not good news for women in search of husbands. On the one hand they are under great pressure to marry by church leaders and their families. On the other hand, the potential partners in their churches are limited. In my research on interfaith marriage, I found that this combination of factors often led women to marry outside their religion.
In interviews I've been conducting lately for a book on young adults and religion, I've often heard the criticism that church is geared toward married people and singles feel unwelcome. This new research seems to give weight to that complaint.