Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Good News - The More it Gets Better, the More it Gets Worse

4 Cheshvan - tonight - is my wedding anniversary (coincidentally, it is also my wife's). 23 years, 2 countries, 6 dwellings, 6 brisses, 6 kiddushes, 3 bar mtzvas, 1 chasuna (no einiklach)...

...the best is yet to come (IY"H).

No, we did not celebrate. I went to a wedding (Rav Elfinbeim from Merkaz HaTorah) and my wife went to a funeral (Rebbitzen Scheinberg, Z"L). Affairs of state take precedence over the state of affairs!

For those of you who may actualy have read my book, I have a very detailed 12 page narrative at the back of the book relating exactly how I got myself into this predicament. For what I want to discuss here, I want to paste in a few excerpts starting on page 289 (a row of asterisks indicates a gap in the narrative). Incidentally, Natwich is a psuedonym for my home town (it is not the capitol of Kansas):

Summer passed and fall arrived and, with it, began my fifth year of full time Torah study at Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood, New Jersey. I continued meeting new prospects (fueled, in part, by the efforts of the benevolent ladies of Cope Institute), continued drawing blanks, and continued being haunted. I also continued showing up to the study hall but it wasn’t with the same energy I passed my 26th birthday and I felt that I was outgrowing the unmarried faction at Lakewood Yeshiva. I was also becoming more cynical, world-wise, and thick skinned. I started telling the matchmakers that I didn’t think that I should be meeting a prospect that was younger than 21.

During the last week of June (I think it was Wednesday night), Mrs. N. from the Cope Institute ladies’ auxiliary contacted me. It seems that her husband’s cousin’s daughter, one Miss Devora M., who had just recently completed the ritual post-high-school year at a seminary in Eretz Israel, has returned to New York and stepped off the plane that very morning. Would I be interested to meet her?

“Has she gotten over her jet lag?”

“She’s ready.”

“Has she gone out at all yet?” (Experience has told me that it is not beneficial to be somebody’s “first one.”)

“Yes, she has.” (This was true – one guy, one date.)

“How old is she?” (Mrs. N. knew all about my age preferences.)


“Sounds a bit young.”

“Won’t hurt.” (Not now, but maybe when I take off my hat and reveal the receding hairline she’ll wise up.)

We met on Sunday. Needless to say, it was one of the more pleasurable first dates that I had had in some time. At one point I inquired as to when is her birthday. She said it just happens to be this coming week.

“So you’re going to be twenty?”

“No, I am going to be nineteen.”

It seems that nineteen-and-a-half really meant half-way to nineteen. I would be twenty-seven in December. All the reruns she sees on television I saw on the first run. She was freshly back from her banner year in Eretz Israel and was charged with an enthusiasm that I had long forsaken. (Actually, my “enthusiasm” was extinguished by the tear gas five years back.) I could feel the age difference.


The next morning, I admonished the matchmaker for “misrepresenting” the girl’s age and speculated that it may present a bit of a “generation gap” but I admitted that I had a very good time and I would like to squeeze in another date before my upcoming furlough. I couldn’t afford to waste any of my remaining “Lakewood boy” time. At this point, I had no idea what her thoughts were.

Later that day, I placed a call to my father. We spoke about my upcoming visit to Natwich and other issues related to the impending “transition.” I also commented that I had just started seeing a new girl. I remarked that I really liked the date I had with her but that I am concerned that she is so very young.

My father, who has a knack for being able to see the larger picture, had a prophetic response: “She vill get older!”

Couldn’t argue with that.

The rest is in the book.

The upshot of the story is that I found myself at 26.5 hitched to a barely 19 year old baby factory when I wasn't actually looking for one. And my father was right on the money. She did get older. She is not 19 any more (but as for being a baby factory...)

Well, 23 years ago, we could get away with something like this. But, I suspect that if a 26-plus bochur tried to pull off something like this today, he would be waterboarded and sent back to the "freezer". Like, what chutzpah does does a browning bochur have to take up with a green girl?? There are so many 25 and 24 and 23 and 22 year old maidens waiting for Prince Charming and he has to grab baby Princess Di?

"How could you, you lecherous cradle robber?! Don't you know there's a shidduch crisis going on? Leave the babies alone, for heaven sakes and marry a woman!"

Now, I have been writing profusely about the shidduch crisis - not just last week, but even last year. And I said then and I say now and, as some commenters pointed out, others have said before me that in the (non-chassidic) chareidi community, the biggest problem is the demographic imbalance between available green girls and eligible brown boys. Each year that a guy grows older there are more and more younger girls for him to choose from.

Take it from me!

And each year a girl grows older, there are less and less older boys to choose from.

Take it from a cast of thousands.

And so, very recently there was a proclamation from some 60 rabbanim that boys should indeed seek out wives who are closer to their ages if not beyond. Now, this won't do anything to solve the mathematical problem of more girls/boys on a yearly basis but it may help some of the older girls who have been high and dry.

I did not read the text but my feeling is that the focus is not so much that a 22 or 23 year old boy should not meet a 19 year old. I think it is more that 25-30 and up guys should not be meeting 19 year olds. They should be staring at 23.

I think this is reasonable and I am all for it (but who am I to talk?)

The amazing thing is that even after I and many others talk about the numerical discrepancy between the girls and boys in our circles as more important than the overplayed pickyness (which is only a symptom of the imbalance as I wrote last year). Some people still don't get it. This includes some of the people who have commented to my posts as well as Chananya Weissman who wrote a lengthy editorial in the Jerusalem Post and did not seem to acknowledge this mathematical discrepancy. As of this writing, there are about 80 talkbacks on Chananya's piece (5 of which from Chananya himself) and about 10-15 of them are pointing out the mathematical repercussions of the burgeoning chareidi birth rate.

And, yet, in talkback #73-74, Chananya is still denying that it exists.

So I am here to write that not only does it exist based on simple mathematics - it is worse than it looks. And that is because even many of those who present the mathematical formulae are making a mathematical mistake:

They are looking at the wrong variable.

You see, there are two terms that we need to understand and distinguish: Birth rate and birth increment (delta-T).

A birth rate (better term: growth rate) is the percentage of new offspring in a population at the end of a year compared to the original size of the population at the start of the year.

A birth increment is the absolute number of new offspring at the end of a year compared to the absolute number of offspring at the end of the previous year.

For example:

Suppose we have a population of 1000 people at the start of year 2000 and it generates 30 offspring by years end. The birth rate is 3%.

Now suppose the next year (2001) sees 32 offspring. The current birth rate is 32 / 1030 = 3.1%. Not a big change. But the birth increment is 32 /30 = +6.66%.

Now let's say 2002 sees 35 offspring. The new birth rate is 35 / 1062 = 3.295%. But the birth increment is 35 / 32 = + 9.37%.

Now we go to 2003 and we see 39 offspring. What are our numbers? Birth rate is 39 / 1097 = 3.55%. And the birth increment? 39 / 35 = + 11.42%.

So we see that from the end of 2000 to the end of 2003 (3 yrs) the birth rate only move .55% from 3% to 3.55%. Doesn't seem too drastic. HOWEVER, the birth increment averaged 9.15% for each of the 3 years to a total discrepancy of 27.45%!! Thus, in 2021 when the girls half of the 39 offspring from 2003 (let's say 19 girls) hit the market, only 15 boys from 2000 will do the same. That's a 19 /15 or 26.66% surplus of girls over boys or we can simply say that 4 girls out of 19 (21%) won't even get a date!

The important thing is the birth increment, not the birth rate. And in the chareidi world (think Bnei Brak) we are talking about astronomical numbers. 12%/ year.

The point I am making is that the birth rate does not have to move much in order for the birth increment to move a lot. In fact it doesn't have to move at all. In fact, it can even move backwards!!! Consider this:

Suppose in 2000, the population of 1000 people produce 500 offspring. We have a new poulation of 1500 and a birth rate of 50%.

Now, let's say in 2001 they produce 600 offspring. The new population is 2100 and the new birthrate is 600 / 1500 = 40% and the birth increment is 600 / 500 = + 20%.

Now let's say 2002 sees 720 offspring. We have a new birthrate of 720 / 2100 = 34.28% while the birth increment is 720 / 600 = +20% (again).

Now let's say 2003 sees a mere 900 offspring. Well, the new birth rate drops to 900 / 2820 = 31.9% while the birth increment has soared to 900 / 720 = + 25%!!

So what do we have after 3 years? The birth rate has actually steadily dropped from 50% to about 31.9% (a 36% drop) while the birth increment has averaged a 21.66% yearly gain (and a 65% cumulative gain)!

Unfortunately for the girls, it is not the birth rate that counts. It's the delta-T, the birth increment.

So those 12% yearly increases are great news - if you happen to wear tzitzis. But not if you wear tights.

12% yearly increases - bli ayin hara, kein yirbu!

I wish the news was better.

P.S. This may be a good time to look again at my posts about Web Cam dating (HERE and HERE).


Dov said...

Reb Yechezkel, leaving aside the math for a minute, I think that there are a lot more lessons that can be drawn from your personal heart-warming story.

Imagine for a minute that you and your wife's dating process were taking place today. She'd be getting advice from her parents, friends, and family: she would be told to marry only a boy who wants to sit and learn, marry only a boy that is as committed to living in Israel, marry only a boy in a precisely "appropriate" age range, etc. Now, a true "woman of understanding" would have seen through all that, but how many people in today's "crisis" are being told to look at "official criteria" instead of looking for a relationship that fits for them personally and that they can build on? I think that in today's religious world ("CJ" and "NCOJ") kids are judging shidduchim in all the wrong ways.

Taking it one step further, your eshes chayil at the time married someone who wasn't sitting in learning and who wasn't committed to living in Israel, but ended up with a true talmid chacham and marbitz Torah and ended up living in Israel. It's impossible to look at a shidduch prospect "ka'asher hu sham." People evolve and relationships evolve, and the goal should be to find a person with whom to evolve and grow, not someone who fits parents or teachers criteria this very moment.

THAT should be the lesson you draw from your heart-warming life story.

Dov said...

Reb Yechezkel: Regarding the math, I think you and others writing on the subject are making a slight mistake.

In your message " the wellsprings of salvation overflow..." you lay out the math with the following conclusion:

There were about 8,742 MHY births in 2008 of which we assume 4,371 are girls (and 4,371 are boys). These girls will be ready to enter the shidduch market at about 2026 when they are 18. So in 2026 we expect 4,371 girls to announce eligibility. The boys from this crop will not (on average) announce eligibility until about 3 years later when they are 21. In 2026, it will be the boys born in 2005 who will now be 21 who will enter the shidduch market to contend with the new 4,371 girls born in 2008. And how many boys should we expect to see? Half of 6220 or about 3110 boys. So in 2026 we expect 3110 new boys to enter the shidduch market when there will be 4,371 girls.

But there's a critical flaw in your reasoning. The article you quote said that:

More than 900 babies were delivered in that month, 100 more than the previous record month, December 2008. The hospital said that close to 500 of the babies born in September 2009 were boys....

The key is that the boys were not 50%. 500 boys out of 900 births is 55.5% boys.

SO: The 8742 births in 2008 will be 3890 girls, and the 6220 births in 2005 will be 3452 boys. Still a discrepency, but a tiny fraction of the one your math predicted. In your math it was 28.8% of the girls with no corresponding boy, in this adjusted math it's 11.2%.

To be clear, I happen to think that the "crisis" is caused by other things, as I've commented. But in any case the math is a lot less extreme than is written about.

One could take the math the next step, and figure out exactly what age gap between boys and girls would make the skewed birth rates exactly cover the age gap. It appears to me that a 2-year gap instead of your 3-year gap would do it. But I don't have the time to do the math now.

Moreso, one could speculate that Hashem designed the world such that the skewed birth rates is in Divine Consonance with the preferred slight gap in ages. Mishpetei HaShem Emes.

Yechezkel said...

To Dov #1 -

>>THAT should be the lesson you draw from your heart-warming life story.

That's the lesson for those who know the whole story ;-)

To Dov #2 -

I clearly stated that my examples were based on the assumption that births are 50-50. That was an ipso facto opening that if the numbers are not even, there is room for adjustment. This is not a flaw in the math.

That said you are quite overstating your position. The article clearly says that less than 500 of the births were boys and it clearly says that there were MORE than 900 births. So even if we adjust the numbers a mere 10 units - say there were 910 births and 490 of them were boys, then instead of your 500b vs 400g ratio (very unrealistic) which gives boys a 25% surplus, this would now be 490b vs 420g where the surplus has already been cut down to 16.6%. If the real numbers are 480b vs 440g then our boy surplus is less than 10% and much more realistic. Since we don't have the real numbers, there is no way we can tell.

No matter what, in this case we are isolating a single month. We do not even have the statistics of one other month by which to determine any kind of a trend so there is not much to cheer about. I have seen people who commented on this subject in other forums claim that globally there is a slight edge in births of males of 3-5%.

In any case, the statistics in the field show that we have a big problem. Ask any professional shadchan (independent - not a Yeshiva shadchan)how many girls they have on their files vs. how many boys.

Hashem Yaazor.