We shouldn’t be worried about the ‘millennial man drought’

29 per cent more women graduated than men

Being a 21st century girl is pretty confusing.  We’re bombarded by media encouraging us to be strong, single and sassy independent women. Yet, the very same media also tells us that although being single for a bit is great, we also need to find a man eventually and that it’s going to be pretty hard to do that.

A couple of weeks ago, Ellie Austin wrote an article for The Times, lamenting the what she calls the ‘Millennial Man Drought’. She describes how her circle of intelligent, cultured and successful female friends are desperately struggling to find boyfriends and husbands in a way that previous generations haven’t.

Austin attributes this struggle largely to the disparity between the number of men and women who graduate from university.  In 2014, 29 per cent more women than men graduated from university than men.  If the gap continues to grow at the same rate, girls born this year will be 75 per cent more likely to go to university than their male peers.  

Not a boy in sight

This increasing disparity, combined with the fact that more people than ever before are favouring ‘assortative mating’ (which means choosing partners from the same social and educational background), means that, in theory, university educated women seeking boyfriends and husbands are struggling to find them, because there simply aren’t enough that meet our exceedingly high standards and expectations.

Austin is describing a situation that we’re all pretty familiar with.  Women are constantly depicted in contemporary media as hopelessly seeking a man. Being permanently single has become a bit of a running joke for girls of our generation.  Phrases like ‘I think I’m going to be single forever’, ‘I might just become a crazy cat lady’ and ‘I’ve literally given up on boys’ are used on a pretty much daily basis in my friendship group.  

At first glance, Austin’s argument is pretty alarming.  But should we be worried? Are we really going to be alone forever?  To be honest, we’re probably not unless we choose to be.  

Okay yes, there are less men of the same socio-economic and educational background to go round than ever before.  But there aren’t actually less men.  In fact, in the UK there are on average 1.3 men to every woman.  So no, numerically speaking there isn’t a man drought.  

In her article, Austin complains that the ‘drought’ is also partially caused by men becoming increasingly commitment-phobic as a result of the rise of dating apps and media portrayals of masculinity as dependent upon promiscuity.  Pretty much every girl can attest that these things don’t make trying to date in the 21st century very easy.  But, men being unwilling to commit and difficult to understand is nothing new.  I mean, have you ever read a Jane Austen novel?  Fuckboys have been around for hundreds of years, they just haven’t always been recognisable by their penchant for fresh kicks and wavy garms.  

So, there aren’t actually less men and they aren’t actually more commitment-phobic than ever before.  So what’s changed?

I asked my grandparents, who are both in their eighties and have been happily married for over sixty years, whether they think I should be worried about the so-called man drought and whether they think things are different for girls these days. Unsurprisingly, they instantly and unanimously agreed that dating is very very different now.


My Grandma said she thinks it is much harder for girls to find the right person to settle down with now, but she attributes that not to a lack of men, but to women expecting more and not wanting to rush into things.  The conclusion she reached was that there isn’t a man drought, it’s just that ‘girls aren’t so keen to give up their own freedom’ and that this is definitely a good thing.  Essentially, the entire landscape of human relationships has changed since my grandparents met nearly 70 years ago.  People meet in different ways, have different expectations of relationships and different priorities.  Despite being married at 19 herself, my Grandma says she definitely wouldn’t want that for me and neither would I.  

The most important thing I learned from the conversation was that they think it’s foolish for girls to think they won’t ever meet someone.  My grandma reminded me that I ‘could go out tonight and meet somebody and that could be happiness for a lifetime’ and as much as that sounds hopelessly romantic, she’s right.  It’s true for me, it’s true for you and it’s true for every human being in the world.  

Waiting calmly for my destiny

We just need to stop framing ourselves in this narrative of tragic and eternal singledom and calm down a bit.  This supposed crisis isn’t new; dating and mating has always been a pretty tricky business and not just for girls.  The only difference now is that we have more freedom, as women, to decide what we want and how to live our lives.  Let’s stop joking about no one ever wanting to marry us and appreciate the opportunities we have to lead a fulfilling life without a man whilst knowing that realistically, there’s someone for everyone in the world.  As my Grandpa said when I asked him if he thought I would ever meet someone: ‘It will happen without expecting it, it might be the chap next door’.