Bloomberg, June 03, 2011

‘Intellectual Meat Market’ Makes Washington Long Odds for Single Women by Sandrine Rastello and Timothy R. Homan

Christy McConville has some advice for women in Washington who are frustrated with the dating scene in the nation’s capital: Leave town.

The former District of Columbia resident did just that last year when she relocated to Pasadena, California, after spending almost a decade in Washington. She said it’s now much easier to find single men her age, and she relishes male suitors inquiring about her hobbies rather than her resume.

Washingtonians are “really sort of dating their jobs,” said McConville, 34, who works in political communications. “It’s sort of like an intellectual meat market.”

For women like McConville, it’s not just the fixation on work, it’s the odds: Washington has the highest ratio of women to men compared with all 50 states — 112 females for every 100 males, Census Bureau figures show. Among residents between ages 20 and 39 in the city of 601,723, women outnumber men by 13,716, up from about 6,000 a decade ago, according to census data.

Speed-dating events for singles with professional degrees sell about 50 percent more tickets here than in most other U.S. cities, according to the head of one social networking group. People marry so late in life that Washington has more infertility experts than most places, said one sociologist.

Job Magnet

An influx of young, female professionals helps explain the gender imbalance, according to William Frey, a senior fellow and demographer at the Brookings Institution.

“Young women are more likely to come into the District than young men,” Frey said, noting that federal agencies and nonprofit institutions often hire young college graduates, and women make up the majority of them.

That means Washington is a target-rich town for men, said Vivek Subramarian. The 32-year-old education consultant, who lives in the Columbia Heights neighborhood, said he’ll flirt anywhere, including on the subway.

“Dating, in general, is pretty much ours to lose,” Subramarian, who has lived in New York, Seoul and Shanghai, said while scanning patrons at a bar on U Street, a popular strip for people his age. “It’s trial and error for pickup lines.”

The disproportionate number of females in Washington, where the population is 50.7 percent black, is also influenced by older women outnumbering older men.

“Shares of women in the population get higher as you move to older age cohorts, but that’s because women live longer than men on average,” said Peter Tatian, a researcher at the Urban Institute’s Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center.

Getting Younger

Yet census figures show Washington’s population became younger over the last decade: With a median age of 33.8, it’s tied with Alaska as the nation’s third youngest, compared with 37.2 for the U.S. as a whole.

The similarities with the largest U.S. state by area end there: Alaska has the best odds for women, with 0.92 for every man, the census shows.

Washington’s population boost from recent college graduates, along with the inflow of professionals, is feeding the demand to meet new people.

Looking for Meaning

In a town where more than a quarter of the population — 26.4 percent — has a graduate or advanced degree, potential dates are often preoccupied with careers and seek partners with similar professional status.

“The upside about Washington is probably this allure to be in the nation’s capital, to have a job that has more meaning than many other places,” said C. Margaret Hall, a sociology professor at Georgetown University. “It’s difficult, I think, to build relationships here.”

Speed-dating events that focus on singles with academic credentials such as an M.B.A. or law degree sell one-and-a-half times more tickets than in other U.S. cities, said Michael Karlan, founder of Professionals in the City, a social networking group.

The company organizes gatherings where men and women have three to five minutes to talk to each other before moving on to the next person. Participants later get a chance to mingle and to get in touch through a website.


Lisa Hough, attending her first speed-dating event, said she has encountered several men who are “workaholics” since moving from West Virginia last year. Hough, 24, an engineer for a construction company, asks them what they’re up to for the weekend, only to be told the same thing: working.

“It’s very much, ‘I have all these things I need to accomplish,’” she said while awaiting the start of the event at a downtown bar.

Men don’t have a monopoly in focusing on work. Professional demands among women can also make them more difficult to date, said 31-year-old Matt Courtney, who attended the event.

“I hear from a lot of guys that the women here are very smart, which is a good thing,” said Courtney, who lives in nearby Reston, Virginia. They also have “extremely high standards.”

Traditional ways of meeting people through family, friends and community activities are less common here, said Barry McCarthy, a sociology professor at American University.

Washington is different, said McCarthy, co-author of “Discovering Your Couple Sexual Style.” For one thing, people tend to put off marriage.

More Infertility Experts

The city “has more infertility experts per capita than most places, and it’s because of late marriages and late child bearing,” he said. “There’s a stigma against early marriage among professional people.”

There’s apparently no taboo against trying pick-up lines in the unlikeliest locations.

“I once had a guy try to pick me up at Costco,” said Heather May, 25, a Washington resident. “He asked me if I was from around here because I looked tan. It actually almost worked. I’m so pale, I love being told I look tan.”

May, a marketer for a law firm, summed up single men here: “They’re either contractors or they’re government workers.”

Jamia Wilson has noted the shallow pool. While the 30-year- old self-described “flower child” said she had no problems dating during her 12 years in Washington, she didn’t fit the power-couple image sought by many of her dates.

She moved to the East Village in New York, where she’s been seeing a musician for three years and got engaged to him in May. Reminiscing with a friend from her Washington years recently made her realize how small the dating world is in the capital of the globe’s largest economy.

“We talked about guys that we dated over drinks one night,” she said, “and realized we overlapped with five different people.”