Where the Boys Are

Proportion of the 18-to-44 age group that is male ,by county

A GOOD MAN IS HARD to find in New York City. But San Diego is teeming with men, and so is Rock Springs, Wyoming. In most urban areas and the East young women are likely to outnumber young men. In rural counties and western states the opposite is true. A hundred years after the closing of the American frontier young men still go west (or stay there) to seek opportunity.

The vast majority of Americans choose a spouse when they are between the ages of 18 and 44. This map suggests that the male-female differential in certain regions could pose a problem for some people seeking marriage. There are 3,138 counties in America; the male-female ratio for the 18-to-44 age group falls within 10 percentage points of absolute equality (50:50) in almost all of them. A difference of a few percent may seem slight, but it is in fact quite significant. Think of the situation as a game of musical chairs. Each marriage removes one man and one woman from the game. In a county where eligible men are 48 percent of the target age group, there are 13 single women for every 12 seats. Counting out gay and incarcerated men may remove another chair. All in all, then, there are no potential husbands in the target age group in such a county for as many as 15 percent of the women in the target age group.

There are at least two important reasons for the surplus of women in urban areas. First, cities are the best places for women to find jobs. Men account for 79 percent of the nation’s farmers, 85 percent of miners, and 95 percent of loggers. But the service economy is urban and dominated by women. The second reason is the high death rate for young men in inner cities. The Bronx, for example, has only about 47 men for every 53 women in the target age group—the greatest disparity of any county in New York State. Higher male mortality also explains the female skew in some rural counties, such as many of those that include Indian reservations.

—Brad Edmondson and Blayne Cutler