Educated and ambitious single Kiwi women struggle to find their male equals, write Russell Blackstock and Kathryn van Beek.
Anne Kininmonth is an outgoing, attractive and well-paid professional — but she worries about being left on the shelf. The 27-year-old corporate manager has struggled to find the man of her dreams since returning from working overseas.
The Wellington-based business graduate finds there is a dearth of Kiwi men on the same educational wavelength and she is reluctantly lowering her sights.
"I was in Tokyo and Malaysia for four years and dating wasn't a problem," Kininmonth says. "Since I have come back to New Zealand I have been shocked at how hard it is to find guys who match my standards.
"I have now started to lower those standards. It is very frustrating, because relationships like that are ultimately going nowhere."
Kininmonth understands why her real estate agent sister Rosie appeared as a Bachelorette on the TV3 reality hit The Bachelor NZ in a bid to find Mr Right.
For the past two months the nation has been hooked on the cheesy dating show in which 21 women compete to win over the Bachelor, Auckland businessman Arthur Green.
But the concept of the The Bachelor NZ might not be that far removed from reality.
There are now just 91 men for every 100 women in the 25-49 year age group — fewer than there were in 1945 after the world wars demolished our male population.
The "man drought" has inspired a few funny headlines over the years, but it's been a serious demographic trend in New Zealand since 1983 and is now spawning a new problem. Women are concerned not only about the lack of men, but also about how difficult it can be to find an equal — and they may have a point.
"Assortative mating — like partnering with like — occurs over just about every human dimension, be it height, income, education or intelligence," says Kiwi economist Simon Chapple.
With girls doing better at school than boys, and more women than men gaining tertiary qualifications, women are having a harder time finding their educational equals.
Social and economic researcher Paul Callister says male under-representation in education is cause for concern — not only for women in the dating market, but for society as a whole.
"The real drought is the educational man drought," he says.
The number of people obtaining higher qualifications has risen significantly since the 1980s, but it's women who are well out in front — there are 155 females aged 30-34 with a degree or higher educational qualification for every 100 males in that age and qualification group.
"The greatest beneficiaries are well-educated men," says Callister. "They have much more choice when finding a partner. In the past they might have just been looking to find attractive women — now they may be looking for someone not only attractive but also well-educated and potentially a high income earner, too. It also takes the pressure off them to be the main income earner."
Dating agencies report an increasing number of clients are professional women who are finding difficulty meeting compatible men.
Too often, they are narrowing their pool of potential partners by insisting on matching with educational equals, says Sasha Madarasz, owner of Auckland agency Two's Company.
"We encourage these women not to be so judgmental because they are significantly restricting their chances of finding a partner," she explains. "There are certainly fewer highly qualified and available men out there now than women so it doesn't pay to be too picky."
Madarasz says another problem is highly educated women can also scare men off by making them feel intimidated or inferior.
"It is best to keep an open mind and just go out there and date and have fun rather than worrying about if someone is your intellectual equal."
With women now more interested in becoming doctors than marrying them, tradesmen are also getting a look-in.
"What has happened is that as the number of well-educated women has increased, more of them can't find well-educated men — so they are 'marrying down' educationally," says Callister. "More women with university degrees are partnering with men with trade certificates."
However, "marrying down" is not an option for primary school teacher and former beauty queen Kristie Leonard. She is one of the 21 women who battled to win the heart of Arthur Green on The Bachelor NZ.
Leonard signed up as a Bachelorette because she believes there is a drought of suitable men in her home city of Christchurch, despite an influx of construction workers during the post-earthquake rebuild.
"Most of the guys are from overseas and they are here for a good time, not a long time," she says.
"The place is actually overstocked with men but just not the type I am looking for."
Leonard prefers ambitious and motivated individuals who "don't just turn up at work to get a pay cheque".
"I have dated good-looking guys who are non-professional types, but as fun as it can sometimes be, it is frustrating because they are not really husband material."
The picture isn't all rosy for unskilled men, though. "There was a good set of jobs in the 60s and 70s that often involved physical work and were relatively well-paid," says Callister. "Those jobs have gone now, or if they're still available the pay rates have really decreased.
"The group I worry about are the guys who've dropped out of school and who are not going on to train as plumbers or mechanics. In the past they had opportunities, but now they struggle."
These men are not only missing out on income, they're also missing out on love — and it's costing them. Less-educated people are less likely to be in stable relationships, so they're unable to pool their resources. A recent Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study highlighted the economic benefits of partnering.
It revealed that at age 38 those with partners have an average net wealth of $458,800, compared to $121,000 for singletons.
Rising costs and no one to share them with can add up to little for those on low incomes — though women now have more options than they did in the past.
"Some women might have put up with not great personalities if the partner could at least bring home the bacon," says Callister.
"Nowadays those low-income women have got choices in terms of going on the benefit. It might not be the best life, but they can have kids without having to partner."
With high-earning, double-income households on one side of the economic spectrum and low-earning, single-income households on the other, rising social inequality will be with us for some time.
"Although income inequality concentrated in the late 80s and early 90s, intergenerational wealth inequality will continue to grow as a consequence of that shift," says Chapple.
"My prediction is that the trends we observe in terms of polarisation at the bottom end of the job market, for males in particular, will be ongoing.
"Equally, we will see more and more assortative mating by income and that will contribute to higher inequality in the future."
It is now well-known that societies with greater income equality have better outcomes in terms of physical health, mental health and community life. In other words, when the poor do better, the rich do better, too. The same logic applies to gender relations.
"For most policy-makers, disadvantaged men are a deeply unsexy group of people," says Chapple.
"It's a huge issue for these guys, particularly when they are young. They have no role in society and they create a lot of social problems.
"There needs to be a lot more effort trying to put these people in positions where they can find jobs."
Breaking down gender stereotypes will be crucial in providing pathways for men.
"As a society, we've got to be interested in equality for these guys. No one is out there saying we need 50 per cent of nurses to be male."
Chapple has seen first-hand the discrimination that men can face when they try to enter female-dominated industries.
"One of my friends was a stay-at-home father.
"When he needed a job, he realised the only thing he knew about was looking after kids, so he got into early childhood education.
"He was getting huge suspicion from the parents."
Becoming a cleaner or an aged care worker is unlikely to make anyone rich, but Chapple believes the benefits of working go far beyond having a reliable income.
"If they've got a stable job they've got the pride that comes with that, and they will find it easier to form meaningful relationships if they wish to — so they'll be around to raise their kids as well."
By challenging gender stereotypes and investing in career pathways for men we'll also increase the pool of eligible bachelors for single women. But it's a long game, adds Callister.
Back in Wellington, frustrated business professional Kininmonth also doesn't see the situation improving anytime soon.
"I used to look at men who wolf whistle at women from building sites as being a bit crude and to be ignored," she says, sighing.
"Now I sometimes find myself thinking some of them are actually quite good looking."
Single men are spoilt for choice
New Zealand's "man drought" is good news for single West Aucklander Clint Morris.
The 38-year-old businessman is looking for love and finds there is no shortage of upwardly mobile women playing the dating game.
He is signed up to a commercial match-making agency. This year he has been out with a lawyer, a doctor and a business development manager.
"In the past I have dated women who are teachers, nurses and administrators, and they are great," he says. "But nowadays there seems to be a lot more top-end professionals in their 30s looking for a partner."
Morris is a former electrician who has done well for himself by owning and operating a number of businesses.
He has no kids, has never been married and owns his own house. He is also well travelled and sociable. He has been single for about a year.
Despite there being no shortage of well-educated, single women around, some shy away when they discover he is not a graduate, he says.
"At first, most of them come across as simply looking for a nice guy but quickly you realise they are a bit pickier than that.
"Some are actually pretty specific and demanding about what kind of man they are looking for, which is usually a well-educated professional."
Morris remains optimistic he will someday find the girl of his dreams.
"There are plenty available. I'm not complaining."