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Single Men, Cont’d

All sorts of email follow-ups to my single men post below. The first is the incandescently obvious point — so obvious I believe I’ve actually made it before — that the best example of young men becoming violent and warlike because of the crappy dating scene is the rise of Jihadism around the world. 

Second, a reader was kind enough to send me the Wall Street Journal piece I mentioned. It turns out I remembered it right except for the China part. Wilson, didn’t mention the Chinese one-child policy at all. I must have remembered the conversation the review stirred in my old office. Anyway, here are some highlights from Wilson’s review which appeared in the WSJ in 1996, I’ll quote at some length since the review is behind a firewall, in an archive, protected by a clone army of Chuck Norrises with scissors for hands:

One of the firmest facts in all of social science is that young men are by nature more aggressive than women or old men. It is true in all societies of which we have any record, as far back in history as those records go, and of nonhuman primates as well as of human ones. Though culture may moderate or intensify this disposition, it is not the chief cause of it. Because of this fact, we know that one important cause of changes in the rate of violent crime is the proportion of young men in a society. Violent crime tends to rise as young men become more common and to decline as young men are sent off to foreign wars.

But we also know that the amount of male aggression differs among nations and, within nations, across time even when one holds constant the number of young males. David T. Courtwright, a professor of history at the University of North Florida, offers a fascinating account of some explanations for this in “Violent Land” (Harvard University Press, 357 pages, $29.95). One is the gender ratio — that is, the proportion of men to women in society. A second is the code of honor, defined as a culture in which a man has only as much worth as others confer upon him because of physical prowess and his response to insults. A third is families: not only those in which a man was born but, just as important, their presence or absence in places in which he chooses to live….

….Because of immigration, the U.S. was founded and for long existed as a nation with a high gender ratio — more men than women. This disparity was much wider in some places — the South, the frontier — than in others. In a few places, the gender ratio was so high that men lived almost entirely without families. The frontier, and especially towns caught up in the California Gold Rush, were filled with “armed bachelors filled with dangerous substances and deadly ideas: whiskey, racial contempt, and homicidal sensitivity about honor.” The ratio of men to women around Sutter’s Mill — where the Gold Rush began — was 20 to one. Within six months after their arrival, one-fifth of all these men were dead, some of disease caused by deplorable sanitation that no wife would have tolerated and others from excess liquor and homicidal fights.

When Boston had a homicide rate of fewer than six per 100,000 people, frontier towns such as Bodie, Calif., and Leadville, Colo., had rates that were at least 18 times higher. But in some western towns, such as Orderville, Utah, or in some gold mining towns, such as in the Gold Hill region of North Carolina, there was little violence and few premature deaths. The reason was that these places were settled by families.

Cowboys were violently rowdy in the cattle towns but hard-working and extraordinarily brave on cattle drives. In the saddle they were sober and hard-working because the cattle owners enforced responsibility. But at the end of the drives, in Abilene or Dodge City, they were unattached young men who fought over cards, whores and guns.

When decent women arrived in these places, they were in such short supply that they married up to prosperous men. This, of course, meant that miners and cowboys married down, or not at all, and so their lives became even more precarious. As men died out, the gender ratio became closer to even.

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