“Where are the good Christian men?” That question is being asked by single Christian women across America. Discussions of this issue inevitably elicit a strong response. Everyone has their own theory about why it seems to be so hard for a single Christian girl to find a good husband.

But these theories are usually based on anecdotal evidence. Economist Lyman Stone looks at the problem using hard data in a new article for the Institute for Family Studies titled “Sex Ratios in the Pews: Is There Really a Deficit of Men in American Churches?

The available data, which comes from various sources, is not comprehensive, but Stone’s general conclusion is that “the dearth of men in church is considerably less severe, and considerably less mysterious, than it is made out to be.” He goes on to say:

Women have been more religiously devout than men in Western society at least since the rise of Christianity; indeed by some metrics, the 19th-century church may have had an even bigger gender imbalance than today.

Stone concludes that only around 52 to 57 percent of prime-age, unmarried Christians are women. Thus, the gender-ratio is far more balanced than all the handwringing about the lack of good husbands would suggest.

Stone restricts himself to looking at men and women under the age of 50 who are not divorced because “many Christian religious traditions frown on divorce.” It might be interesting to see if the inclusion of divorcees makes a significant difference on the gender ratios. 

Stone then goes a step further to try to figure out what percentage of singles not only identify as Christian but also practice their faith devoutly. His findings in this area are less encouraging:

Just 12% of prime-age unmarried men both believe basic Christian teachings and are meaningfully practicing Christian piety. The figure is about 18% for women. This means that for both men and women, majorities are not in any meaningful sense practicing or believing Christianity.

That means that if you are a devout Christian looking to marry another devout Christian, the number of potential spouses is tiny. Stone believes this explains why today only four percent of Americans meet their significant other at church – whereas it was still 12 percent in 1940. He writes:

What makes American churches bad places to meet a spouse is that American churches just don’t have many unmarried young people at all. Finding a good spouse requires a considerable volume of options, which is why online dating and other digital options are so popular. They correctly recognize that finding a good match often requires sorting through a large number of bad matches. Churches are only useful places to meet a spouse if there are a lot of young people there

If churches are serious about helping their single members get married, Stone advises them to cooperate with each other. Local congregations should pool their single members by organizing joint events to create “economies of scale.”

This is already happening to a large extent via the internet. Many Christian denominations and theological traditions have dedicated dating websites. Given the ubiquity of online dating, it is likely that this – not Stone’s suggestion of coordinated events – will be how devout Christians find a like-minded spouse.

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