There is an issue that is the root of many problems society is facing today. I call it the ‘learning gap’. The average girl is looking for several more years of learning than the average boy is cut out for. This is not true about every boy and girl; rather it’s an overall assessment. While lots of attention is being given to the ‘age gap’, no effort is being done to narrow the ‘learning gap’. The graph below may give you a better idea of what I mean. Obviously it’s impossible to compute the exact amount, but I hope to give you some clarity with the following estimate.
Notice that there are about twice the amount of boys who should be working than there are girls that want it. Also notice that there is no category that matches. You will have a hard time setting people up regardless of who your clientele is. You can also see that boys attempt (often subconsciously) to fit in with what girls want, but they don’t quite get there. Not being yourself results in loss of potential, loss of life. Of course this is by no means across the board, most guys are productive, and even the boys who are overextending themselves are not doing it maliciously. On the contrary, they are accomplishing as well, only they would be more productive if they weren’t extending themselves as much.
Despite this, the ‘learning gap’ is not being addressed. No one is taking steps to solve this problem. There are two possible reasons why this is so.
A) Most people aren’t aware that the ‘learning gap’ exists
B) The minority that is aware does not realize how crippling this is to society.
There are many contributing factors as to why people are unaware. I will mention some of them. Feel free to post more reasons.
1) Unlike the age gap, which is easily measured, it’s hard to quantify the exact amount of learning a girls wants and the amount a guy should be learning. Gray areas are less acknowledged.
2) Boys can convince themselves that they should be learning more. Denial is a very common thing. If the boy himself thinks he belongs in yeshiva, who will know otherwise? Not his parents, probably not his rebbi (on the off chance he’s in a yeshiva that has rabbeim) not the shadchan, and not the girl he dates.
3) There are some boys who aren’t in denial but justifiably don’t announce it to the world. Today it’s embarrassing to say you’re not cut out for learning, and it’s equally embarrassing to say you can’t afford it.
4) Seminary heads and rabbeim generally don’t investigate/discuss this because their job is to promote torah. They focus on the positive.
5) Shadchanim are aware of this to a degree, though I would submit that it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Not all the guys are so open with shadchanim for fear it will affect their shidduch.
6) The older generation sometimes doesn’t realize that boys today aren’t as capable of sitting and learning like in the past. A lot has changed in the last few years. Modern inventions like IPods, internet, and cell phones take a serious toll on a bochurs attention span. Moreover, Western society has an influence on the young couple (or the single guy) when it comes to spending, and people need more to be satisfied. On top of that, in today’s economy, a nice percentage of boys who enjoy learning can’t afford it and thus go to work. What’s more, a lot of bochurim who would’ve wanted to learn for a while can only commit to a couple of years. (Not so many guys want to limit themselves to the 10[?] Percent of girls that can support them in today’s economy). Some of the hindrances to learning are unique to today. Thus the parents don’t warm up quickly to the idea that the younger son is less cut out for it perhaps than the older son. What’s more, seminary teachers may not realize that a nice percentage of solid frum boys that should be working.
To summarize, it’s not something that’s talked about enough. Parents, mechanchos, and girls often don’t know it, shadchanim, and rabbeim may not know the magnitude of it, and boys don’t talk about it. The learning boys because of reason # 2 & 3, and working boys don’t because they would immediately be written off as being ‘farbissen’. (I noticed that when someone brings up a problem, the ‘go to’ answer is often; “your farbissen”. Why don’t people respond to the point instead of shooting down the messenger? I don’t know).
Hopefully you now understand why something so widespread is being ignored. Let’s now discuss why this is so crippling, and again feel free to post more reasons.
1) The overall quality of the guys on the market, both learning and working, decreases significantly. The learning guys because of the pressure and the working guys because they aren’t taken care of by society.
2) The overall quality of the girls on the market decreases slightly, because the role of being a wife and mother is somewhat lessened. This hurts the kid’s chinuch. Most seminaries teach a girl to live their life for torah as opposed to living it for Hashem. ( see: “A man’s view on seminary” 6/12/09)
3) Most people agree that learning may be the most important thing in the world, but not the number one factor that makes two people compatible. Some girls respond to this by saying that they won’t compromise on other qualities. The fact is that many girls cannot get a genuine learning guy plus the other qualities they need. Yet the first question they often ask is about the years. So essentially many girls are choosing learning over more important qualities to marriage. This obviously can affect marriage quality and duration.
4) Most people agree that money can be important, but definitely not the number one factor that makes two people compatible. A direct result of this learning trend is that the boys in turn often look for money. They put this quality higher on their list than they would have otherwise. So essentially some boys are choosing money over more important qualities. (of course you can get both but not everyone gets it) This can affect the marriage.
5) It goes without saying that it’s damaging when a boy is set up with a girl with higher expectations then he can handle.
6) As I mentioned in my previous letter, the “learning gap” contributes to the age gap. While the readers were divided about it, most people felt that there was at least some connection. (see: “ A new angle on the shidduch crisis” 6/10/09)
7) It further hurts our economic situation. (granted, sitting and learning is worth spending money on, but not plain sitting).
8) It hurts genuine learners and qualified girls that are looking for learning. A) The girl who would fully support and encourage a guy in learning, now (thinks she) has many options. He now may not get the girl qualified to marry a genuine learner, because she mistakenly opted for someone else. This obviously hurts the genuine girl as well since she may not know who is serious and who isn’t. Of course she may tell you that she knows how to do good research and secure herself what she wants, but I can assure you that the guys are usually ten steps ahead.
9) There is some evidence that this can also cause boys to go of the derech, since a teenager who can’t learn all day is not productive. As opposed to the Netziv for example. (Or any boy from a different generation, or any boy today from a different segment of society). Had he wanted to be a shoemaker at the age of twelve, he would have been able to. (We all know his famous saying that had he been a shoemaker, in shomayim they would have held up the seforim that he could have wrote, and asked “where are the seforim?” a certain Rosh yeshiva aptly observed that some people who will show up to shomayim after (mistakenly) learning their whole life, will be shown a pair of shoes, and will be told “look what you could have accomplished”. Case in point).
In summary, this disproportionate amount of girls looking for learning has terrible consequences. It affects people’s quality of life, quality of marriages, economic state, and more.
This is not to say that boys aren’t at times equally misinformed about what to look for in a girl. I could put up a graph about that as well, but it’s unnecessary. The difference is that what triggers those demands is western media. It gives boys an unrealistic view of what a girl is. Also the breakdown of family structure and values is a contradiction to a frum girl’s role in the home. While we can control that from seeping in, we aren’t responsible for generating it. With the ‘learning gap’, however, we are responsible for creating the monster. (The idea of girls wanting learning is a great thing, don’t misunderstand, and klal yisrael needs it, only it has become too common.)
What needs to be done is narrowing the ‘learning gap’ one way or another. It would be nice to achieve this by getting guys to learn more. To the degree that that’s possible, it should be done. It may be more practical, however, to convince girls to be less demanding. By the way, it doesn’t help to nod your head sympathetically, and then go ahead and turn down every guy with a definitive plan that comes your way. It also doesn’t help to argue that enough frum quality girls are looking for working/college when that is simply not true.
For some boys, kollel is definitely the way to go. For others though, it’s better to have money so you can raise kids, than to raise money so you can have kids.
P.S. Chas vishalom to put down the mesiras nefesh that is going on for torah. That is hardly the point. Torah is the most important thing in the world and we must continue supporting it. The point of this letter is that society has to allow for people to develop and become a better version of themselves. A girl should focus on helping her husband do what he can, as opposed to demanding a specific amount of hours or years. Cookie cutters are fine if you’re making cookies.
A Political Scientist