What is behind the shidduch crisis among Modern Orthodox Jews? - opinion

Commonly cited reasons for the crisis in Modern Orthodox shidduch dating include religious dropout rate and not wanting to use a shadchan (matchmaker).

An illustrative photo of a Jewish wedding in front of the Mediterranean Sea. (photo credit: MENDY HECHTMAN/FLASH90)
An illustrative photo of a Jewish wedding in front of the Mediterranean Sea.
(photo credit: MENDY HECHTMAN/FLASH90)

In 2019 a large-scale study, the first of its kind, was undertaken to explore aspects related to shidduch dating in the North American Orthodox Jewish world. Called the DAAS project, the study was designed to elicit information about marriage rates, and the experiences of individuals from across the spectrum of Orthodox Judaism about the shidduch dating process.

Shidduch dating is now commonly used across all denominations among the Orthodox. It requires some variation of a written description of the individual dater and often meeting with a shadchan (matchmaker) to arrange a date with another who may be considered an appropriate match.

This study is unique in that over 10,000 responses were collected. Subjective feelings of shidduch dating for those responding indicated strong feelings of anxiety, lack of support and too intense a focus on superficial components of individuals who are most often presented in what is called a shidduch resume. The pressure to get married before one feels ready, as well as the stigma and desperation that those who are not married felt was highlighted.

Results were analyzed and reported in a variety of ways in several professional journal articles. Given the enormity and complexity of the data, we asked David Katzoff, an expert statistician, and the founder of the Singles Uniting Network to explore the responses on marriage rates with us.

We took a closer look at the percentages of individuals in each group that were never married. For those in the yeshiva segment, we found that in the 30-34 age cohort, 9% of women and men were never married, and of those in the 35-39 age cohort, 8% of women compared to 5% of men were never married.

Wedding rings [Illustrative] (credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)Wedding rings [Illustrative] (credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)

Because there is so much shifting between groups in the Modern Orthodox community, marriage rates can be reported in a number of ways. The retention rate for Modern Orthodox was only about 60%, with about 30% of those raised Modern Orthodox moving to yeshiva orthodox in adulthood and 10% to non-Orthodox.

And men shift to non-Orthodox at a rate double that of women. The rate of dropout from the yeshiva group was much less, at 16% with 12% moving to Modern Orthodox and 3% to non-Orthodox.

When we look at those raised Modern Orthodox, in the 25-29 age cohort, 32% of women and 42% of men have never been married; in the 30-34 age cohort, 18% of women and 23% of men have never been married; in the 35-39 age cohort, 13% of both genders have never been married. When we look at those that currently identify as Modern Orthodox but were not necessarily raised Modern Orthodox, (those who were raised yeshiva-Orthodox and individuals not previously religious who became religious), the never-married rates increase.

The common belief that the primary problem for daters is that men prefer to marry younger women was simply debunked by our findings. The age gap is, simply put, not the cause of the supposed crisis. However, the dropout rate from each of the religious groups was very informative and even troubling and provides some important insight into some of the trends we found.

What is behind the shidduch crisis?

WHEN LOOKING at the presumed dearth of available men, several themes emerged from the experience of daters. First, many felt that women and men were emerging from the system with very different qualities and values including education levels, social skills and spirituality.

Further, specifically and surprisingly the Modern Orthodox community spoke more about lack of gender interaction as the cause for problems in dating. People do not like using shadchanim (matchmakers) and want more ways to meet naturally. They spoke about feeling objectified by the system which all too often reduces people to a “piece of paper” and cultivates a culture of superficiality.

Several studies have found that when there is a perception of more available women in the dating pool, men become reluctant to commit and marry at an older age. As a result, a slight imbalance between men and women becomes more exaggerated because the men that exist are less interested in marriage than the women.

In addition the traditional practice of insisting that men approve a suggestion prior to a matchmaker suggesting that match to a woman, leaves men with lists of women to choose from while women wait to be “approved.” These various factors may be why many women expressed a sense of desperation and felt disadvantaged in the shidduch dating process. As one participant noted, men end up “viewing shidduchim, not as a relationship that needs to be built but more of a contest where he is the judge and women are placed at a serious disadvantage.”

Addressing some of these systematic problems is a tall order, yet an important communal effort. What should be an exciting time of building intimate connections for emerging adults has become painful; filled with angst and worry. Addressing issues related to religious discrepancies between genders needs to start with a better understanding of the reasons why men are leaving orthodoxy at higher rates than women.

We must listen to those that left and use their experiences and feedback to tweak structural issues that push men out more than women. Other suggestions that may prove helpful are stopping the practice of providing men with shidduch resumes before women, and definitely not providing them with a whole list of names. Creating more acceptable spaces for men and women to meet on their own, rather than perpetuating more superficial and stifled resume-sharing services, may help more people find their ideal marriage partner in a more wholesome way.

Dr Michael Salamon is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and an APA Presidential Citation awardee recognized for his work in the field of trauma, abuse and resiliency. His books include The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures and Abuse in the Jewish Community. 

Dr Naomi Rosenbach is the author of several professional journal articles highlighting her interest in researching cultural and religious aspects that influence mental health and well-being in the Jewish community.