By Todd Wilkinson
EBS Environmental Columnist
The rugged, less-civilized American West: A province where mavericks rule; where ranching, coal, oil and gas jobs are a-gush, where skiable powder is deep; the hunting and fishing superb; and where the adventurous he-man can rediscover his own inner Cro-Magnon.
Many corners of the West are also landscapes notoriously skewed. Here, residents lament membership in a social fraternity they never aspired to join: the local Lonely Hearts Club.
As rich in resources as our region is, demographers say many outdoor recreation meccas and natural resource boomtowns still suffer chronic shortages of a magical ingredient: women.
Dr. Ryan Schacht possesses insights surely of interest to both single men and women in search of sex and meaningful companionship.
Schacht, an anthropologist at the University of Utah, last year published a provocative paper in the journal Royal Society Open Science. It’s titled, “Men Want Commitment When Women Are Scarce: Sexual Supply and Demand Affects Mate Choice Among the Makushi.”
A few of its conclusions: When men outnumber women, both women and men are equally willing to engage in noncommittal sex; when men are fewer in number, they’re more willing to have noncommittal sex; when men are more abundant than women, they favor having permanent partners.
Hearing about his findings, I asked Schacht if any extrapolations can be made from his study of the Makushi people in Guyana, a nation along the northern coast of South America.
His response: Absolutely.
Schacht’s first take-home lesson is good news for womenfolk. It addresses the common complaint that among all the fawning attention they receive in mountain ski towns there’s actually a tiny pool of smart, sensitive, adoring, trustworthy bugling bulls willing to commit.
Indeed, in communities where women are fewer, men are more likely to seek long-term relationships.
Schacht says it’s important to consider that dynamics involving courtship between the sexes are always complicated. However, generalizations can be made. In addition to male vs. female ratios—wherever there are greater numbers of one sex over the other, the gender in less supply usually has a “market” advantage—behavior is shaped, too, by a rural versus urban divide.
Rural areas tend to have higher percentages of men staying in a place or drawn there by manual labor jobs. Cities have larger percentages of women who remained in urban enclaves or fled there from rural areas because of lack of opportunity.
According to census data explored by Jackson Hole News & Guide columnist Jonathan Schechter, Jackson Hole has a whopping 147 men for every woman, and as many single men aged 20-34 as there are women aged 20-54.
Once Schechter crunched the numbers more in a quest to ballpark likely availability, he found that roughly 59 percent of men in Teton County are single compared to 41 percent of women.
Women in such settings, Schacht says, hold the advantage of more choice. But he says it doesn’t necessarily guarantee a higher caliber of mates.
Schacht shared the story of a small town mayor in the outback of Australia who posted a newspaper ad to attract more women. It read: “The odds are good for ladies but the goods are odd.”
One very intriguing aspect of Schacht’s investigations involve the assumption that rowdy boomtowns with fewer women automatically translate into more violence, crime, spousal abuse, drug use and debauchery.
Not always true, he says. In some places, where men are competing for the attention of fewer women, they are, collectively speaking, on better behavior. Like in some Old West towns, there can be higher rates of marriage, more children born in wedlock, and more stable families.
In cities, where the ratio is reversed, men are more likely to play the field, not settle down, be less faithful to mates, and engage in behaviors that are less conducive to family intactness.
Understanding male to female ratios, he says, is not just relevant to the West and America; it has huge social-political ramifications for the future stability of the most populous nation on earth: China.
Schacht’s paper in Royal Society Open Science is just a tiny window into his fascinating research. Meantime, what’s the message for rural women who are outnumbered in outdoor lifestyle communities and boomtowns? Be patient, choose carefully, demand respect, and make your suitors grovel. The odds of courtship are solidly in your favor.
Todd Wilkinson writes his New West column every week, and it’s published on explorebigsky.com on EBS off weeks. He is author of the award-winning and critically acclaimed “Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek, An Intimate Portrait of 399, the Most Famous Bear of Greater Yellowstone,” featuring 150 amazing photographs by Thomas D. Mangelsen. The book is only available at mangelsen.com/grizzly and when you order today you will receive a copy autographed by both author and photographer. Wilkinson also wrote a profile of Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk for the summer 2016 edition of Mountain Outlaw magazine, now on newsstands.