The Drake Equation and Orthodox Jewish Dating

Considering the weather, I’d best not tip my hat to all the people who sent me emails informing me that the Drake Equation Boy is engaged.

The Drake Equation is an equation invented by a Professor Drake to estimate how many evolved civilizations might exist in nearby galaxies. Drake Equation Boy, otherwise known as Peter Backus, applied this equation to the UK to figure out how many potential girlfriends might exist for him in nearby London.  (For the record, there is nothing especially brainy about this. It’s a simple probability equation, in which you multiply an incident by the probabilities affecting its occurrence.) He concluded that there are 10,510 women in London (0.14% of the population) who he might like to date.

Naturally, we all wonder: how does this apply to shidduch dating?

Well, I am here to provide the answer for you.

This post has taken a great deal of time and effort to write. This is because there are not too many statistics readily available regarding the Orthodox Jewish community. Most of it is estimations and guesswork. The United States Census, sadly, does not take down any information about religion. So instead, I had to rely predominantly on two studies of the Jewish American population. One by the Berman Institute’s North American Jewish Data Bank, and the Jewish Population Study done by the UJA Federation of New York.  I also picked up a few commonly bandied about statistics from random websites, which I will cite as they come up.

So! The Drake Equation!

G = R x Fm x Fg x Fa x Fp x Ft x L

I am not going to go into what all these stand for in the context of interstellar civilization. If you’re interested, just click through to Peter Backus’s original report. Instead, I will dive right in to how I chose to define the terms.

G = The number of potential basherts out there for me.  This is the solution we will solve for.

R = The rate of formation of Orthodox Jews (i.e. population growth). Some fun stats: The rate of formation of Jews worldwide is estimated at 0.4% annually; closer to 1% for Ultra-Orthodox Jews.

The Jewish population of the world is estimated at 13.3 million Jews, of which approximately 1.67-1.8 million are Orthodox. (That’s a generous estimate of 13%. Other estimates hover at 10%.)

But the number we really care about is how many Orthodox Jews exist in the world right now. I’ll go with 1.3 million OrthoJews alive in a given contemporary year, or 10% of world Jewry.

Fm = The fraction of Orthodox Jews who are male. Wolfram Alpha (and everyone else) assures me it’s 0.49, or 49%.

Fg = The fraction who are geographically compatible – that is, located in Northeastern United States. Why am I being geographically narrow? Because I’ve never had a successful long-term relationship. Besides, I think I’m being generous. One guy in Washington Heights refused to date me because it entailed driving to Brooklyn.

According to the Berman Institute, 43.7% of the American Jewish population lives in the Northeast. That’s 0.44, for our purposes. Since 46% of the world Jewish population lives in North America, the total fraction of Jews in the Northeast is approximately 0.46*0.44 = 0.20.

Fa = The fraction of men who are age appropriate.  I have no idea how Peter got his 0.2 number for this one, but here’s how I got mine:

The average male lifespan in the USA is 76 (Wikipedia). If you take the total male population between 0 and 75 and break it into chunks of 15 years, you get 5 chunks. I am willing to date within a generous 15-year range, from a couple of years younger to more than 10 years older, so I date one 15-year chunk. One out of five population chunks is 1/5 or 0.20.

Fp = Mr. Backus used a university degree for this criteria. I do not demand a level of education from my potential spouse. However, since I rarely get set up with non-baccalaureates, this number would essentially be 1. For the yeshivish end, it would be zero. Obviously this not a good criteria for our community.

I should note here that this is a probability equation. You are not forced to use any given term just because Backus did. You can leave something out. Or add something in. If you’re really picky, you can introduce an infinite number of criteria. 

So I’ll create my own criteria.  Assume there are four main branches of Orthodox Judaism: Modern Orthodox, Centrist (encompassing the MO-machmir and yeshivish-liberal groups), Yeshivish, and Chassidish. I date only one of those groups. Although it’s a stretch to assume equal populations, for lack of data, I could use 0.25 for religious compatibility. Considering how people can be over matters of religion, this seems reasonable.

I’m also considering using a Myers-Briggs criteria. I’m an INTJ. I’m told I’m compatible with NFs, I respect NTs, and I’m tentatively beginning to think I could handle an SP. Using population estimates for Myers-Briggs types, I could get along reasonably well with about 33% of the personality population.  (That’s a 0.33 for our equation.)

Ft = The fraction I find attractive. Backus assumed he’s attracted to about 5% of the female population. Doing the math on the number of men I’ve dated and the number I’ve found immediately attractive, that seems a sound estimate. So, 0.05 is the fraction of Jewish men I’d find attractive.

 L = Length of time I’ve been alive, making such an encounter possible.  I’m actually not a fan of how Backus defines this term. The number we need isn’t how long I’ve been alive, because obviously I haven’t found anyone in that time. Moreover, if I met my bashert when I was 10, well, I wasn’t paying attention. Rather, the number we need is how long I plan to be dating before I give up.

So I will use 15 years, the number of years from when I started dating (20) until I plan to throw in the towel, adopt a child, and start a spinster colony (35).


Let’s do the math now. Here’s a snip from my Excel spreadsheet:

Finding My Bashert

And so, there are 1,524 OrthoJewish men between the ages of about 25 and 39 living in Northeastern USA who I could potentially partner up with. These possible basherts comprise about 1% of the total Orthodox Jewish male NE USA population.

So far, I’ve met 38 of them. That leaves me 1,486 men to meet in the next 9 years.

Wow. The world has never been so full of possibilities!

Of course, this doesn’t take into account how many of them are already married. And we all know that all the good ones are already taken…

20 thoughts on “The Drake Equation and Orthodox Jewish Dating

  1. Hopefully, you’ll only have to meet one more of the remaining 1,486 candidates…
    Of course, the probability calculation doesn’t actualy address the real issues of mutual attraction and desirability – whether he’s right for you as a person. Settling surely isn’t an option for Bad4?

  2. Are you saying that out of the 38 guys you dated, only 2 of them were attractive enough for you to marry?

  3. The nerd in me loves this breakdown.

    One suggestion though: your pool may actually be larger than you think. If you assume that most populations follow a normal probability distribution when it comes to ages, your use of only .2 for “age-appropriate” men, may be a little low, given that the age you are looking at is right in the middle of the distribution.

  4. This was a blast to read! The nerd/geek in me was in heaven reading this post!

    By the way, I love “Centrist” as a way of describing the MO-machmir and yeshivish-liberal groups. Best way to describe it ever.

    You had in your Excel sheet Mentally Healthy but didn’t mention it in the body. Is that statistic specific to Orthodox Jews and either way, where you did find it? I find 0.94 startlingly high. Then again, if it’s within Orthodox Jewry, I’m sure the reporting rate of mental disorders are very low. What qualifies as a “mental disorder” in this case?

  5. Good luck on your search! Though I have to say, 1 in 20 guys you dated? Really? I thought girls were less picky then guys with looks. Taking a quick scan on my spreadsheet it seems about 58% of the girls I dates I would have married their looks, and probably a few more if their personality matched mine more. Holy freaks that sounds too high! Hmmm, maybe I just get set up with some girls who do not look that unattractive. But still 5% of the population? Taking a look at girls walking on the streets I would say probably 1 in 5 are attractive enough to marry. Am I far off?

  6. Anon613 – I tried addressing attraction and desirability, but ultimately, it’s hit and miss. If I could narrow it down all the way, I’d know exactly who to propose to. 😉

    GP – I did? [/horror] It’s funny, because I specifically recall considering “criteria” vs “criterion” several times. Rereading the post, I have to assure you that in both cases “criteria” is intended in the plural.

    Ben, IYHBY – Depends what you consider “attractive enough to marry.” I think I could probably marry anyone who wasn’t actually repulsive, if everything else checked out perfectly. Does that count as being less picky?

    Gary – You’re right. There are more guys my age (NASI says 10% every, what – generation?). Moreover, I think we lose older ones by attrition to marriage. Speaking of which, I’m pretty sure the % married number would more than counter any addition that population would add.

    Lost and Found – I had it mentioned in an earlier draft. I think it was cut when I tried to drop the word count. I got the number from NIMH. They said that 6% of the population has a “serious mental illness.” Something like around 60% had some kind of mental disorder, but I think they included things like ADHD in there, and I didn’t want to disqualify people with the sort of neuroses that you can live with.

  7. I meant inasmuch as you were using the .05 ratio to determine how many men there are for you to date. You should include anyone you’d be willing to marry.

    But also, really? You only think .05 of men are attractive? That is very bizarre, regardless of if you’d marry more than that.

  8. GP – missed those. Oops. I blush.

    Ben – I dunno. I used to think it was, but apparently Mr. Drake Equation has the same issue. It’s not like it’s something I consciously do. Just happens to be how it is. Truth is, it’s not that 0.05 of men are attractive. Only that 0.05 of the men I’ve dated were attractive. That’s not quite the same thing.

  9. i think bad4 is right-on abt the attraction business. Honestly, when i was engaged i asked an older married friend of mine if its a problem that i dont think my chosson is the most attractive guy out there. She wisely reassured me that thats ok. Many years down the road, i think my hubby’s very good looking. I didnt mind anything before, just didnt find him as attractive as i thought id find my chosson.ben, men j women work very very differently when it comes to these things. Keep that in mind.

  10. @Happily

    You are saying that attraction is MORE important to women than men? The opposite of what everyone else in the world thinks?

  11. Pingback: Cause for Celebration? | Bad for Shidduchim

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