On Balance

The HBS gender imbalance is a threat to our community; how can we solve it?

Continuing the theme of my previous articles (you’ve worked out what it is by now, right?), I would like to devote this one to discussing one of the major barriers to the establishment of a productive dating scene at HBS. No, not investment banking, but the unnaturally distorted gender balance.

The fact is, all events involving HBS students have a high proportion of the male sex: the balance at the school is around two to one and this shows in everything from the line for sushi at Spangler to a typical student party. However, it’s pretty irrelevant in the sushi line.

In the interests of research, both for this article and to better inform the organization of social events, I’ve been discussing possible solutions to and consequences of this problem over the past week, and have come up with the following questions and a selection of responses:

Is this a problem?
Yes. As a single, straight guy I’m missing female company, and it’s really damaging my chances of being one half of an HBS power-couple.
OK, this is pretty much the main argument-the girls don’t seem too bothered about the situation!

No. We’re here to study, not hook up, right? And a lot of people are married.
Have some sympathy for the single people-there really is only so much energy you can devote to options pricing.

What about those for whom a 50/50 male-to-female ratio is not a prerequisite of a loving relationship, or even a good party?
OK, the overall ratio at social events doesn’t have to be exactly one-to-one for everyone to hook up (unless you assume a perfect equilibrium between gay men and women, a detail I do not feel qualified to discuss), but really, in all but a minority of cases a two-to-one ratio is not acceptable.

It works out OK, because more men are married and have partners here, whereas more women are single.
Interesting point-did you run the numbers?

It’s good training for working in investment banking or consulting, they have a low proportion of women, too.
Agreed, but I’m talking about social events. Possibly not an issue for investment bankers.

What are the consequences?
From a sociological and anthropological point of view, an undersupply of females can have extreme social effects. In the world outside HBS (yes, it exists), this has been studied through the effects of China’s one-child policy leading to projections that China will have 60 million more men than women within 10 years: equivalent to the entire population of the UK. This subsection of single, young Chinese men is poignantly, but perhaps over-dramatically, referred to as the ‘bare branches’: those deprived of the opportunity to bear fruit. Possible consequences for this population range from an increase in drug use and violent crime to higher rates of depression and suicide. Whilst HBS graduates are much more likely to do a Skilling than a Kaczynski, the tense, high-pressure and often isolating environment here could certainly do without any further inducements to depression.

The potential effects on women are harder to predict, because women at HBS are an atypical group to start with. It is feasible that during their time as a restricted commodity (yes, I know women are not commodities-relax and go with the analogy for a while) the single HBS women will become convinced of their desirability, grow in interpersonal and sexual confidence and quite possibly become a little cocky. Not a problem until you consider what happens when they leave HBS at the end of two years and venture into the real world where they are suddenly in a balanced market. Will they be going out to New York bars confidently expecting male attention, only to be left alone in the corner nursing martinis all night? Will they be callously rejecting perfectly good offers of dates because they have grown so picky during their MBA? To be honest, the majority won’t, being either too level-headed, attached or just not that bothered with the whole dating thing. But some could get a nasty shock come graduation.

Whatever the exact consequences for the dating scene, the truth is that a 2:1 male-to-female ratio is not a realistic situation to be in socially, whatever your marital status, sexual orientation or nationality. It only serves to reinforce the HBS bubble, where life is surreal on enough levels already. Where we all need reminders of what real life feels like occasionally.

How can we solve this problem?
Now that I have painted a vivid, if not entirely substantiated, picture of how the gender imbalance at HBS could lead to depression, unrealistic expectations and the breakdown of the fabric of society as we know it (Exaggerate? Me?), it stands to reason that a solution must be found. I have a number of ideas. Some are serious, some less so. I will leave it to you to decide which is which.

Restrict tickets to social events
In the interests of research, I have been discussing with various people the possibility of selling an equal number of “male” and “female” tickets to social events (such as the SA Valentine’s party). This has provoked some interesting and varied reactions. Some people thought it would make for a fantastic party, and others that it would offend and exclude various sections of the student population. On the whole, it looks as though this kind of forced social engineering is not popular, and many of the milder objections I heard revolved around it seeming a bit “desperate.” It is interesting, however, to note that when planning a select dinner party for eight it is entirely acceptable to invite guests in a strictly equal male-to-female ratio, and even to insist that they alternate seats at the table. This may have been because it was a British dinner party, though, and the British tend to get these things right.

Leave it to market forces
Place your trust in Adam Smith’s invisible hand (no, I’m not being filthy, read your BGIE textbook). We can conclude that an undersupply of women makes HBS events less attractive to men, so fewer men buy tickets, thus the balance is self-correcting. Unfortunately, this presupposes an abundance of other social options that may not be available, although I have heard rumours of the existence of an underground MSA movement which may be hosting beer, chips and football nights to solve this problem.

Get out more
Specifically, try New York. They have more women than men in the 20 to 40 age group, and they are all really hot, rich and well-dressed. Just look at “Sex in the City”.

Internationally the Ukraine apparently has the highest proportion of women to men in the world, but you’ll want to avoid China (see above).

Going back to anthropology, specifically studies of the behavior of pre-civilization hunter-gatherer tribes, throws up some interesting possibilities. Back then, if a tribe had a surplus of young men it would often send them off to wage war on a nearby tribe, on the assumption that they would either all be killed, thus righting the gender balance back home, or they would be able to return with all of the other tribe’s womenfolk. I do know that we have a lot of military experience here at HBS, but I suspect that dispatching a heavily-armed raiding party to pillage the Law School would not be advisable. They’re sure to sue.

Share with a friend
I’m not even going to go there.

Share with other schools
The most popular suggestion by far has been to team up with the other grad schools in Boston, particularly the law school with its rumored over-abundance of women. I am unsure whether this shows a genuine desire for inter-school interaction or is a canny HBS solution to both socializing and finding someone to explain those LCA cases.

Anyway, this is the method that is most likely to be chosen for the SA Valentine’s Party (although this is not confirmed at the time of going to press)
but any comments or suggestions on the other options can be sent to me at agodden@mba2008.hbs.edu for consideration.