All the Lonely People, Where Do They All Come From

Jordan Peterson, the Canadian psychology professor and YouTube celebrity, received a hostile profile by the New York Times on Friday, from which the big takeaway was this section:



There has been a great deal of feminist commentary, much of it angry, on this section, to which some of the people I follow on Twitter responded with evidence on the robust relationship between polygyny and violence, among men and against women:

From both a cross cultural and historical perspective, it seems likely that monogamy reduces violence; as  Ed West points out in Saxons versus Vikings, the population pressures in pagan Scandinavia were a significant driver of the Viking raids that beset medieval Europe, pressures intensified by polygamy; @NoamJStein expands on this point:

Earlier this month, Ross Douthat wrote a much-hated column entitled “The Redistribution of Sex.” In it, he argued that enforced monogamy was a desirable but unlikely resolution to current sexual unrest, and that given the unlikelihood of returning to conservative norms, the normalization of prostitution and substitution of various forms of enhanced masturbation (virtual reality pornography or sex robots, for example) for sex were the more likely result, in a society which takes sexual fulfillment as a highest good but is committed to resolving unhappiness solely through individual atomization and consumer choice.  Douthat’s article, coming on the heels of a mass murder in Toronto committed by a self-described radicalized “incel” (involuntary celibate) and riffing off of economist Robin Hanson’s unpopular argument that sexual inequality does not receive commensurate sympathy or attention to economic inequality, produced equal anger to Peterson’s remarks. It was seen not only as normalizing the demands of violent and misogynist men but suggesting through its very headline that sexuality should be a matter of collective coercion instead of individual free choice.

While I’m sympathetic to Douthat and Peterson’s views (and possibly to Hanson’s, too, though that’s a bit like sympathy for a sex robot), enough to think the associations between certain kinds of monogamy and relative social equality, civil peace and social dynamism are no accident, I think both most feminists and many of their critics are analytically and empirically wrong when it comes to the “incel” phenomenon. In particular, there is a widespread misapprehension that large numbers of unmarried and unpartnered young men are an historical aberration within Western societies, when the opposite is likely the case- Western Europe was distinguished by its late marriage patterns for both men and women, and many or most of those men and women were likely celibate until marriage:

late marriage

My own examination of recent General Social Survey data does not support the contention that the distribution of sex is becoming radically more unequal; for example, black and white young men have in fact largely converged in their number of  heterosexual partners:


That was a mean; the median number of partners is much lower, but has barely changed for white and “Other” (Asian and Hispanic) men, while declining for black men.

median partners

(The Age Adjustment here simply weights each year of age equally, so as not to be confounded by shifts in the age distribution; you can think of it as the median number of partners by Age 25, roughly.)

The number of young men totally outside the mating market- with zero sexual partners since age 18, is also apparently down since 2000:


This figure may be somewhat misleading, since it appears that some men who responded “zero” are instead simply with the same partner since before they were eighteen.  In any case, these young men who state that they have not had any sexual partners since age 18 are no more likely to report “poor mental health days” in the previous month, and more likely to describe themselves as “very happy,”













although men with zero sexual partners are also slightly more likely to say that they have been told they are depressed:


Looking at self-reported sexual frequency, the percentage of young men having sex once a month or more has not declined significantly, while the percentage having sex once a week or more has declined somewhat, most likely due to the decreasing percentage married or cohabiting with a romantic partner at a young age:

sexual frequency

For men, but not for women, there is an increase in the percentage of men without any sexual contact in the last year, particularly among GSS respondents who do not identify as White or Black.













Aggregating all groups together and adding confidence intervals, it does appear that, for the first time in recent years, the percentage of young men without any sexual contact is significantly higher than the percentage of celibate women:

tinderpocalypse .jpg

Contrary to the current media narrative, this group of celibate men is not particularly concentrated among conservative men. Instead they are somewhat more likely to be self-identified liberals than the mean of all men or than celibate women.


So obviously some young men feel cut out of the sexual ecology, and on some dimensions the measure who have reason to feel cut out may be increasing- but not evidently that fast. Lyman Stone (with a few nudges from me, here and there, cough cough) expanded on some of these analyses in a post for the Institute for Family Studies. On the other hand, if people have few other measures of connection and worth- and little expectation of sexual success or other sources of fulfillment in the future- they perhaps focus enormously on this one. The combination of no expectation of fulfilling sex or marriage in the future, with a culture in which sex is treated as the sole key to adulthood and value, with an envy of others’ real/imagined sex, with little male camaraderie or friendship, all seem likely to compound upon each other to intensify and make what is not in of itself a particularly historically anomalous level of celibacy in early male adulthood a cause for social unrest and despair, without giving us even any cool new orders of warrior monks or nerds in mech suits exploring the bottom of the sea.

To put it another way, any mass shift in mating system is going to be a kind of legitimacy crisis for the society as a whole. We focus on sex, because we have accepted sex as a human need, but the shifts in sexual frequency and increases in sexlessness are actually smaller than the decline in marriage, fertility, and commitment, which are perhaps the larger changes with more far-reaching effects.

You could say that happened for black Americans in the late 1960s with the sudden end of married childbearing and a near immediate social disintegration in black urban neighborhoods.













The “drug war” and mass incarceration came rapidly on the heels of a developing social crisis that must have been at least partially precipitated by a shift in mating system- black out of wedlock births went from under 20 percent of births to 70 percent of births in just a few decades.













And American Indians have gone through a different, but equally  concerning social crisis in the last twenty years, an explosive increase in suicides, drug overdoses, and (already very high) alcoholism, also coming on the heels of a decade in which marriages among American Indians diminished extraordinarily rapidly.


In the same period, total fertility rates for American Indian women have dropped from the highest to by far the lowest among racial groups since the early 80s, and overall mortality for younger Indians (under 45) has increased by around 40% just since 2000:

The evidence for a similar social crisis taking place in this decade among lower-education American whites- both men and women- is also quite strong.

















And again, this social crisis accompanies- and is perhaps precipitated by- the asymptotic retreat from marriage.


None of these examples is really about an end to “enforced” monogamy, in the sense that in each case (expansion of AFDC welfare programs, expanded casino income distribution, an expanded 2000s welfare state and reduced relative income of men) the likely causes were likely as much or more about shifts in economic forces as relaxation of cultural or religious norms.













Along these lines, the angry young men posting on incel forums aren’t necessarily the most a priori undesirable (Elliot Rodger, for example, was a good-looking, affluent kid) but rather those whose autistic narcissism and rage can’t allow them to detach their ego from their sense that the legitimacy of every aspect of the society is threatened as its mating system shifts. This is part of the reason why these men focus so intensely on the putative undesirability  of modern women, rather than on their alleged inability to get a date. Jordan Peterson presents these angry young men as a reserve army of potential danger that must be managed, Robin Hanson talks about them as victims of inequality to be appeased by redistribution, but really no one has any idea how the society shifts- or how long it will take to stabilize- once it abandons one mating system without a clear sense of how it will take on another.  This isn’t just about creating new winners and new losers. Nobody has any real idea how our society, built around monogamy, will shift once monogamy is abandoned, though violence and despair and self-destruction are all par for the course, not because of an army of outsiders looking at the lucky ones will begin throwing dynamite but because we are thrown into an almost immediate period of uncertainty, of confused alarms of struggle and flight.


We often conceive of the social movements of the last half century as unleashing erotic energies hitherto constrained and bound, but an alternative perspective is that they are increasingly anxious attempts to summon Eros back to the continent after his banishment by technological civilization, and no one knows what will live here after Eros leaves.







10 thoughts on “All the Lonely People, Where Do They All Come From

  1. Very nice. I just disagree violently (it’s a metaphor!) with Elliott Rodger’s depiction as a good-looking, affluent kid. If you watch some of his unwatchable videos and read his blood-curling memoir ( you realize he wasn’t a good-looking, affluent kid, but a weird-looking boy forced to grow up in a hugely expensive, beautiful-people California community by narcissistic parents who were always short of cash and just hanging on to that particular social class by their fingertips. Rodger had not much money to throw at the blondes he desperately (really ‘desperately,’ he wouldn’t even look at other chicks, really) wanted to have sex with, and nobody ever thought him attractive. Rather than an exception to the rule that murderous incels are goofy-looking loners of limited means, Rodger was a clear piece of evidence.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I partly agree, Rodger was not attractive by any measure. Also apparently very short for most of his life, hit puberty late, and since he died young, those adolescent experiences dominated his self-perception. Physically weak and a mental basket case, he probably would have failed in competition for women in any time or place unless his family’s money could purchase him one.

      But while it’s true that his parents weren’t rich by the local standards, they did buy him a pretty sweet ride for a young man his age. I’m sure plenty of guys in his peer group drove worse cars and still got laid. I don’t think his prospects would have really changed if his father were Steven Spielberg.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. In the figure following the paragraph starting “Aggregating all groups together and adding confidence intervals…”, I think the y-axis labels are wrong. Eyeballing from the other figures, the numbers should be somewhere between 5% and 15%, but you have 0.05% to 0.15%. Perhaps you switched from fractions to percentages and didn’t update everything?


  3. >but rather those whose autistic narcissism and rage can’t allow them to detach their ego from their sense that the legitimacy of every aspect of the society is threatened as its mating system shifts. This is part of the reason why these men focus so intensely on the putative undesirability of modern women, rather than on their alleged inability to get a date.

    My post here might interest you (the first section):

    The rationalization theory whose application to jews I discuss there is not dissimilar from the way you’re applying it to women here (and I suspect Adorno and Horkheimer would have approved). Whether it is more appropriate here than there would be a longer conversation we’ll have some other time. (“The Ordeal of Civility” might also be thought-provoking, for the same reason, if you continue to explore this argument.)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I remember noting in college that I could read Fanon-style racial struggle writing all day with interest and amusement but reading even a little bit of feminist theory usually made me start pacing back and forth and resisting the temptation to throw the book against the wall. My conclusion was that, regardless of the quality of ideas, some ideas speak to and challenge or endanger our day to day status and self-conception and self-justification, and some are pretty orthogonal to them.

      The interesting thing about PUAHate sites like the ones Rodger spent a lot of time on is that they share a lot in common in content and even argument with Jezebel feminism, but the audience is different- rather than women who like to hear that men are either hot or losers, and it’s not worth bothering with the losers, it’s men who like to hear masochistically that men are either hot or losers, and they’re the losers.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Perceptive. Someday I will have to take a few hours and try to reconstruct the instinctive/emotional reaction I had to Roissy et al. when I was a leftist. Part of it was a sort of disgust reaction that one would treat women like meat without even bothering to be subtle about it (remember, hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue…), another part was probably irritation at being insulted (as you say, if you’re not out there “pounding pussy”, you must be a loser), and a third part was a vague intuition that Roissy was hostile too / skeptical about / trying to destroy the emotional states that make happy families (pair-bonding) possible.

        The third point I think I understand much better now: I discuss it in my “political emotions” post. You can make it impossible to succeed by forcing someone to think explicitly about the micro-mechanics (e.g., psychological states, motives, routines) that lead to success. It’s the “Don’t miss!” principle. – Idk if Roissy was intentionally trying to demoralize “normies”, but he was definitely one of the earliest examples of someone who was opposed to leftwing ideology using these tactics.

        The second part I would have to recollect in more detail to get it *exactly* right (I was removed in two degrees from the guys we are discussing, so perhaps wrong insight) but iiuc actual incels who get excited reading themselves described as losers probably aren’t literal masochists. If you’ve been unrealistic about a problem for a long time, suddenly hearing the problem described realistically can be an enormous relief. The same thing happens when you’ve been trying to keep a situation private but it gets out of hand and you need to tell your family: it would have been *better* to never need to tell them at all, but given that the problem has become grave, it’s much less stressful immediately after you take the “embarrassing” step of informing people.

        (Or: same feeling of relief you get when you cure vertigo with bungee jumping.)

        I think I had roughly the same attitude towards the race-stuff and the gender-stuff, the main difference being that I was *highly* aware that campus orthodoxy was blatantly wrong on innate, genetic gender differences (although I didn’t grasp *how* wrong), whereas it was (I thought, lol) basically correct on racial differences and the total ignorance of biology that popped up occasionally was (I thought) unrepresentative. But I think I know what you mean: I overreacted to a certain kind of amorality (including both explicit egoism and irrationalism like John Gray’s “Straw Dogs”), and also to what I saw as lying or indifference to figuring out the truth.


  4. See Vox Day’s Voxiversity on Peterson. He’s a fraud.

    To the topic of monogamy: people need to become Christians. Being angry with God because women don’t wanted him — was he muslim? The Bible teaches it’s best not to marry (don’t bark now, that’s even what married Vox Day has written in exact these words).

    I will quote some stuff to make a point, and then leave (I’m an ugly hunchback with a four inch dick who is part of the bottom of society — it is good for me that I don’t procreate and create another such poor soul):

    First off, Aquinas, teaching that celibacy is above marriage:

    The Catechism of the Council of Trent:

    Marriage Not Obligatory On All

    The words increase and multiply, which were uttered by the Lord, do not impose on every individual an obligation to marry, but only declare the purpose of the institution of marriage. Now that the human race is widely diffused, not only is there no law rendering marriage obligatory, but, on the contrary, virginity is highly exalted and strongly recommended in Scripture as superior to marriage, and as a state of greater perfection and holiness. For our Lord and Saviour taught as follows: He that can take it, let him take it; and the Apostle says: Concerning virgins I have no commandment from the Lord; but I give counsel as having obtained mercy from the Lord to be faithful.

    The Council of Trent again:

    CANON IX.-If any one saith, that clerics constituted in sacred orders, or Regulars, who have solemnly professed chastity, are able to contract marriage, and that being contracted it is valid, notwithstanding the ecclesiastical law, or vow; and that the contrary is no thing else than to condemn marriage; and, that all who do not feel that they have the gift of chastity, even though they have made a vow thereof, may contract marriage; let him be anathema: seeing that God refuses not that gift to those who ask for it rightly, neither does He suffer us to be tempted above that which we are able.

    CANON X.-If any one saith, that the marriage state is to be placed above the state of virginity, or of celibacy, and that it is not better and more blessed to remain in virginity, or in celibacy, than to be united in matrimony; let him be anathema.

    A brilliant journal entry by Kierkegaard:


    No doubt very many, and very different, things preoccupy people. But if one were to name just one thing of which one would say that it was the only thing people are preoccupied with, it would have to be relations between the sexes, sexual desire, propagation, etc. — for human beings are, after all, mainly animal.

    That is why everything, absolutely everything that human hypocrisy can invent comes together on this point, as on no other. If you really want to learn to recognize human hypocrisy, this is where to look. For it is precisely because here we are standing at the lowest level — something they would be too ashamed simply to admit — that here hypocrisy comes into its own. Hence the elevated talk of the profound seriousness of propagating the race, of the great benefaction of bestowing life upon another human being, etc., all of it calculated in addition to refine the voluptuousness of desire.

    The great benefaction of bestowing life on another human being. Bless my soul! A tired lecher, an old man who hardly has the sensual power — the truth is they were unable to control the flame of lust. But one puts it hypocritically by saying that they intended to perform the great benefaction of bestowing life upon another human being! Thanks! And what a life, this miserable, wretched, anguished existence which is usually the lot of such an offspring. Isn’t it splendid? Suppose murder and pillage and theft were similarly made into the greatest, most priceless benefaction! And what is putting a man to death compared with bringing such a wretched creature into life? For even if it is commonly considered a melancholic thought (as, if I recall, one of my pseudonmys says somewhere, or is to be found somewhere in my journal, or in any case a remark I made loing, long ago) that there should be greater guilt in giving life than in taking it — even if in general it may indeed be too melancholic, yet in the case of the offspring whose life is destined to be sickly it is not an exaggeration. Yet this hypocrisy about a great benefaction is upheld; the child is supposed never to be able to give thanks enough — instead of the father never being able to expiate his guilt even if he went on his knees, in tears, before the child.

    But to the hypocritical use of Christianity. This is making it look as though Christian parents — and of course in Christian countries everyone is a Christian — beget Christian children — but then coming into existence is identical with receiving an eternal salvation. Aha! So the meaning of Christianity has become the refinement of the lust of the procreative act. One might perhaps otherwise just stop, see if one can control the urge, hesitate to give another person life merely to satisfy sexual desire — ah, but when one begets eternal, eternally blessed creatures, isn’t the best and most Christian thing not to do anything else all day long if that were possible?

    (1854; XI I A 219)

    — Nicolás Gómez Dávila, the great Colombian Catholic reactionary:

    Geneva, the Geneva that Calvin reigns from his sickbed, the Geneva whose shadow extends from the pulpit of Knox to the hallways of the Vatican, the Geneva where a world was formed, had about 12.000 inhabitants in 1560.
    The huge modern human masses are not only a problem, but superfluous.

    Eugenics appals those who fear its judgment.

    No beneficiary of slaves is supporter of birth control.

    Depopulate and reforest — first civilizing rule.

    Marx may win battles, but Malthus will win the war.

    The two most pressing problems of the contemporary world: demographic expansion and genetic deterioration are unsolvable.
    Liberal principles prevent the solution of the first, egalitarian ones that of the second.

    The modern world will not be punished.
    It is the punishment.

    Progress is the scourge God has chosen for us.

    Without economic concerns the fool dies from boredom.

    Sex does not solve even sexual problems.

    Sexual promiscuity is the tip society pays in order to appease its slaves.

    The problem is not sexual repression, nor sexual liberation, but sex.


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