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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Male-female balancing act in Greater Nashua: Call it even

If the makers of the 1960 film “Where the Boys Are” wanted to redo their tale of teenage angst in today’s Nashua region, where should they go?

The answer: anywhere except Litchfield and Mont Vernon, but particularly Brookline.

Unless, that is, they decided to redo it for the over-65 crowd, in which case the answer would be: almost nowhere except Mont Vernon and Brookline.

These answers to questions that nobody is ever likely to ask come from rooting around in the 2010 census, which, among other things, counted people by gender, as well as by town and by age.

Census data is famous for revealing unexpected truths about communities, so in an attempt to see if we could find any surprises about the lineup in Greater Nashua’s War Between the Sexes, The Telegraph analyzed this data – that sounds so much better than “played around with the numbers” – and came up with some conclusions that aren’t exactly earthshaking, such as the fact that Litchfield and Mont Vernon have fewer teenage boys than other area towns, while Brookline and Mont Vernon have fewer retirement-age men.

But that isn’t all:

 • While there is variation in the gender ratio of certain age groups among Greater Nashua towns, as noted in the introduction, there’s no overall gender preference for any community. That is, we don’t seem to have a Boys Town or a Girlsville.

The perfect example is Litchfield,where there are 123 teenage boys for every 100 girls, the highest rate in the area. (I define teenage as age 14 through 24, to fit census age groups.)

Yet, this pattern is completely reversed for adults (ages 35-64), where Litchfield has 114 women for each 100 men, also the highest in the area.

Those kinds of extreme ratios are seen only in smaller towns. For all age groups, Nashua’s gender ratio reflects that of Hillsborough County almost perfectly.

This happens because age and gender groups in smaller towns have relatively few people each, so it only takes a few of them to make a big change.

 • If you’re a woman looking for a member of the opposite sex, the odds are slightly in your favor if you’re young, a toss-up if you’re middle-aged and increasingly stacked against you the older you get.

We don’t need the census to tell us this, however. Just ask Fred Sullivan, co-owner of Together Dating, which has been helping adult singles pair off in New Hampshire since 1982.

“There have always been more young men than women in our service. … That’s been the case since we started,” Sullivan said. “But we have more women over the age of about 55 than we do men. That’s generally been the case for everybody in the business.”

This is the demographic picture that has existed in most developed countries for decades, because boy babies naturally outnumber girl babies, but males die at slightly higher rates, a difference that accelerates once you get to retirement age.

 • Older women seeking men their age have it tough, but they’re slightly better off than their grandmothers.

Since 1980, the gender imbalance for seniors has eased slightly nationally, because older men aren’t dying from chronic diseases such as heart attacks and lung cancer at quite the rate they used to. Over that period, the population of men older than 60 grew by 35 percent and the population of women older than 60 grew by just 29 percent.

It’s hard to find town-specific gender ratios from past census data, but state-level data shows that New Hampshire is echoing this pattern, with the gender imbalance shrinking slightly since 1980.

Still, it remains pronounced: Statewide, there are 126 women for every 100 men older than 65. Two decades ago, it was closer to 130 women per 100 men.

 • On a more serious note, we aren’t seeing the rise in ratio of men to women that’s starting to become a serious problem in parts of Asia, where families who strongly prefer male children use ultrasound to determine gender of the fetus and then abort females.

This practice has led to skewed gender ratios in parts of China, India, Pakistan, Korea and central Asia, which can approach 130 males per 100 females. (In the U.S., the ratio is 97 males per 100 females overall.)

By some estimates, China and India each have as many as 30 million “extra” men who have little prospect of marriage, leading to concern about violence, sex trafficking and other societal ills.

 • The biggest conclusion is probably this: New Hampshire might be older than the nation as a whole, and one of the least diverse racially, but when it comes to the Battle of the Sexes, we’re incredibly ordinary.

The U.S. has a whole is 50.8 percent female, down slightly from 50.9 percent in 2000, while New Hampshire is 50.7 percent female, the same as in 2000.

You can’t get much more ordinary than that.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or