Where have all the smart men gone?

He's 35 years old, boasts a bachelor's degree, earns more than the average wage, lives in a New Zealand city, and he's single. Has anyone seen this man?

We've all heard of the man drought - 57,000 more women than men are aged 25 to 49. But a new study shows a second man drought has emerged.

Not only are we short of men, but we're lacking the brightest ones - there's an educated-man drought in that age group, a time when people are most likely to get together and start a family.

And because women are dominating university lecture theatres - Victoria University has 55 women for every 100 students - the social trend looks set to continue. At Victoria's law school, just eight of the 38 law students admitted into the honours programme this year based on their high grades were men.

In a new paper as part of the university's "missing men" project, economist Paul Callister and research associate Zoe Lawton say young women are now better qualified than young men. In all age groups, there are more men than women with no formal qualifications.

Say the authors: "The rise in the number of well-qualified women means that increasingly well-qualified young women are competing with well- qualified young men for the higher-paid jobs but, if seeking heterosexual relationships, also competing with each other for highly qualified partners."

Callister says that, although more women than men have been enrolling at university since 1986, it has only been in recent years that they've become more qualified in all areas. In the mid- 90s, more women than men were gaining bachelor degrees, but men were graduating with more honours and masters degrees, and doctorates. It wasn't until the 2006 census that women overtook men in all areas.

"Given gender patterns of educational attainment at school and current enrolments in tertiary study, this pattern of more women than men graduating is likely to continue for quite some time," says Callister.

And the impact of this social trend has been huge in terms of partnering. The authors say women are adapting, and marrying or partnering with someone less qualified than themselves.

Of the women with degrees in 2006, half were in a relationship with someone who also had a degree or higher. That was a drop from two decades before, when there were far fewer women with degrees or higher qualifications, and just over 60 per cent had a similarly qualified partner. The change has been most dramatic for men: in 1986, 38 per cent of men with a degree had a partner who also had a degree. In 2006, that number had risen to nearly 70 per cent.

"For a range of reasons, women have historically had a tendency to 'marry up' to a man who has an equal, if not higher, education and thus, generally, income level. If women continue to wish to partner with someone who has an equal or higher level of education, there is an even smaller number of ideal men that women are competing for. Thus the educational man drought is potentially far bigger than the overall man drought."

A shortage of bright single men does not surprise Tara Sutherland, a successful, high-flying career woman and part-time dive instructor.

The 37-year-old is attractive and has a busy social life. But at a time when her friends are having babies, the Telecom infrastructure designer is single.

"It seems that the educated men go overseas and stay there. Both my brothers did and they both met foreign women and stayed overseas."

In fact, apart from a few dates she has been single for seven years.

Says Auckland-based Sutherland: "I don't want to stand in a bar on a Friday night and try to meet someone. I want to meet someone who enjoys doing the things I do."

Sutherland wouldn't care if she partnered with a man who was less qualified than her, but she owns her own house, and there is more at stake in hooking up with someone. She also doesn't want a man to depend on her.

And she finds the men she meets seem intimidated by her success. "They say things like, 'Tara you scare the pants off me'."

That sentiment is felt by many single Kiwi men today, according to Kirsty Robertson, a marriage counsellor with Relationship Services for the past 30 years. "Men can find well-educated, successful women a bit intimidating."

Robertson says critics think women such as Sutherland are too fussy but those in their 30s are independent and more is at stake. "When we get together in our 20s, we are more . . . likely to take a punt. When we're 35, we have a house and a good income and we get more anxious if it doesn't work."

Men who haven't gone to university shouldn't be written off: "It's academic snobbery that somebody who works with their hands can't be interesting."

Based on the statistics, though, Callister has found the people most likely to remain single are uneducated. "They can't compete in the labour market and they can't compete in the marriage market either."

Callister and Lawton have dug deeper into why there are 57,000 "missing men" aged 25 to 49. They blame several factors: men are more likely than women to migrate overseas and stay there; women are more likely than men to migrate here; men are more likely to die young; and they're also undercounted in the census data.

They found that the man drought is greatest in places such as Gisborne, which has 13 per cent more women than men. Single women looking for a man would be best off in Marlborough, the West Coast and Otago, where there are only 4 per cent more women than men in the 25 to 49 age group.

Couples such as Elisabeth McDonald and Wayne Johnson are increasingly common in New Zealand. She is an associate law professor with a string of letters after her name. He is a builder who spends 30 hours a week on sites and the remainder overseeing the building firm that has been in his family for generations. McDonald studied for her masters degree at Michigan University. Johnson left school at 17 to get a builder's apprenticeship - his only qualification.

The couple were friends for years after being introduced by their daughters. McDonald wasn't put off by his lack of qualifications. "Wayne is one out of the box. It is true that you usually meet people through work or through your connections. It's about who the person is. He's a clever man and you have to be that way to run a successful business. I was not attracted to what he has or does, but because of his interest in the world. Wayne does often joke that, if we had met when we were younger, we may not have ended up together. When you're younger, you can be tempted to look for someone like yourself and that is usually who you meet."

Johnson - who was in the top streamed class at high school - was "probably a bit intimidated" when he first got together with his fiancee. "Yeah, she's really smart and so are her children. But that doesn't stop me debating legal issues with her."

In Lower Hutt, Andrea, 42, works as a secondary school teacher. Her partner, Johnnie, is a meter reader, Andrea was single until a friend introduced the pair three years ago. She says: "I've met a lot of men who are rats and do not treat women with respect. So, when I found a man who was decent, respectful and fun to be with, I grabbed hold. I have never been happier in my life."

Both women couldn't care less if their partners don't have letters after their names. Says McDonald: "I learn an enormous amount from Wayne. He's been a hunter, and he's a farmer too, and he has this other life that is completely out of my area of expertise."

That sentiment isn't always shared by women seeking a partner. According to online dating site Findsomeone, single women are more likely than single men to be university educated and also seeking an educated partner (66 per cent of women are looking for a man with a degree or a tertiary qualification, compared with 47 per cent of men).

That makes sense to 25-year-old Joe Mara, a law student in his final year whose last girlfriend was an air hostess with a hairdressing background. She was bright and intelligent and Mara says: "It's more about the person and whether you're compatible."

Mara is a Christian and one of the reasons he is at law school is that he has strong beliefs about earning enough to provide for a future family.

Another single man, third-year law student Fred, doesn't want to date a law student or meet one as a future partner. Aged 29, he says: "I'd be looking for someone to have a family with. I would love my wife to work but I would rather build a family together than an empire."

Younger women seem to be more flexible about a long-term match, according to Zoe Lawton, 25, who undertook the research with Callister. Lawton is wrapping up her law degree. The biggest surprise to her was the shortage of university-educated men.

"In the past, people did tend to marry people who were similar to them . . . Women might have to marry down educationally, as they are doing now, rather than look for men with equal qualifications to them."

The Dominion Post