Why northern guys are lonely

Women fleeing Arctic creating widespread gender imbalance


If you’re a young man living in a small northern town, don’t feel bad if you’re having trouble finding a date.

Small communities across the North – in Alaska, Greenland, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Newfoundland, Norway and Russia – are feeling the effects of “female flight” and Nunavut is likely no exception.

The problem occurs when more young women than men leave the community to pursue higher education or jobs elsewhere, says an article titled “Women’s Migration from and in the Arctic,” published in the Arctic Human Development Report.

Two American researchers – Larry C. Hamilton and Carole L. Seyfrit – first observed the phenomenon in the early 1990s when they interviewed high school students in Alaska and found that more Yup’ik and Inupiat girls than boys planned to move permanently away from their home community after graduation.

“In conversations with small groups of students, we heard repeatedly that school is a ‘girl type of thing,'” the pair wrote in a 1993 article.

A follow-up study showed that after graduation, women were slightly more likely to have attended university, were significantly more likely to have a full-time job and were more than twice as likely to be living outside of their home communities.

In Alaska’s 2000 census, sex ratios vary from 113 men per 100 women in the smaller villages to 73 men per 100 women in cities.

In the same article, the researchers note that while the absolute number of young women leaving the communities was small, it could have a big impact on the population – as the people who move away are often “more energetic individuals.”

The researchers predicted two problems in the villages left with larger groups of young men than women.

First is “increased attention focused on teenage girls by older men, perhaps exacerbating problems of abuse, teen pregnancy, early alcoholism and fetal exposure, high (multiple-partner) sexual activity, and self-destructive behaviour. Unwanted attention would also add to the incentives for younger girls to leave the village themselves.”

Secondly the researchers predicted that fewer women would delay marriage for many young men, who may, as a result, “experience an extended period of adolescent self-indulgence, with associated hazards of substance abuse, accidents, suicide and illegal activities.

“Lacking the stabilizing effect of family responsibilities, they might perceive less reason to hold a steady job or behave as contributing members of the community.”

The more recent Arctic Human Development Report noted that “marriage to outsiders plays a significant and under-studied role,” in female flight.

“Locally-born women in many places are more likely to marry outsider men… than the reverse, local men marrying outsider women due to gender based patterns of mobility. Men from non-Arctic areas have, to a much larger degree than women, visited the Arctic regions, whether for military reasons or for natural resource exploitation.”

In addition to the lure of higher education and job opportunities, that article suggests that women may choose to leave their communities because their traditional skills are no longer needed.

Men may remain and continue their traditional lifestyles, but only if they find marriage partners who can find paying jobs. Some find work in school administration, health care or with the municipality. Others seek higher education, and then find jobs in urban centers.

Rasmus Ole Rasmussen, a professor at Roskilde University in Denmark, has studied professional hunters in Greenland, and has observed that five to 10 per cent of the remaining professional hunters are unable to find wives – who normally contribute to household income – and are thus living below the international poverty line.

“It’s more acceptable for young women to move to a town, maybe being unskilled, but then start as an unskilled worker and get some experience, etc.,” Rasmussen said, “while it’s not that acceptable for young men to do the same so they are more or less left behind in the villages and living this very harsh life with limited income sources and not that bright a future.”

Greenland today has a deficit of four per cent women overall, and Rasmussen suspects that a similar pattern exists in northern Canada.

There is no concrete data yet on female migration in Nunavut, but two researchers at the University of Alaska recently obtained funds for a three-year study of migration in Alaska and Nunavut, which may unearth a similar trend.

Meanwhile, more women than men continue to enroll at Nunavut Arctic College, where the most recent graduate study found that 63 per cent of students were female.

That information is included in the working draft of the Nunavut Adult Learning Strategy, which included this proposal as one of its 29 recommended strategies for adult education:

“Identify and promote programs that encourage and attract young Inuit men back into education, in order to expand the options available to them.”

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