Alien Math Shows Why Grad Student Doesn't Have a Girlfriend

By Smriti Rao | January 14, 2010 11:42 am

single-guyIf you are a single male, please answer the following questions:

Repellent body odor? No?

Superfluous and abundant body hair?

Socially awkward? No again…?

Then why are you still single? And what are the odds of you finding a girlfriend this year?

Economics grad student Peter Backus of the U.K.’s University of Warwick pondered that question, and put his mathematical skills to good use to calculate his chances of hooking up in 2010. As Backus found, the odds of him finding an appropriate love interest on any given night out are 1 in 285,000. Backus used the Drake equation to calculate these odds of finding love and wrote it up as  “Why I don’t have a girlfriend: An application of the Drake Equation to love in the UK.”

As New Scientist explains:

For the uninitiated, the Drake equation was set out by Frank Drake, one of the founders of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. It estimates the number of alien civilisations we should expect to find in our galaxy.

New Scientist describes how Backus used a similar equation to estimate the number of university educated, age-appropriate women who he finds physically attractive that he should expect to find in his environs:

He calculates that there are 10,510 people in the UK that satisfy these basic criteria. That amounts to 0.00017% of the UK’s population, or 0.0014% of Londoners. As he says, that “doesn’t seem so bad” – especially if, as Londonist notes, he actually socialises in groups that are biased towards his own age and education level, which seems likely.

But the calculations aren’t over. Backus also estimates that only 1 in 20 women in his potential dating pool will find him attractive (a percentage he calls “depressingly low”), only half are single, and he only gets along with 1 in 1o. Once those factors are taken into account, his number of potential girlfriends shrinks to… 26 women.

Yikes. It looks like single men have only a slightly better chance of of finding a girlfriend than they do of finding an intelligent alien society in the sky.

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Image: iStockphoto

  • andrew

    Where does alcohol fit into the equation?

  • Steinn Sigurdsson
  • Michaelc

    It is a little better than he estimates because the appropriate women for him will tend to be concentrated in areas that he is likely to be in like universities. Also his estimates of the number of women who find him attractive might be off, as well as his willingness to find somebody attractive who did not initially intrigue him.
    He also has the possibility of making women seek him out by getting written up in articles like this one.

  • Andrew

    I don’t know…I could see being famous for figuring out the Drake equation for your city going either way. On one hand, you are famous and that ups your exposure to the population. On the other hand you are limiting the population that is interested in you.

    Probability is not on your side if you are looking for 26/population of London much less if you effectively reduce the population of London to 26 by the means of your fame and then run THAT through the Drake equation and are looking for 2.6 x 10^-5 of a woman amongst the total population of London.

  • Jim Jones

    Getting along with only 1 out of 10? This seems depressingly low. When we’re talking marriage material, that number may be fairly accurate (assuming everyone is quite stringent), but if he takes a couple of public speaking classes or a dance class or something, he’ll improve his rapport building skills and easily ratchet that up to 4 or 5 out of 10.

    Don’t give up hope Peter; you’re working with variables here, not constants. :)

  • Twilightened

    Repellent body odor? No?

    Superfluous and abundant body hair? YES

    Socially awkward? YES

    Two, out of three. Let’s see if you can top that.

  • Freedom Geek

    I actually have done something similar only I did it what with the world population and instead of taking into account age or liking me I used all the traits I require in a woman. It came out to 69 people, in the entire world! Luckily I did not take into account the fact that while some of these traits may be individually a certain percentage they may be corralated, for instance a girl who has the traits of independence, rationality, curiosity and intelligence that I require is probably less likely to want children which I am firmly against having. This gives me hope. I also had to estimate some of the percentages but they could easily be lower than I estimated too. Ah well, I’m prepared to be alone, it is not the worst of all things.

  • Randy McNally

    I wouldnt worry about it too much… once they find out you’re a geek that uses equations to work out why you cant get any.. the number of potential females interested in you will turn to zero.

    He would have more luck trying to be a sugar daddy to some fit but yet stupid uni students, trust me there are plenty of them. They will dump you after uni, but then you have a batch of new ones every year. Unfortunatly this will not work on the females you want to find (educated, intelligent) because they wont need a sugar daddy who earns peanuts on lecturers salary.

    The psychologist in me wonders if you ever had a girlfriend, or if you spent your whole life whining about why you dont have one.

  • AJ

    Maybe not looking like AJ from the Sopranos will increase the numbers?

  • Wavefunction

    Wait, did Peter borrow this from an episode of the Big Bang Theory where Howard Wolowitz also calculates similar odds of hooking up using a modified Drake equation?

  • JW

    Unfortunately, he did the equation incorrectly. He multiplies the number of people born each year by his own age and by the fraction who are in his age range. He should either use the total number of people in the UK and the fraction who are in his age range, or the number born each year and the number of years in his age range (10).

  • Brian Too

    Place too many prerequisites on the matter and the outcome will be bad, both on the page and with the women.

    For instance, why does a potential mate have to be university educated? Sure it’s good, but you’re going to get hung up on that? And the age thing. Again, it’s better to be closer in age, but lots of successful matches exist in couples with divergent ages.

    Lighten up, show some interest, put your best foot forward. Love is the issue at hand, not fulfilling every entry on a check list of ‘acceptable criteria’!

  • JW

    Well, the education and age things aren’t too bad, and those don’t narrow his options down by much. The real problem is he believes 95% of educated women his age are not attractive, and that 95% of them are not attracted to him. That eliminates 399 out of 400 right there.

    He’s not ugly, so I don’t see why 19 out of 20 women would be unattracted to him. Maybe it’s just low self-esteem, combined with unrealistic standards. Rather than writing this paper to prove that it’s not his fault he can’t get a date, he could figure out why other guys his age do have girlfriends and what he might have to change about himself.

  • Aliasalpha

    hehe having read the whole of that guy’s rationale and seen how he words things, I can see that he’s disturbingly like me. I’d plug in the specific numbers for my crappy town in Australia and do the math mysef except that I’m scared that I’d end up with something like 0.37 of a girlfriend.

    Now if it was the RIGHT 0.37…

  • Travis Wicks

    I just finished an app that calculates the number of potential Girlfriends/boyfriends you can find in a given area
    its on my blog at:

  • Marcus White

    Wait, did Peter borrow this from an episode of the Big Bang Theory where Howard Wolowitz also calculates similar odds of hooking up using a modified Drake equation?


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