Throwback: Husband shortage fear addressed by University sociologist during World War II

Brigit Benestante

Next to an advertisement for war bonds in a 1943 edition of The Daily Texan, the headline “No Husband Shortage Yet, Girls! — At Least, Sociologist Says Not” sits in bold letters. In the midst of World War II, a population decrease on the UT campus created what the writer calls a “husband-shortage” scare.

In the article, Kingsley Davis, a UT graduate and former Princeton sociology research associate, attempts to reassure his audience that the fear of becoming a spinster should not yet be a concern. While this particular headline would never be found in today’s paper — except perhaps in a satirical context — it does show the shift in American society’s priorities and values, especially in times of war. The article itself is another testimony to the apparent concerns of students in 1943, particularly targeting women. 

“Co-eds need have no immediate fear of a husband shortage,” Davis said. “The sex ratio has favored males. Our losses in the war have been slight.” 

Davis reports on India’s population growth problem, which was starting to become evident 70 years ago. According to Davis, India’s population had increased by 50 million from 1930 to 1940 while the death toll decreased. “What is to be done with all these Hindus?” Davis said. “Should they be forced to modify their customs, or should they be allowed to increase and spread their culture? Birth control conflicts with many native customs and taboos.”

Despite these statements, which in today’s context seem shocking, Davis was an acclaimed scholar. At the time of the article, he was the head of the sociology department at the University of Pennsylvania, a research associate at Princeton, had received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UT and received a doctorate in philosophy from Harvard. 

Davis also talked about sociology research, specifically population trends, in the United States. He said the research conducted by American sociologists had the ability to flourish because other countries were not focused on studies. 

“There is a real chance for American leadership because some other countries have become intellectually bankrupt,” he said. 

Such accusations from a respected source call attention to just how much society has shifted in terms of values and expectations. A husband shortage is most likely not on the list of worries for college women on campus during this day and age.

Although some of Davis’ statements are cringe-worthy at best, it is a reminder that despite the setbacks and challenges faced in today’s society, norms seem to have changed for the better. The hope for today is that reputable scholars’ speculations about women and their respective position in wartime society have changed for the better.