Coffee Break: The odds of getting a soul mate and longevity

This article first appeared in Capital, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on September 16, 2019 - September 22, 2019.
-A +A

Malaysia’s two famous nonagenarians are poised to live past 100 and 103, according to the Department of Statistics Malaysia’s  (DoSM) “Fun with Statistics” calculator, if one were to enter their birth dates of July 10, 1925, and Oct 6, 1923, with their corresponding race.

Given that bumiputeras can range from Malays to some 60 sub-ethnic groups in Sabah and Sarawak, my brunch companion reckons the odds for the 95-year-old Chinese seem better. Never mind that there are 56 ethnic groups in China, as most are Han Chinese anyway. There are exceptions, of course: both nonagenarians are already enigmas in their own right.

Someone should come up with a similar data-backed calculator on the odds of marriage using one’s birth date, ethnicity, level of education, income and locale. Singapore can probably do that before  the end of business, my companion declared. DoSM could probably do the same, given time.

Granular data on demographics, made public, could aid research and policy planning by shedding light on, say, just how many people who have passed the “unspoken deadline” for marriage and having children — apparently 35 for women in Asia — actually went on to marry and have kids and if having a degree and a respectable career have any impact.

While women as old as the 73-year-old who just gave birth to twins in India can improve their chances of pregnancy through in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), the chances of conceiving via IVF are reportedly in the single digits after the age of 43, compared with close to 40% for women below the age of 35. The news report, citing a head of obstetrics and gynaecology, did not state how that particular statistic was arrived at.

The right information is important to achieve maximum results as optimism alone only goes so far. Bees can fly, not because they do not know that their wings are too small to lift their weight, but because they fly differently from planes.

Reliable data can either lend credence to or weed out statistics such as “40-year-old woman more likely to be killed by a terrorist than to get married”, which was described as “not true, but feels true” in the 1993 movie Sleepless in Seattle. The headline age went down to 35 in the 2006 movie The Holiday.

Those old enough to remember would know that the notion of a 40-year-old, single, white, college-educated woman being more likely to be killed by a terrorist than to marry came from the cover story of the June 2, 1986, issue of Newsweek, headlined “The Marriage Crunch: If you’re a single woman, here are your chances of getting married” accompanied by a huge image of the right half of a bell curve.

The article, “Too late for Prince Charming?”, citing a Harvard-Yale study, was retracted by the magazine 20 years later in 2006 after US Census Bureau demographer Jeanne Moorman challenged it using data available to her. In 2006,  The Wall Street Journal found that 8 of the 10 women featured in 1986 were married while the remaining two were single by choice.

In support of my call for more granular data, my companion shared his formula for love — basically the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur customised equation for finding a girlfriend, improvised from maths teacher Bobby Seagull’s London-Cambridge version.

The formula, which looks something like “G = R x ff x fskl x fA x fU x fP x L”, basically involves knowing the size of the population with the right gender, age, educational background in one’s area. Interestingly, the likelihood of finding a mate goes up with one’s “length of years alive and openness to chances of meeting a potential mate”.

The oldest groom in Malaysia was 91 years old in 2017 while the oldest bride was 84.

If you’re thinking there are lies, damned lies and statistics, Mark Twain also said “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter”.

Time will tell if that same logic on age and finding a soul mate can be applied to the nonagenarian on the mind of everyone watching Malaysia.

Logic aside, if every one of the 29.4 million Malaysians could give him half a minute, the nonagenarian would gain 28 years — giving him the longest confirmed human lifespan, unseating Jeanne Calment, who was  122 years and 164 days old when she died in 1997, according to the Guinness  Book of World Records. How’s that nugget for thought?

Save by subscribing to us for your print and/or digital copy.

P/S: The Edge is also available on Apple's AppStore and Androids' Google Play.