Safe but Single on the Upper East Side

By Emily Murphy

With nearly two single women for every bachelor, Manhattan’s Upper East Side is home to the highest ratio of female to male singles in New York City.

Glamorized in films such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s and TV shows like Sex and the City, the neighborhood has long been a symbol of beauty and class. The infectious chic of the Upper East Side’s fictional residents has appealed for decades to droves of young single women looking for a similar experience.

Young Holly Golightlys and Carrie Bradshaws have flocked to the neighborhood, which stretches from 59th Street to 96th Street between Central Park East and the East River, since the 1920s, molding the area into what journalists in the 1960s referred to as “The Girl Ghetto.” While women find comfort and support in the high density of women, it also creates a fierce competition for men.

In New York City, as a whole, women make up 53 percent of the population. Yet, among the 215,580 Manhattanites who call the Upper East Side home, more than 56 percent are women, making the Upper East Side the New York City neighborhood with the most single women. Women 20 to 34 years of age make up an even larger majority on the Upper East Side.

Elizabeth Ryan, a single 30-year-old transplant from Iowa, represents this demographic trend. She has lived in various apartments on the Upper East Side for seven years. What initially drew her to the area and comforted her worried parents were the low crime rates and abundance of doormen. In a 2010 report that combined police crime statistics with 2010 census data, the Upper East Side, covered by the 19th precinct, was considered the safest neighborhood in the five boroughs.

With the exception of the ritzy neighborhood’s grand larceny problem, crime has dropped even lower since this study was compiled. Ryan feels as if someone is always watching her back. “I know all the doormen on my block,” said Ryan, who works for an accounting firm in Midtown. “They worry when they don’t see me for a couple days.”

From January to March, Ryan works very long hours, often returning home after midnight. She claimed never to feel uncomfortable walking from the subway to her apartment late at night due to the abundance of streetlights, restaurants and well-lighted 24-hour drugstores.

The neighborhood’s relative safety is what drew women in the early 1900s to the area where Ryan  now lives. At the turn of the century, many more opportunities for work and education became available for women in New York City. A boom of new businesses in newly erected skyscrapers demanded the skills of secretaries and stenographers, jobs typically filled by women. At the same time, universities were welcoming more female students, and artistic professions attracted many young women.

Janis Spindel, a  matchmaker and resident of the Upper East Side for more than 40 years, has built an empire on her skills of connecting New York City’s lonely hearts, many of whom reside in the neighborhood. Spindel said that, in addition to its reputation as a safe place to live, the Upper East Side is also less expensive than the “cooler” areas downtown such as the West Village, Tribeca or the Meatpacking District. “It’s a great location. There’s everything you need from supermarkets to cleaners to shoe makers to gyms.” Especially for a working woman, convenience goes a long way.

Ryan values the conveniences that are a little more luxurious, “Well, the shopping is amazing. I guess that’s to distract us from the lack of men,” she said.