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March 30, 2012

The Decline of Hypergamy?

Over at Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen has an interesting post about declining female hypergamy:

In Puerto Rico, women already outearn men — in 2009, women’s wages were 103 percent of men’s. In other regions, women are close to catching up: in the District of Columbia, with a high number of federal workers and a high proportion of minorities, women earn 88 percent of what men do…Among 25- to 34-year-olds working full-time, women’s earnings were 91 percent of men’s in 2010, up from 68 percent in 1979.

That is from Liza Mundy’s The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners is Transforming Sex, Love, and Family. It is an interesting book, though it does not always focus on the questions that I would. The core thesis is that women will learn to marry down and men will learn to marry up.

A 2010 study by the Pew Research Center suggests this is already happening:

wifely_income.gif A larger share of men in 2007, compared with their 1970 counterparts, are married to women whose education and income exceed their own, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of demographic and economic trend data. A larger share of women are married to men with less education and income.

From an economic perspective, these trends have contributed to a gender role reversal in the gains from marriage. In the past, when relatively few wives worked, marriage enhanced the economic status of women more than that of men. In recent decades, however, the economic gains associated with marriage have been greater for men than for women.

...There also is an important gender component of these trends. Forty years ago, the typical man did not gain another breadwinner in his household when he married. Today, he does — giving his household increased earning power that most unmarried men do not enjoy. The superior gains of married men have enabled them to overtake and surpass unmarried men in their median household income.

Several of Cowen's commenters make a point we have discussed here: what does "marrying up" really mean? Women don't all have the same preferences, and it seems rational to suppose that as circumstances change, so will the relative value women place an various characteristics.

A woman who grows up assuming she will not work is more likely to value earning power in a mate than a woman who has a degree and a high paying job before marrying. It's not that income or status are no longer important - they are just relegated to a lower place on the wish list.

The assumption the hypergamy or mate selection will always be driven by a single attribute (income, good looks, status, social class, education, intelligence) seems simplistic to me, as does the oft repeated argument that women always prefer aggressive, alpha males. Several studies have concluded that women are attracted to different types of men at different points in their monthly cycle. If this study can be believed, evening out those cycles (as happens when a woman goes on the Pill) seems to produce more balanced mate selection:

In the lab, women using oral contraceptives show a weaker preference for masculine men—those with high testosterone levels and the corresponding physical hallmarks—than their non-pill-using counterparts. To investigate this issue in a real-world setting, psychologist S. Craig Roberts of the University of Stirling in Scotland and his collaborators gave online surveys to more than 2,500 women from various countries. According to the results, published online October 12 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, participants who used hormonal contraceptives while choosing their partner were less attracted to him and less sexually satisfied during their relationship than were individuals who did not use hormonal birth control. Pill users were happier with their mate’s financial support and other nonsexual aspects of the relationship, however, and they were less likely to separate.

This relationship stability might be caused by the bias of women on the pill toward low-testosterone men, who tend to be more faithful. Roberts suggests that women who met their mate while taking the pill might want to switch to nonhormonal contraceptives several months before getting married to test whether their feelings for their partner remain the same.

Estrogen and testosterone are powerful hormones, and the notion that they ought to be making our decisions for us is - to say the least - a bit suspect. One of the most valuable things I learned during my dating years was that even the most intense attractions don't last. A huge part of attraction is challenge, uncertainty, and risk: will he or she return my interest? Will the physical part of our relationship live up to the courtship phase?

What's left after the initial rush of hormones is what is genuine and real.

I don't understand the impulse to reduce complex and wonderful interactions between men and women to some kind of sterile formula. Kind of takes all the zing out of things.

Posted by Cassandra at March 30, 2012 09:18 AM

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Comments

"I don't understand the impulse to reduce complex and wonderful interactions between men and women to some kind of sterile formula. Kind of takes all the zing out of things."

It seems that pretty much every aspect of human life is being studied under a thousand microscopes these days. Some day, we're going to have to accept that we can't quantify every aspect of humanity. Sometimes 'it is what it is' will just have to do.

Posted by: DL Sly at March 30, 2012 10:17 AM

Money or hormones.
Marrying up or f'ing up. (in a good way ;-)
Today there are better odds of choosing both.

Posted by: tomg51 at March 30, 2012 12:38 PM

"I don't understand the impulse to reduce complex and wonderful interactions between men and women to some kind of sterile formula. Kind of takes all the zing out of things."

Not sure about the appeal for scientists. Honestly, I think some of them find the concept of free will itself troublesome.

For the layman (i.e. the pick-up community trying to reduce all human social behavior to near-sociopathic-caliber self-interest and all-controlling hormones), I wonder if it's similar to the appeal of conspiracy theories: it may be depressing, but it a) means the world is more predictable/less chaotic, and b) means the one buying into it is "smarter" than the rubes around him.

Posted by: Matt at March 30, 2012 08:44 PM

I wonder if it's similar to the appeal of conspiracy theories: it may be depressing, but it a) means the world is more predictable/less chaotic, and b) means the one buying into it is "smarter" than the rubes around him.

No. It means he doesn't have to accept responsibility for his own actions or decisions. It's someone else's fault.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at March 30, 2012 09:23 PM

I think both of you have something there.

I've gotten a strong sense of what Matt describes reading their posts, but wasn't really able to put it into words. But I agree that if you accept their weird world view, nothing is ever their fault :p

Convenient, that.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 31, 2012 10:24 AM

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