Saturday, 1 September 2012

Our brideprice culture

Dr. Griskevicius speaking on the mating game. The economic consequences are big. (source)

The mate market isn’t what it used to be. As late as the mid-1970s, single women outnumbered single men at all reproductive ages. A reversal then took place throughout the Western world. The “operational sex ratio” slipped from male scarcity to parity and then to a male surplus by the late 1980s. Why? The immediate reason was the large number of divorced male baby-boomers reentering the mate market … and competing for a smaller number of female baby-busters (Ni Bhrolchain & Sigle-Rushton, 2005; Pedersen, 1991).

Yet behind this immediate reason stood two longer-term causes. First, divorce had become much easier. Men were now freer to act on an unconscious command that all men are born with: Look for a younger wife if your current one no longer looks fertile … assuming of course you’ve managed to survive into your fifth decade of life.

This leads us to the second cause. By the late 20th century, male mortality had greatly declined. More men were now living throughout the entire reproductive age bracket. Keep in mind that around 105 boys are born for every 100 girls. In the past, this sex ratio balanced out within the first few years of life because of higher mortality among male infants. By the 1980s, it wasn’t balancing out until the mid-40s or even later.

Will the operational sex ratio return to normal in the future? No, but it may stop getting worse. The trend toward male longevity seems to have almost maxed out for all reproductive ages. And fewer older men will be reentering the mate market—the baby boomers are getting a bit old for that sort of thing. But then we’ll probably also see more polygyny of the non-serial kind. Simultaneous polygyny is hard to measure, since it’s illegal, but it seems to be a growing phenomenon. The incidence of gonorrhea and chlamydial infection is now higher in women than in men, an indication that the population of promiscuous individuals is disproportionately female (Miller et al., 2004).

Even if we ignore unofficial polygyny, the “official” ratio of single men to single women shows no signs of declining, even at older ages (Soma, 2008). In Germany, single men now outnumber single women up to the age of 60 (Glowsky, 2007). To make a long story short, young nubile women are a limited resource. The more you deregulate the marriage market and the more you reduce male mortality, the fewer of them there’ll be to go around.

And the consequences?

As men become increasingly outnumbered on the mate market, what will be the consequences? Until recently, research has focused on the social effects. Permanently single men have less of a stake in maintaining the status quo and tend to be drawn to revolutionary movements of one sort or another (Hudson & Den Boer, 2002).

Now it appears that there are also economic consequences:

Findings show that male-biased sex ratios (an abundance of men) lead men to discount the future and desire immediate rewards. Male-biased sex ratios decreased men’s desire to save for the future and increased their willingness to incur debt for immediate expenditures. Sex ratio appears to influence behavior by increasing the intensity of same-sex competition for mates. Accordingly, a scarcity of women led people to expect men to spend more money during courtship, such as by paying more for engagement rings. (Griskevicius et al, 2012)

In the above study, the operational sex ratio (ratio of adult unmarried men to adult unmarried women) was compared to the number of credit cards owned and the amount of consumer debt for 134 American cities. Both indices significantly correlated with the operational sex ratio. By way of example, the authors point to two cities in Georgia:

Macon, Georgia, and Columbus, Georgia, are two cities in the southeastern United States that are less than a hundred miles apart. Both cities share a similar historical heritage and economic climate. Despite these similarities, the residents of each city have drastically different spending habits: The average consumer debt of people living in Columbus is an astounding 2.7 standard deviations higher than that of people living in Macon—a difference of $3,479 per consumer […]
We suggest that this difference in debt might be linked to an often overlooked difference between the two cities: the ratio of single adult men to women in each area. Whereas in Macon there are only 0.78 single men for every woman, in Columbus there are 1.18 single men for every woman. (Griskevicius et al, 2012)

The United States, like most of the Western world, is moving from a dowry culture to a brideprice culture (Sailer, 2008). Single men now have to pay to get a wife, and the price is getting steeper.

But this change isn’t just a matter of “Who pays the money?” It’s also “How is it spent?” A dowry is an investment in the future. It often takes the form of a down-payment by the bride’s family on the newlyweds’ home. In contrast, a bride price usually goes toward immediate consumption. A single man has to spend more on dating, which itself is becoming a longer, multiyear process. He’ll be expected to pay off his bride’s credit card debt. And he’ll have to spend more on the wedding.

The difference between dowry and bride price reflects a difference in mate-choice criteria. Whereas men judge women on the basis of youth and perceived fertility, women judge men on the basis of perceived social and economic status. A shift towards bride price thus compels men to boost their image by spending more now and leaving less for the future.

There is a widespread belief that consumers will save and pay off their debts if offered the right economic incentives, i.e., higher interest rates, tax deductions, etc. This belief ignores the changes that have occurred to the dynamics of mating over the last few decades. Men will keep on going heavily into debt because that’s the price of getting a mate. Women will continue to borrow beyond their means, knowing that they can convert their debt burden into bride price. 


Glowsky, D. (2007). Why do German men marry women from less developed countries? SOEP papers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research #61

Griskevicius, V., J.M. Tybur, J.M. Ackerman, A.W. Delton, T.E. Robertson, & A.E. White. (2012). The financial consequences of too many men: Sex ratio effects on saving, borrowing, and spending, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102(1), 69-80.

Griskevicius, V. (2012). Youtube video

Hudson, V.M., & A. Den Boer. (2002). A surplus of men, a deficit of peace. Security and sex ratios in Asia’s largest states, International Security, 26, 5-38.

Miller, W.C., C.A. Ford, M. Morris, M.S. Handcock, J.L. Schmitz, M.M. Hobbs, M.S. Cohen, K.M. Harris, & J.R. Udry. (2009). Prevalence of chlamydial and gonococcal infections among young adults in the United States, Journal of the American Medical Association, 291, 2229-2236.

Ni Bhrolchain, M. & W. Sigle-Rushton. (2005). Partner supply in Britain and the U.S. Estimates and gender contrasts, Population, 60, 37-64.

Pedersen, F.A. (1991). Secular trends in human sex ratios: Their influence on individual and family behavior, Human Nature, 2, 271-291.

Sailer, S. (2008). Bachelorettes in debt – the new reverse dowry system, Steve Sailer’s iSteve blog, November 7

Soma. (2008). The new interactive singles map


Sean said...

Latvian man shortage leaves women lost for love. I suppose that is because Latvian women have high expectations that their men can't fulfil. Still the men are leaving in droves even though they are in demand. So maybe in the modern environment getting married is not the preferred option for a significant number of the most marriageable men?

Columbus has a huge army base. 'The Economic Consequences of Excess Men: Evidence from a Natural Experiment in Taiwan'
"As sex ratio imbalances have become a problem in an increasing number of countries, it is important to understand their consequences. With the defeat of the Kuomintang Party in China, more than one million soldiers and civilians, mainly young males, retreated to Taiwan in the late 1940s. Initially, the soldiers from mainland China were not allowed to marry. The ban was relaxed in 1959, however, suddenly flooding the marriage market with a large number of eligible bachelors. The operational ratio of males to females at marriageable age peaked at nearly 1.2 in the 1960s. Using data from multiple sources, we find that during times of high marriage competition, young men are more likely to become entrepreneurs, work longer hours, save more, and amass more assets. The findings highlight the important role of biological forces in shaping human economic behavior."

Beyond Anon said...

Perhaps we need to find a way to get rid of the excess males?

Perhaps that is what all the wars the US has been in are about.

Beyond Anon said...

Are there data showing that the levels of debt increased in tandem with the change in the ratio of males to females in the marriage market?

Secondly, given that older men coming onto the market can be expected to have resources at that point, we should see younger men going into more debt than older men ... is that the case?

Beyond Anon said...

I have some more serious questions:

If, as you claim, the operational sex ratio has switched over to having a surplus of males, I would expect that two things would happen:

1. Traditionally, about 80% of females could find mates and have children. With there being more males to choose from, I would expect more females to find mates and have children. However, I do not see a great deal of evidence of this happening. If anything, it seems that fewer women are getting married or having children.

2. With more males to choose from, and with more of them having more resources, I would expect women to be able to find a mate and get married at an earlier age. However, this seems not to be happening. Rather, it seems that women are delaying finding permanent mates and delaying having children to a later age.

So, are you sure about what you say?

Reader said...

Finally, we've returned to this huge issue exactly one year after the initial series on the sex ratio was published in this blog. Thanks Peter for bringing it up again.

I want to begin with one observation I've made recently. The "manosphere" (male blogosphere) is full of posts and blogs by older men about the fact that "it gets better for men after 35." (Sources: , ). David Buss, the EvoPsych authority, claims in his book "Evolution of Desire," that "the sex ratio starts tilting in men's favor as men mature into their 30s and 40s."

Are all of these male authors wrong? Is it time for an update? I am noticing in bars and nightclubs that there's an increase in the number of older men, late 30s and 40s, who are desperate and on the prowl. Is 35 still the demarcating line when men start gaining the upper hand, or do we need to revise that number upwards?

Next, the manosphere is too smug and self-congratulatory about the fact that "women will ultimately lose the dating game." The famous blogger Dalrock says that women who delay marriage do so at their own peril, because when they finally come around to marriage, the men will have plenty of options including younger women, and will choose younger women instead.

(Source: )

But is his estimate too optimistic? Men will no longer be operating in the same environment as before, if the ratio is constrained. In fact, I believe women have smartly calculated that they have nothing to lose by delaying marriage. When they're finally ready, there will *still* be an abundance of men, and the market will still be very tight for these men.

I see evidence of this every day on Facebook: women who are in their 30s continue to get plenty of attention from men of all ages, their posts lead to dozens of replies and "likes," and they haven't lost any of their popularity, even though they're not that young anymore.

Finally, this point: the ratio for men can improve/worsen depending on birth rate trends (population growth vs. decline). According to the US Census, there was a baby boom from 1997-2007, and in a few years, these young people will be coming of age, entering their early 20s. Could men's chances improve at that time, since there will be more younger women in a few years?

Reader said...

**This is a reply to Beyond Anon.

Beyond Anon, if there is a lot of men to choose from, then women will DELAY marriage, because they don't have to compromise.

Conversely, if there are not enough men, women will be much more serious about marriage. A paradox? Not quite.

Marriage for women is a compromise between an alpha male and a beta provider. If the ratio is in their favor, then women will have ample time to have fun with the alpha males, while *delaying* the moment of marriage to the beta provider. This is what's happening right now.

Women can be sure that they'll find someone to commit to them when the time comes, if there are a lot of males around. In the meantime, they can have casual flings with the alphas (who wouldn't be good for marriage anyway).

chris said...

Doesn't all of this assume that women are worth marrying? What if they're not? Then one would expect men to instead shift from pursuit of a long-term mating strategy to a short-term mating strategy.

Put another way, if men's paternal investment is insecure* (via things like female promiscuity, lack of female chastity, infidelity and divorce theft) leaving them open to reproductive exploitation*, then men won't paternally invest.

*I'm assuming that the triggers for men's perception of insecurity of paternal investment or feelings of exploitation are subconscious and evolutionarily determined. i.e. while having recently been banged by a bunch of other dudes while using contraception will mean that the potential for cuckoldry from those acts is non-existent, men still have a evolutionarily hardwired desire not to accept sloppy seconds.

Beyond Anon said...

Doesn't all of this assume that women are worth marrying? What if they're not? Then one would expect men to instead shift from pursuit of a long-term mating strategy to a short-term mating strategy.

If you are a heterosexual male who has been selected to invest heavily in your offspring then women are the only game in town.

Similarly, if you are a heterosexual female who as been selected to have offspring, then men are the only game in town.

The trick lies in finding one that will not cuckold you if you are male or abandon you if you are female and pregnant with his child.

Anonymous said...

"I believe women have smartly calculated that they have nothing to lose by delaying marriage. "

I find that unbelievable. For one, this isn't exactly MSM news, and secondly:

Sean said...

The stereotype about traditional Western morality is that it forced men into marriage. However if there is an appreciable and increasing amount of simultaneous polygyny in the West at a time when there is an excess of men then that idea must have been wrong.

Unless a man is Silvio Berlusconi he is not going to be able to support multiple 'wives'. If the motive for sharing a husband is not economic, it must be the (hereditary) qualities of the man. here.

Your ideas about the origin of Europeans led me to believe that virtually all European women would be predisposed to choose a dedicated and monogamous husband, preferably a rich one.

But it seems that Western women are switching to a strategy more suited to the modern welfare state: selection for the ability to have multiple women without supporting them (or himself even). European men will disproportionately lose out big time when women apply that criterion.

A couple of generations hence, there will be a lot of testosterone crazed men in Western society.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't Griskevicius study contradict what has been said earlier, or is it that women having different expectations from their mothers that drives this behavior?

Sailer's article doesn't make much sense. Young women earn more than young men. Unless they are being overwhelmingly selected by older men with better finances.

"Latvian man shortage leaves women lost for love."

It's like the Hillary Clinton quote about women being the primary victims of war.

Anonymous said...

Immigration too.

The hugely distorted gender-ratio especially among illegal immigrants also leads to increased levels of rape and sexual assault and *greatly* increased demand for prostitution.

Illegals working below minimum wage obviously have no money creating the neccessity for that prostitution to be cheap and well below any voluntary market price which means there aren't enough junkies to supply that demand.

The end result of the demand for cheap prostitution created by the open borders traitors are things like this:

and this

Reader said...

Just wanted to post a quote that really captures the zeitgeist of today's dating market for men.

A woman who I am friends with on Facebook, 30 years old, recently made this post on her wall:

"To all men that have a good woman: Always remember - When you're busy looking at another woman, there is always two men looking at yours. Appreciate what you have."

As if that weren't enough, there was an instant stream of 20 replies from male sycophants who all chimed in with replies like "Yes, so true!" and "Definitely!"... replying to a 30-year-old woman!

The other skeptic said...

"To all men that have a good woman: Always remember - When you're busy looking at another woman, there is always two men looking at yours. Appreciate what you have."

She forgot to add: "That she would probably not be interested in."

Especially given the alleged oversupply of males. Women don't have to settle as much as the likely used to.

Beyond Anon said...

A big problem I have is reconciling these claims with other things we know.

For example, when women are in short supply, they don't have to offer sex at anywhere near the rate they have to when they are in oversupply. Sex is risky, especially for women, and even though contraception has made it less risky, there are still sexually transmitted diseases (although their more recent arrival on the scene for large numbers of people possibly means that selection for avoidance of sexually transmitted diseases has not operated for long enough.)

We can see this dynamic in operation, I believe, in universities and colleges. Since women now outnumber men at colleges and universities, they are in oversupply in that meat-space, and the quality of the males is generally high, unlike out in the general public. Women in those environments have much angst about the amount of sex they have to offer and claim that a lot of it is rape or sexual assault and so forth.

However, if males are generally in oversupply, why do we see so much slutty behavior from women in general? Is it just non-college women following the lead of those who are going to college?

This leads to another question with relation to female behavior and a shortage of males (the claimed situation before.) If, as peter claims, Caucasian women's expression of a range of hair and eye colors is an evolved response to a shortage of males during some time in the past, we would expect behavioral responses to a shortage of males as well, especially to a shortage of males that signal they are willing to invest. We see these behavioral responses in colleges and universities today.

However, this shortage in colleges and universities mirrors the same shortage that existed more generally back before the eighties. Why did we not see women back then being more sexually promiscuous?

Beyond Anon said...

You have to have something to offer when looking for a mate.

Since females have the reproductive equipment, they simply have to offer sex.

When males are relatively scarce, it would seem that females would be more willing to offer sex. For example, looks at college campuses these days, where females outnumber males, and the males are relatively high quality.

When females are relatively scarce, they should be less willing to offer sex.

So, what went wrong? Back before the '80s females seemed far less willing to offer sex than they are today, despite the fact that they were in oversupply back then compared to today (and they seem very willing to offer sex in colleges, where they are actually in oversupply.)

Anonymous said...

Look at the film Idiocracy. It's a prophecy. Secular liberal feminist women (and their male counterparts) will be extinct by the next century if trends continue. These people have 1 or, more commonly, are childless and thereby their genes will be minimized by the next 100 years. They are dropping dead like flies. Except it's slow motion.

Anonymous said...

Thi spost is at odds with everything I read at manosphere and multiple other blogs, For example:

"Men were now freer to act on an unconscious command that all men are born with: Look for a younger wife if your current one no longer looks fertile "

But it is claimed that most of all divorces is actually filled by wives, not by males.

Peter Frost said...

Beyond Anon,

Yes, a longitudinal study should be done to see how a single community responds to changes in the operational sex ratio. This is unfortunately a new area of research.

When people are in a position to pick and choose, they tend to bide their time. This is a big reason why women are postponing marriage to their mid-30s.


In Western Europe, the tipping point is in one's mid to late 50s. In North America, it seems to be a bit lower (mid-40s), probably because of the African American population (where many single men are in prison or already dead).


A lot of men want to marry and have children. They are not necessarily unmarried because they have opted for a low paternal investment strategy. There just may not be any women out there who (a) are single, (b) don't have children from a previous relationship, and (c) are willing to have children.


Women are reacting predictably to the current mate market. The problem is that they don't sufficiently realize that they can't postpone childbearing indefinitely. Another problem is that we unintentionally facilitate single parenthood.


American cowboys were part of a larger Anglo-Protestant culture that preached self-discipline and respect for women. Even so, the Wild West was an unruly place.

Yes, it's true that young women generally make more money than young men. And since they don't have parental responsibilities, they should have lots of money. Yet they don't. In fact, most are deeply in debt. So where does the money go?

It's really no big secret. Being single consumes a lot of money. A lot.

The other skeptic said...

Women are reacting predictably to the current mate market. The problem is that they don't sufficiently realize that they can't postpone childbearing indefinitely. Another problem is that we unintentionally facilitate single parenthood.

It seems that we are in an evolutionary novel situation that has likely never existed before. I wonder how many generations this one will exist for? Based on recent history, not long.

Thus women have never been selected for making good reproductive-success decisions in times when they are not in surplus.

Beyond Anon said...

So a war that takes out lots of men will change things, I guess.

Anonymous said...

I wish both the dowry culture and the brideprice culture had disappeared completely.