What Is Hypergamy? - An Introduction

I have talked about the basis of attraction in the newsletter. But one important concept is hypergamy(Wikipedia).

So what is hypergamy?

Female hypergamy is a term that originated in reference to Hindu marriage practices in India. In India marrying up was called anuloma while marrying down was pratiloma. Or as we call it hypergamy and hypogamy. The definition of hypergamy refers to women marrying men of higher social status or higher caste. More broadly, this term refers to women marrying up (or dating up) on various measures: social status, economic status.

Female Hypergamy broadly interpreted as a nearly universal human mating pattern and is deeply embedded into the marriage cultures of countries like India and China throughout human history.

The evolutionary psychology of it is rather straight forward human females want to maximize mate selection in a hypergamic way. This means procreation will go to the best man available. To mate with a man below your status would not set your offspring up for success. Cultures have tried several strategies to curtail the hypergamic drive. One of those solutions is marriage and monogamy. The mating strategy changes from the best man(polygamy) to the best available man(monogamy).

In the United States, where social classes are not rigidly defined, and women and men largely decide for themselves whom to marry, the marriage market principle that gets the most press today is called assortative mating, or the tendency of people of similar social status to marry.

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It may be true that there has been a rise in assortative mate selection in America. A male lawyer today may be more likely to marry another lawyer than to marry his secretary compared with the 1960s. But within these assortative strata, hypergamy is still in effect. Women still tend to marry men who have higher education, are older, are taller, have a higher income,  etc.  In cases where the situation is reversed, such as when the wife makes more money than the husband, unhappiness and marital dysfunction often result. Women do not enjoy being married to lower social status men.

Earnings in particular seem to have a big impact on marriage. A 2015 study called “Gender Identity and Relative Income within Households”:

We show that the distribution of the share of income earned by the wife exhibits a sharp drop to the right of 1/2 , where the wife’s income exceeds the husband’s income. We argue that this pattern is best explained by gender identity norms, which induce an aversion to a situation where the wife earns more than her husband. We present evidence that this aversion also impacts marriage formation, the wife’s labor force participation, the wife’s income conditional on working, marriage satisfaction, likelihood of divorce, and the division of home production. Within marriage markets, when a randomly chosen woman becomes more likely to earn more than a randomly chosen man, marriage rates decline. In couples where the wife’s potential income is likely to exceed the husband’s, the wife is less likely to be in the labor force and earns less than her potential if she does work. In couples where the wife earns more than the husband, the wife spends more time on household chores; moreover, those couples are less satisfied with their marriage and are more likely to divorce.

Another academic book notes, “[T]he greater a wife’s earnings relative to her husband, the worse she feels about herself as a spouse.” This may be, as some social sciences argue culturally conditioned. But that doesn’t make it any less true for the moment. CNBC noted that “Millennial women are ‘worried,’ ‘ashamed’ of out-earning boyfriends and husbands.” And as one New York magazine article put it:

Indeed, there’s little evidence to show that as women acquire financial muscle, relations between the sexes have evolved successfully to accommodate the new balance of power. Neither the newly liberated alpha women nor their shell-shocked beta spouses seem comfortable with the role reversal.
For women, the shift in economic power gives them new choices, not least among them the ability to reappraise their partner. And husbands, for their part, may find to their chagrin that being financially dependent isn’t exactly a turn-on. According to psychologists (and divorce lawyers) who see couples struggling with such changes, many relationships follow the same pattern. First, the wife starts to lose respect for her husband, then he begins to feel emasculated, and then sex dwindles to a full stop.

To show how powerful this motivator is, a brand new report from the Census Bureau finds that married couples lie on their Census surveys if the wife out earns the husband, increasing the husband’s actual income and reducing the wife’s.

Higher education also seems to be important. A Brookings Institution issue brief from 2015 called “Is there a shortage of marriageable men?” notes, “Breaking down marriage markets by education reveals another surprising fact: college-educated women are those facing the greatest shortage of men. This is the result of women’s rising education levels relative to men.” Note the implication of this: it’s assumed a college-educated woman won’t marry a lower social class man without a degree.

Women want is at least equal if not higher status men to her in education. Hypergamy is one of the reasons gender equality has led to some unhappiness in the dating scene. A Christianity Today article called “How the Dating Scene Became Stacked Against Women” makes a similar assumption. Women actually are marrying lesser-educated men today. There is a demographic gender gap in college attendance. College attendance skews 60/40 favoring women. This demographic change is having real effects and makes being a successful man very attractive.

With men and women having different measures of physical attractiveness, it’s certainly possible for both to marry up in a sense. But my impression is that, if you reduced people’s total package to a single number, such as on the classic 1-10 scale, generally women would ideally like to marry up and get the best man they can or at least most certainly not marry down. That is, women want at a minimum an assortative match, preferably a hypergamous one.

The previous installments in this series go through a lot of background and information, so please do read them.

  1. Masc #17: The Basis of Attraction
  2. Masc #19: Women and the Attractiveness Curve
  3. Masc #21: The Tragic Landscape of Modern Relationships
  4. Masc #23: Marrying Up

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