Hypergamy: Fact or Fiction?

The popular belief that women always marry up sounds like a crude stereotype. I’ve seen numerous men’s websites claiming that hypergamy drives women’s long-term romatic choices, but rarely is any evidence presented.

Studies such as the University of Wales finding that women are significantly more attracted to man when he’s sitting in a Bentley may be simplistic. But speed dating studies confirm that men go for looks and women go for social status.

Yet women often deny this, stating that they choose romantic partners based on the who the person is deep inside.

Men pretty much admit it’s about T&A.

In another study, researchers found that (surprise!) there’s a gap between what people say they want and what they actually go for. The researchers found that,

…women, who were generally much more discriminating than men, chose men whose overall desirability as a mate matched the women’s self-perceived physical attractiveness.


In other words, women are relatively good at judging their attractiveness and how high up the male status hierarchy they can go.

And men tend to think they’re better looking than they really are. This may not entirely be men’s fault, however. The researchers found that men have a more expansive perception of female beauty, and falsely assume women are less judgmental than men.

In reality, women have a more limited perception of male beauty. This is consistent with OkCupid’s poll of online date seekers, which found that women rate 80% of men as below average looking, but men’s ratings of women follow a classic bell curve. (Though men still focus most of their online attention on the hottest women.)

So much for the stereotype that men are shallower when it comes to looks. The kernel of truth in this stereotype is that physical appearance easily trumps all else for men. But though looks are more important for women, they also want a man with high social status and a great personality.

In sum, women are far choosier than men because they have the power to be choosier.

The researchers conclude that,

…actual mate choices is very much in line with the evolutionary predictions of parental investment theory.


And it’s not just American women. Dr David Buss from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor compiled studies by 50 researchers, which include over 10,000 people from 33 countries on every inhabited continent. The conclusion: women everywhere prefer men “who show cues of resource possession or resource acquisition potential”.

That it’s universal for women to go for high status men – income being the key indicator – actually puts pressure on men to maintain the gender pay gap.

But the statistic that women earn 77 cents to a man’s dollar is notoriously without nuance. For example, it fails to compare the same job for the same job, and the gap shrinks to 93 cents when one does that.

More importantly, that American women, according to the Federal Reserve, possess 51.3% of US wealth demonstrates a significant earnings transfer from men to women. Moreover, it’s claimed that women control over three-quarters of consumer spending, though the source and veracity of this claim is disputed.

Further, never married women without children earn 108 cents compared to single, childless men, indicating that women’s career and family choices rather than employer discrimination are responsible for the pay gap.

The usual response is that women aren’t choosing freely but instead are following the dictates of gender role expectations. But a study by Dr Catherine Hakim from the London School of Economics found that a fifth of women want to be homemakers and a fifth of women prioritize career. The remaining 60% of women want to work outside the home, but they don’t see their job as a priority (see table 2).

Millennial women are much more ambitious than their elders, however. Pew Research found that Millennials are the first generation where more women than men say career and high income are priorities. Complicating this, however, young men are significantly more interested than young women in being the boss someday. Nonetheless, young women in big cities earn more than their male peers.

At the same time, Millennial women say marriage is much more important to them compared to GenX women when they were the same age – but the opposite is true for men.