Friday, April 29, 2011

Everybody Knows That Men Marry Looks And Women Marry Money And Why.

Yes. Everybody knows that men marry women with good looks and that women marry men with resources, and that this is because of what took place in the area of evolutionary adaptations a long time ago somewhere on the African savanna!

I hate stuff like that, because what "everybody knows" is not based on any actual evidence of the prehistoric origins of hypergamy for women but not for men. In other words, women want to marry "up" in terms of resources because that provides for their future children best. What the guy looks like is immaterial and how old he is is also immaterial! As evidence people argue that Rush Limbaugh has had several wives and he is ugly as hell.

What made me irritated enough to write about this again were the comments to a David Sirota article about gender differences in how obesity is treated in the US. He argues that men get a pass when it comes to societal disapproval of fat.

Alas, the article itself stirs me less than comments like this (to be found attached to Sirota's piece)*:
The reason fat men don't matter is simple and goes to our biology, women have to be beautiful and men have to be rich.
Cassie is unrepentant about dating rich men. “Of course it is much better to sleep with men with lots of money,” said the 27-year-old lawyer from London.
“Any girl who tells you different is lying. Rich men are powerful and successful and confident and charismatic. They know what they want, and they go out and get it. That translates to being fantastic in bed.”
Cassie is living proof of the latest scientific discovery about human sexuality: that the number and frequency of a woman’s orgasms is directly related to her partner’s wealth.
Her explanation is simple. “Women don’t want to lie back and think of the gas bill,” she said. “It’s a lot more fun to have sex in the Ritz than the Swindon Travelodge. And to be ripping off Rigby & Peller underwear than M&S knickers.”
Wealthy men give women more orgasms.

The study that is referred to is something I have discussed on this blog. But note that firm statement at the beginning of the comment about it all having to do with biology! Women go for money, men go for looks, and that is how it is.

You can prove it by looking at the orgasmic frequencies of women married to poor and rich men in China under its current capitalist turmoil which leaves some people with nothing but stress and heaps others with all they wish, and then you can find an anecdote (a lawyer!) to prove a point about "women" and "men" in general.

Biology. Where does the idea that these particular mating habits are biological come from? From evolutionary psychology (ep), naturally. But the story told there doesn't actually bear closer scrutiny very well:

Suppose that those prehistoric women did want to mate with men who somehow had more resources, just as the evolutionary psychologists of a certain stripe assume that men wanted to mate with women who had more resources in terms of youth and high fertility. What would those male resources have consisted of? The tribes in the hypothetical area of evolutionary adaptation were presumably nomadic. What wealth do nomads have?

It seems to me that any resources in those hypothetical days would have been embodied ones, for both sexes. A woman might have been more interested in a man who could hunt well, was healthy, young and still strong, just as a man might have been more interested in a young and healthy woman. I see no clear advantage in mating with an older man under those conditions if the advantage is to be viewed through the eyes of maximizing the likelihood that one has children AND that those children grow into adulthood in order to have children themselves.

So my evo-psycho theory would be that in a nomadic society of the type ep commonly specifies women would look for young and fit men. That is not Rush Limbaugh, and that is not marrying money. Can the incentives to marry money be explained in other ways?

I can think of at least two very obvious explanations, though they are intertwined.

First, women have traditionally not had the same opportunities to amass wealth as men have. Childbearing and child-rearing have handicapped women in this particular competition, societal norms about women's proper place (at home) have exacerbated the problem and, lest we forget altogether, laws everywhere tended to make sure that daughters couldn't inherit as much as sons, guilds excluded women from most trades and married women lost control of any property they had (and any income they earned) for the duration of the marriage.

All this left only one common way for women to better their social position: marriage. There's no need to assume that the desire to marry "up" is in women's genes when historical explanations suffice.

And even though the laws no longer restrict women from amassing wealth, the societal norms about child-rearing still do, general societal norms and myths change slowly and it is still hard in many countries for women to acquire wealth except through marriage. As long as women are, on average, poorer than men we are going to observe more female hypergamy than male hypergamy.

The second explanation is in some sense the same as the first one, though it looks at the situation from a different angle. Return to that hypothetical area of evolutionary adaptations and put your ep glasses back on. The story we are usually told is that men in those days struggled hard to get resources so that they could attract those young nubile Barbie-lookalikes for some dating and mating. Forget about the tribes being nomadic and pretend that the men wore backpacks with goodies inside them.

Only the most successful men got access to the Barbies, and, presto!, we have all descended from those alpha males, the ones with the heaviest backpacks.

And from those fairly mindless gold-digger Barbies.

That's how the story is written in the most inane ep versions (the ones I abbreviate to EP), and it is intended to explain, among other things, why men are so much more energetic, ambitious and creative than us poor women.

You see, almost all women got to pass their genes on without any struggle (no, pregnancy wasn't hard in those days, and in fact children popped out of the vulvas already fertile and ready for another round of mating right away, so the fact that women didn't compete at all or evolve very much was of no great consequence). But only alpha males got to pass their genes on!

How the EP guyz know that it was the alpha males whose genes they now carry I do not know. No woman has ever had a bit of nookie on the side, for instance, and no woman has ever been adulterous or exhibited any other mate choice except that for the imagined alphas of EP. (Who am I kidding? Even chimpanzee females mate with anyone they can get hold of when in heat.)

But I digress. To return to the second explanation, the EP story wants to stress how men have an incentive to climb the societal ladders but women do not. What they don't appear to see is that women do exactly the same when they marry money, that women show rather strong tendencies towards the very same kind of societal climbing that presumably underlies the reason why women don't need to scale those ladders. It is just that women have been limited in the tools they can use in furthering their social ambitions.

Would women marry for resources in a world where men and women earn roughly equal amounts and where child-rearing responsibilities are equally shared? I doubt it.

If I had to guess between the rather caricatured motives: looks vs. resources, I'd pick the former by a large margin in such a world. Women would choose their partners on fairly similar grounds to those men use. But of course neither men nor women mostly marry for looks or money but for much more complicated and, well, human reasons: Shared values, shared interests, friendship and kindness.

There. That is the post I wrote, instead of the one I planned to write on Sirota's article. Maybe later.
*For a second example in the same vein:
This 70's feminist version of society is all wrong
Men are judged by success, women are judged by looks. It's as simple as that. No man ever slept with a woman because of the car she drove, but women do that all the time. This is of course all romantic notions aside, just basic lust and status. Men and women are equally shallow, just about different things. Men are shallow about boobs and waists, women are shallow about status/comfort/wealth/success.
So the reason fat successful men don't care if they're fat isn't because of chauvinist culture, it's because they can still attract women based on their success, and they don't *have* to be as physically attractive to be successful in attracting the opposite sex. There's no chauvinism, oppression, or brainwashing involved. It's just the basics of how men and women work.
There ya go.