Monday, January 23, 2012

When Women Are Few

A lot of women take offense when behavioral economists declare that are a “resource.”

Not unreasonably, we should say.

Yet, researchers in this field claim that men who are courting women behave differently depending on whether women are a scarce or an abundant resource. Links here and here.

It should not come as too much of a surprise. On college campuses today, where there is often a surfeit of women to men, men feel no real need to spend a lot of money to court a woman.

For their part women are willing to do what it takes to please men, regardless of the man’s attention.

Many women consider these behaviors to smack of desperation. 

Recent studies have claimed that the opposite is also true. When there are fewer women than men, men are obliged to work harder to impress women. When women are scarce each one is less apt to settle for the first man who comes along. She will be more choosy, will demand and receive more respect and better treatment.

When women are scarce men will compete compete for young women's favors by spending more money on them. They will even go into debt to shower women with gifts, the better to convince these women of their serious intent.

Fewer women translates into male profligacy while more women means male parsimony. A culture where there are more women than men is a culture that presumably has no problem going into serious debt.

American universities notwithstanding very few cultures have more women than men. Today, in many parts of the world, especially in Asia, the balance between men and women is skewed by the practice of sex-selection abortion. That would suggest, according to the behavioral economics model, that men in those cultures are profligate spenders. 

But this is not quite what happens. In China a one-child policy accompanied by sex-selection abortion has produced a demographic where eligible young men seriously outnumber eligible young women.

The researchers dutifully note that this does not cause young Chinese men to spend more on courtship. They do not throw money at women; they do not borrow money to take women to fancy clubs.

Not at all. In truth, the relative paucity of available females makes these men more likely to save their money than to spend it.

If we were being rational here, we would be saying that the behavior of Chinese men disproves the initial hypothesis, namely that a scarcity of women causes men to become more profligate.

At the least, we need to modify it.

Putting behavioral economics aside it seems that the men who tend to borrow and spend in order to impress women are more show than substance while Chinese men are more substance than show.

To some extent these different attitudes have something to do with the way women value themselves. A woman who lives in a community where there are many more women than men might be induced to behave in a certain way. But she is not obliged to do so. 

Community values certainly have an influence here. 

And then there is this issue. Let's say that American college men tend to be parsimonious because women are in abundant supply. They are also not saving their money to attract a better wife. 

It may be the case that an abundance of women discourages marriage. If there are so many wonderful available women around, why settle for just one. 

So, these men do not need to spend money on women. Are they saving and investing? Not at all. I if they do not need to accumulate wealth in order to attract a wife, they are going out and spending the money on themselves.

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