Liza Mundy, a writer for The Washington Post, has a new book out: The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners is Transforming Sex, Love, and Family. In it she discusses the rise of women in the workplace and the inevitability of female dominance. She predicts that by 2025, more than half the primary breadwinners in America will be female. What does this mean for the country, in terms of romantic relationships? Will women be happy with this role? How will men respond? Will marriage decline if men begin to feel emasculated or unnecessary?
And, on the minds of many: Will female hypergamy – the practice of marrying into an equal or more prestigious social group or caste – come to an end? Traditionally, women have been the ones to “marry up,” for reasons such as necessity, desire, social pressure, and self-validation. But with the rise of women in society, namely the working world and education, less women are turning to marriage as a means of survival or for purposes of self-esteem. I happen to think this is a good thing, but surely, for every action there is a reaction. One unintended consequence of rising females is the decline of males, which may mean an end to hypergamy, or perhaps even a reversal – male hypergamy. Unfortunately, that possibility doesn’t sit well with many women, at least not for the time being. The fairer sex still wants to partner up with men of similar or greater financial and educational prospects. Trouble is: that pool of men is shrinking. Can women’s hypergamous instincts thus be tamed? Will women eventually embrace the concept of “dating down?” Or will they choose a life of bachelorettehood rather than feel like they’re settling for men of lower status.
As a dating and relationship pundit, I’ve started to see the very real effects of this modern-day dilemma on men and women. Take Boston, for example. A recent survey conducted by Glamour magazine and Match.com found that Boston women are the unhappiest in the country. Sure, it may have to do with the fact that 1 out of 8 Boston men expect sex on the first date – another finding of that survey – but another guess is that it might have something to do with the growing number of accomplished, well-educated women in the city and the decreasing pool of similarly accomplished, well-educated men.
When I posted a link to Susan Walsh’s blog entry on the subject of hypergamy to my facebook page, a man by the name of Tom responded with some very thoughtful feedback. I appreciated having a male perspective, and Tom’s comments were so insightful that I asked him if I could publish our back-and-forth on Blast. Here was our conversation about hypergamy, male-female relations, Game, the future of marriage, and other such topics.
What do you have to add to the discussion?
Tom: Two quick observations:
- Hypergamous instincts are not based exclusively on career success but more broadly on social dominance and “demonstration of higher value” (DHV). Beneath the cheesy scripts and peacock routines, this is the essential proposition that undergirds the whole “Game”/PUA mentality and how it’s supposed to work (if it does work). That sounds nebulous, but when discussing sexual attraction, nebulous factors often come into play.
- Discussions of how mating/relationship/marriage norms are changing need to accept the possibility that, for many, “failure” is most definitely an option, meaning that there is no cosmic rule that says that everyone is eventually going to partner up happy, succeed in the mating game, whatever. The majority of adults are already unmarried and while that might change on an individual level for many, no law says it has to. We may end up moving to a new norm of what inter-gender personal relationships end up looking like. I think this was the point that Kate Bolick was trying to make several months ago, in her critique of “singlism,” and it remains valid. If the social norm doesn’t match human realities and desires, I’d expect the former to change more readily than the latter.
Neely Steinberg: You make some great points. 1) My feeling re: Game/PUA is that the techniques/mentality have become so mainstream that they are less effective. Many women can smell them from a mile away, but I do think they can come in handy, to an extent, for Beta types who have a hard time making connections with women. Also, I think younger women are more prone to falling for Game; older women don’t have the time, desire or energy to deal with feigned displays of DHV. Of course, self-confidence is sexy and we love it, but when we realize it comes from a playbook, we aren’t so interested. At this juncture, hypergamy is still instinctual for most females, but perhaps 50 years from now societal shifts will drown out that instinct. Will be interesting to watch and see. 2) I think you’re right: Moving forward, “failure” to get married or couple up is a valid option, although we probably won’t look at it as failure anymore. I do think there are dangerous implications, though, to having less married people, specifically for children. But perhaps I will be convinced otherwise if it becomes the accepted societal norm for all groups (white, black, rich, poor, etc.).
Tom: Re (1): I agree that the corpus of techniques and scripts promulgated by Game proponents has likely become somewhat stale but I always viewed that as the less-important part of that philosophy (as well as being kind of lame anyway), as compared to the overall mindset and objective of the effort, namely, to teach men with difficulty in that area to develop a better sense of self-confidence and ability to “sell” themselves, as well as to “de-pedestalize” and demystify women and the nature of female attraction in the eyes of such men. I think that the techniques were mostly there as sort of a set of “training wheels” anyway for the less secure, less naturally self-confident, and more “beta” or introverted of men to get a start on things. The ultimate goal probably is and should be for men to actually LEARN to be more self-confident and to promote themselves better, rather than to merely find a way to act as though they are, but “fake it until you make it” can perhaps be a viable means to that end. Game in any case at least always predicated itself on relying on an objective analysis of what works and how attraction is generation, so one could expect that the body of actual techniques, if one is concerned about such things, would evolve and develop to meet current social realities.
I guess whether hypergamy becomes less relevant or not depends on one’s view of its etiology. If it’s some sort of deeply-rooted evolutionary instinct (as a lot of the Game people claim), then it may prove highly-resistant to any sort of fundamental change, at least within anything less than an evolutionary timeframe (probably significantly longer than 50 years), though the means by which that instinct is expressed and manifested certainly probably will change as the social outlets by which it can express itself do (I have no idea what one might expect such social norms may look like in 50 years, given both the rapid state of flux they seem to be in, and the fact that an observer from 50 years ago probably wouldn’t have been able to predict the current situation very well).
Re (2): control over biology and child-bearing and -rearing is an important issue there. Human beings gaining control over that process over the last half-century will probably prove to be one of the most revolutionary biological and social changes in human history. The current debates and controversy over contraception are taking place with that as a backdrop. Hopefully, both the technology and the access to it will advance to the point that child-bearing will be able to take place in stable and supportive environments (which might mean in families oriented around two-person marriage, or around some other arrangements that provide similar material and social support to children, again I won’t try to predict what options people may come up with 50 years hence). We face the risk that raising well cared-for and parented children may become a preserve of the rich or others with the personal or social resources to invest in the project, something that’s maybe already becoming an issue with marriage right now becoming a preserve of the upper class, but that won’t make it any different than a lot of other class divisions we already have to deal with (and which would call for a broader battery of solutions beyond either family norms or reproductive technology).
Also re hypergamy: I think both sexes are, to an extent, hypergamous. I don’t know of many heterosexual men who would not prefer to find women who are hot, kind, smart, and accomplished, probably roughly in that order, even if they’re “marrying (or partnering) up.” Where perhaps things get complicated is in the dynamics of a relationship where one’s self-image, and probably one’s image as imputed to the eyes of their partner by comparison, are affected or potentially placed in question.
Neely Steinberg: Completely agree that Game is helpful to men in that way, 100 percent. And yes, fake it until you make it, can be a viable option until you actually start to believe it, which I suppose would be the end goal – not just getting the girl, otherwise old habits and insecurities are more likely to seep back in. I’m not sure if Game alone is enough to accomplish a total transformation, but it can help, and it’s a good start because it forces men to come out of their shells, demystifies women, and forces men to “do” and experiment; it’s not enough to just think – one has to act and through repeated action one builds self-esteem. And yes, depends on how you view hypergamy – if it’s instinctual, societal changes will probably do little, and a push for change (i.e. social engineering) may do more harm than good. If hypergamy is a societal imperative, it can be more easily manipulated. Conservatives would do well, IMO, to embrace same-sex marriage – if their goal is a return, if that’s even possible, to more stable family environments. For the benefit of our children and the betterment of civil society, they should be encouraging two-parent homes, no matter the gender of the parents. That two human beings are willing to create a stable, loving home for children is what is important. At this point, the sexual liberation movement seems to have benefitted the well-heeled more than other socioeconomic classes, simply because the rich have the resources to, as you say, invest in the project. Currently, only a small percentage of highly educated men and women choose to stay unmarried and have kids on their own. I don’t see that changing for a while but who knows what will happen. It’s sort of a separate-but-equal scenario that actually has dire consequences for the less fortunate.
Tom: Agree with all of the above. I think that the current social conservative reaction (represented by, e.g.: Rick Santorum, et al) is a case of doing the wrong thing for the right reason, or at least I’m willing to be at least that charitable with regards to some of that camp’s motivations, or at least those of its supporters. I think they’ve correctly assessed that current family and sexual norms are in a state of flux (I’d not quite use the word “crisis). Where they go wrong is in thinking that it’s either desirable, or even feasible, to somehow turn the clock back on such norms to 1958 or some other bygone era, rather than working to find more realistic and equitable modern solutions to the problem.