A new study reveals that when college-age men believed that women were scarce in the local population they were much more willing to spend more, save less and extend their borrowing in order to impress.
Researchers from the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management found that males, when faced with the challenge of competing for the few females available, acted impulsively in order to win over a potential mate.
Specifically, men who believed the population had fewer females were willing to pay $278 more for an engagement ring than men who didn't know of the lack of ladies.
Vladas Griskevicius, assistant professor of marketing and lead author of the study, drew a comparison between human males and males in the animal kingdom. "We see in other animals that when females are scarce, males become more competitive," he said. "What you find in humans is that men often compete through money, through status and through products."
Griskevicius said the men in the study were unaware that the sex ratios were affecting their financial decisions. "Economics tells us that humans make decisions by carefully thinking through our choices, but some of our behaviors are much more reflexive and subconscious. When we see that there are more men than women in our environment, it automatically changes our desires, our behaviors and our entire psychology."
In one part of the study, researchers asked male participants to read news articles, some of which stated that the local population had more males and some that stated the opposite.
Then the participants were asked how much money they were willing to save per paycheck and how much they were willing to borrow from credit cards. The men who believed that women were scarce saved 42% less and borrowed 84% more than the group who believed there was an abundance of women in the community.
In a second part of the study, participants viewed photos and were told the people in the photos were singles in their neighborhood. They were then asked whether they would like to receive $35 tomorrow or $45 in 33 days. The men who felt as if there were a shortage of women opted for the immediate gratification of taking $35 the next day – even though the more reasonable decision would have been to choose the second option.
The research, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, revealed that although sex ratios didn't affect women's financial choices, it did affect their expectations. When women believed there were fewer women in the local population, they expected men to spend more on dates, gifts and engagement rings.
"When there's a scarcity of women, women felt men should go out of their way to court them," said Griskevicius.