Male scarcity at university affects female career and family goals.
As the number of available men decreases, the number of females pursuing higher education and a lucrative career path increases, says research from the University of Texas at Austin (UTSA) and the University of Minnesota (UM) has found. Researcher Kristina Durante, PhD, assistant professor of marketing at UTSA and study coauthor Vlad Griskevicius, assistant professor of marketing at UM, examined the mating, educational, and career habits of college students. Durante kindly answered some questions, exclusively for demodirt.com, about this fascinating finding.
demodirt.com: What inspired you to examine the connection between women’s career/family plans, and scarcity of men?
Durante: Much research in animals shows that the mating environment—such as the ratio of males to females—has large effects on animal behavior. Yet almost no research in humans has even considered whether sex ratio might affect human behavior.
I thought the mating market (i.e., how easy or difficult it is to find a long-term, investing mate) might have something to do with women’s career ambitions because women—the only sex capable of gestating and providing early nutrition for children—often make a critical trade-off between raising children or pursuing a career.
demodirt.com: What was the biggest surprise of your research?
Durante: One of the most fascinating things is that women’s perceptions of the mating market (and not their perceptions of job opportunities) were driving their career ambitions. And, cues to the local sex ratio influences behavior unconsciously. For example, none of the hundreds of women in the studies ever noticed that the ratio of men and women was having any effect on their motivations. Instead, women who were exposed to a scarcity of men simply felt ambitious. Our findings suggest that some of this ambition is related to the ratio of men to women in the woman's environment.
demodirt.com: Did you find any demographic differences—such as differences in age, geographical region, SES, race/religion/ethnic background, or another characteristic—in terms of when women settled down versus pursued a career?
Durante: We didn’t find any demographic differences but our laboratory studies were carried out on college women – most of whom came from Western, higher SES families. We did find, however, that women who perceived themselves to be less desirable to men were especially likely to be motivated to pursue a high-paying career when there were fewer men around.
demodirt.com: What do you think the family/career pattern would be like for men if women were scarce?
Durante: That is an interesting question. My prediction would be that men would become much more family oriented and would desire to get married and have children sooner than usual. In other words, if women were scarce we’d see a lot fewer men following a love-them-and-leave-them strategy like George Clooney. Men would have to meet the demands of the scarce sex and most women prefer long-term, faithful partnerships.
demodirt.com: What is the takeaway message of this research?
Durante: The take-away is that there are likely many factors that influence women’s career choice and the mating market appears to be one of them. Historically humans have solved the problem of raising dependent offspring by pair-bonding with a partner (e.g., through marriage) whereby men (who couldn’t provide nutrition or gestate children) typically provided material resources (e.g., food, money) and women typically provide direct care to children. Now, women have more options and if they are unlikely to find an investing spouse, this appears to motivate them toward high-paying, high-investment careers. A scarcity of men may also lend itself to motivating women toward careers in science and technology – an area that has historically been dominated by men.
demodirt.com: What has public reaction to this research been like?
Durante: The reaction has been mixed. This research has definitely stirred the pot which I think is a good thing. It is hard for some to understand these findings especially in the context of our modern life and the advances women have made. Certainly women do not realize that sex ratio or one’s marriage prospects are driving career choice because they are doing so at a nonconscious level. Our brains are equipped to navigate a social world much different from the one we currently find ourselves in. Women are the only sex capable of enabling reproduction through gestation and nursing and women’s psychology is built to successfully navigate this challenge. If we can’t depend on pair-bonding with a man for resources, we have to do so on our own. Today, women have more options and one of them is to climb the corporate ladder ourselves.
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