Evolutionary pyschology: Where Nice Guys® go for grant money
Echidne and Figleaf are both posting on a study by Daniel Kruger that supposedly proves that women can’t help it, but our very genes tell us to rip off our clothes and hop on someone’s cock the second we realize that he’s in a higher tax bracket than average. Nothing gets the motor of deceitful, shallow females running like a jerk with cash, don’t you know? Is it me, or is the entire field of evolutionary psychology being run by Nice Guys® with ulterior motivations? Maybe it would be a more respectable field if they were able to get rid of the Nice Guys®.
Echidne dismantles the statistical methods of the study, and suggests that papers that “prove” nasty stereotypes about men and women tend to be held to a much lower standard of evidence than other studies. Figleaf points out that this study and most like it use “reproductive success” as a scientific-sounding stand-in for “more sexual partners”, which glosses over the fact that contraception might make more sexual partners available for rich men than there would be in the past. Of course, this is evo psychology, so we have to assume that women are thoughtless animals whose sexual choices are all instinctual, and therefore who can’t be assumed to increase their own sexual activity when protected by contraception. (We have much better statistical evidence to show how not true that is, which is why right wingers aren’t wrong to say that reproductive rights equals more sexual freedom. They’re just wrong to be such whiny, resentful, begrudging babies about it.) They both have good points, but I want to make another one that I think is more basic and will demonstrate why these sorts of conclusions about instinct over rational choices made in environments are doomed from the beginning. From the first page of the study:
Cross-culturally, male economic power is directly related to reproductive success. Displays of wealth and social status are an important part of human male mating effort. The degree of male financial consumption may be related to variance in life history strategies, as differences in life history patterns are fundamentally differences in the allocation of effort and/or resources. Males who have higher mating intentions may maximize their economic displays, saving little and even spending beyond their capacity through the use of credit. These men may seek and possibly obtain a greater number of sexual partners.
You know, I won’t even disagree that men who have more wealth and show it off more probably have more sexual partners. You could prove that over and over and over again. You can do it in cross-cultural studies. But you haven’t done a damn thing to prove that it’s instinctual instead of socially induced behavior, no matter how many times you do it, or how many cultures you bring in. Because no matter what you do, you’re just comparing apples to apples, or in this case, patriarchies to patriarchies. Unless you can include non-existent cultures that have complete liberation for women and complete economic equality, all you’re proving is that in cultures where one sex is at an economic disadvantage to the other, the sex with the economic advantage can leverage it on the dating market. That’s it. You’ve proven that women don’t make as much money on average as men, which any feminist or government statistician could have told you.
If you approach these data sets assuming that women have more intelligence on average than dumb guinea pigs, you’ll realize that women see what should be obvious to anyone, that they’re at an economic disadvantage due to their gender. And that sexual interaction with men who have more resources means improving your lifestyle in any number of ways. Marriage to a rich man means you get rich. But even middle class working women do better by marrying those middle class working men who make 25% more than they do. Moreover, both sexes are attracted to people who do well by themselves, and a measure of that for men is wealth. (And increasingly for women, but as Echidne points out, the conveniently forgot to study whether or not financially successful women get laid more. The results might inconveniently disprove the evo psych theory that women don’t bring brains or social status to the table, just boobs.)
But there are a lot more measures of success and popularity than just wealth. Wealth is easy to measure, but by only looking at that, evo psychologist are coming to the wrong conclusion, that women are attracted to resources. I propose that it’s more subtle. Women (and men) are attracted to a whole lot of things, and confidence and status are two of those things. But women (and men) are also rational creatures that make choices that might include disqualifying anyone from their dating pool who doesn’t have employment. (And if you think unemployed women do as well as employed women on the dating market, you have another thing coming.) But on the attraction level, there’s a lot more to status than mere measurable cash. I bet people in sexier professions get laid more than people in more staid ones. I’ll bet being a locally known musician or artist means you get a lot more attention than someone with a fatter wallet who works in computer consulting, but doesn’t have a “name”. I bet you’d find that’s true of men and women, if they ever bothered to study anything that might have a chance of disproving Nice Guy® theories about irrational women and cynical men.