More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Comment: I'm not sure I agree with the generality of the conclusions in this story but it's an interesting finding, and may have some implications not only for intimate relationships in general but perhaps also for domestic violence issues. -- David Baxter

Men Avoid Marrying Strong Women
Dec 10, 2004

Finding supports anecdotal evidence and reinforces evolutionary theory of human mate selection

Men don't want to marry powerful women, shows a new study that supports anecdotal evidence and reinforces evolutionary theories of human mate selection.

The study highlights the importance of relational dominance in mate selection and discusses the evolutionary utility of male concerns about mating with dominant females.

"These findings provide empirical support for the widespread belief that powerful women are at a disadvantage in the marriage market because men may prefer to marry less accomplished women," says social psychologist and study lead author Stephanie Brown of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Subordinate attraction
With the help of a grant from the US National Institute of Mental Health, Brown and coauthor Brian Lewis from the University of California, Los Angeles tested 120 male and 208 female undergraduates by asking them to rate their attraction and desire to affiliate with a man and a woman they were said to know from work.

"Imagine that you have just taken a job and that Jennifer (or John) is your immediate supervisor (or your peer, or your assistant)," study participants were told as they were shown a photo of a male or a female.

After seeing the photo and hearing the description of the person's role at work in relation to their own, participants were asked to use a nine-point scale (in which one is not at all, and nine is very much) to rate the extent to which they would enjoy going to a party with Jennifer or John, exercising with the person, dating the person and marrying the person.

Brown and Lewis found that males, but not females, were most strongly attracted to subordinate partners for high-investment activities such as marriage and dating.

Cautious investors
"Our results demonstrate that male preference for subordinate women increases as the investment in the relationship increases," says Brown. "This pattern is consistent with the possibility that there were reproductive advantages for males who preferred to form long-term relationships with relatively subordinate partners.

"Given that female infidelity is a severe reproductive threat to males only when investment is high, a preference for subordinate partners may provide adaptive benefits to males in the context of only long-term, investing relationships—not one-night stands."

According to Brown, the findings are consistent with earlier research showing that expressions of vulnerability enhance female attractiveness. "Our results also provide further explanation for why males might attend to dominance-linked characteristics of women such as relative age or income, and why adult males typically prefer partners who are younger and make less money."

The research is reported in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior (read abstract).

Daniel E.
On the flip side, an extremely strong "alpha female" may not want marriage anyway:

"Alpha female is pretty exceptional," says columnist Polly Toynbee. "There are not a whole lot of people trying to be like her, whereas there are a lot of men behaving in the same way, clambering over each other to reach the top of the tree. Those women who do get to the top are mavericks, hybrids and deny that they are like other women. Women do not like alpha female very much, nor do they want to be like her. Women want to be liked, which holds them back.

Achievement is the focus of alpha female's life; anything else is secondary. She does not obsess about relationships. She is dominant: if she married alpha male, there would be a bloodbath. Novelist Fay Weldon sees alpha female running corporations, paying little or no attention to the domestic sphere...
Is there any such thing as an alpha female?
An "alpha female" sounds like it would be counter-productive in evolutionary terms because no one would want to mate with her. This would likely account for the relative rarity of the personality type.

I think the theory in the article makes sense, since humans are in fact animals and I think we cannot discount the role that primitive animal like ways can influence human behaviours. I think there is somewhat of an arrogant assumption that humans are beyond that.
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