hy·per·ga·my (hīˈpərɡəmē)

n. the action of marrying a person of a superior class or caste.

What is Hypergamy?

Hypergamy is the term social scientists use to refer to the phenomenon of women prioritizing wealth or social status in mate selection. Hypergamy is commonly referred to as trading or marrying up. There is a great deal of research that supports the notion that hypergamy plays a big part in female mate selection. Awareness of this female mating preference has caused a moral panic that upon consideration reveals itself as unjustified.

What Explains Hypergamy?

The two best explanations for hypergamy come from evolutionary psychology and social learning theory.

What is Hypergamy – Evolutionary Psychology’s View

Evolutionary psychology’s explanation contends that hypergamy is a psychological tendency created by evolutionary adaptation. The evolutionary advantages for mating with males that are in societally advantageous positions are clear: men in socially advantageous positions are better positioned to produce offspring that will thrive. If the explanation from evolutionary psychology is correct, then females are naturally predisposed to find males of higher social or economic status more attractive.

What is Hypergamy – Social Learning Theory’s View

Social learning theory’s explanation for hypergamy assumes that the preference for higher status men is learned rather than inherited. There are several ways social learning theory can account for hypergamy. Most commonly, accounts of trading up based on social learning theory conclude that women prefer well-to-do men because of sex-based social inequalities. Essentially, women learn to prefer men of higher status because they develop in a society where they experience little opportunity for upward mobility.

Data exist that support explanations from both evolutionary psychology and social learning theory. Meaning, there are reasons to believe that the explanation from evolutionary psychology or social learning theory, or more likely some mix of the two, is correct.

Is Hypergamy Bad?

The most common gripe levied against hypergamy is that it is equivalent to “gold digging.” Gold digging is slang for when a person forms a relationship purely to extract money from their partner. However, if the evidence that suggests that women value men of higher economic or social class is correct, there is a clear divide between conventional hypergamy and gold digging. If women genuinely value wealth and social status in mate selection, then marrying up is merely an expression of preference. Is a woman’s preference for financially or socially successful men worse than any other set of criteria for mate selection? It appears not. For example, it seems arbitrary to think negatively of women being attracted to social status while being comfortable with women being attracted to physical beauty.

When carefully considered, it is difficult to pick out what exactly makes some people view hypergamy negatively. This difficulty is further highlighted when considering the effects of hypergamy on relevant parties. The primary stakeholders to consider when evaluating hypergamy are the women trading up, and the men they desire.

The female’s perspective

As previously mentioned, from the hypergamic female’s perspective, trading up is an expression of preference. While outsiders may view a female that is attracted to successful men as “in it for the money,” those that are attracted to successful men do not. When a woman trades up, they do so because of a genuine attraction that happens to be due to economic or social status.

The desired man’s perspective

The desired man who forms a relationship with a hypergamic female is doing so because he is attracted to that female. The desired man acts upon his preferences when it comes to women just as the hypergamic female acts upon her preferences when it comes to men. It just so happens that men generally highly value physical attractiveness while women generally highly value economic and social status as well as physical attractiveness. While outsiders may view a man that decides to form a relationship with a hypergamic female as being taken advantage of, that assumption is misguided. The desired man is in a position to select a mate that satisfies his preferences because he possesses desirable traits.

What is a Suitable Response to Hypergamy?

Opposed to vilifying women who engage in hypergamy and men that benefit from it, view trading up as one solution the complex problem of mate selection.

Moral outrage in response to hypergamy is a shortsighted response towards a naturally occurring and largely beneficial phenomenon. There is nothing wrong with an adult woman acting upon her natural preference for successful men, and there is nothing wrong with an adult man enjoying a relationship with a woman who is attracted to his status.

An ideal relationship is a mutually beneficial arrangement between two people. Women should be empowered to seek relationships that satisfy their preferences. Hypergamy is a healthy and natural human phenomenon that can lead to long-lasting, harmonious relationships.

Relationships on Your Terms®