Most academics argue that female mate value can be assessed more accurately from her physical appearance than a male mate value, driving towards a greater emphasis on mate physical appeal in male choice than in female choice. Writers address the role of “Parental Investment” theory and repeatedly claim that men place more emphasis on the physical attractiveness of potential mates than women do, particularly in long-term sexual relationships.
Parental investment (PI), in evolutionary biology, is any parental expenditure (time, energy etc.) that benefits one offspring at a cost to parents’ ability to invest in other components of fitness. Components of fitness include the wellbeing of existing offspring, parents’ future reproduction, and inclusive fitness through aid to kin.
Sexual selection in primitive societies was correlated to parental investment. Females will not only choose males with good fitness and genes, they must search for those with high status and resources and those who indicate interest to invest in the offspring after birth. This is not only relevant in the Homo sapiens but also in the animal kingdom. For instance, the alpha lion will usually be the one who copulates with most if not all the female members of the group. Large amount of resources and territory may be attractive for females because it will secure a healthy environment for their offspring, indicating reproductive success. However, this also suggests that there will be a greater variance of successful mating in males than females. In some insects male parental investment is given in the form of a nuptial gift. For instance, Ornate Moth females receive a spermatophore containing nutrients, sperm and defensive toxins from the male during copulation. This gift, which can account for up to 10% of the male’s body mass, constitutes the total parental investment the male provides. In species where both sexes invest highly in parental care, mutual choosiness is expected to arise. An example of this is seen in Crested Auklets, where parents share equal responsibility in incubating their single egg and raising the chick. In Crested Auklets both sexes are ornamented.
Therefore from this evolutionary perspective, women choose men who are intelligent, physically strong, ambitious, and prestigious. (Feingold, 1992), whereas men place more importance on beauty than women do (Gottschall, Buss & Schmitt, 1993, 1996; Feingold, 1992; Goode, 1996; Landolt, Lalumiers, & Quinsey, 1995). Females choose financial resources when forced to make a trade off between physical attractiveness and financial resources, whereas males tend to trade financial resources for physical beauty (Landolt, Lalumiers, & Quinsey, 1995).Women’s preoccupation would be skewed on socioeconomic status and men’s emphasis would be based on attractiveness (Buss & Schmitt, 1993; 1996).
But obviously that is not our current mating landscape. This theoretical model is outdated because they do not account relaxation of selective pressures in modernized populations – and the most reliable data / investigation agree in all frames of observation (I will discuss this data framework in a next post) – As our world becomes increasingly technologically advanced, we find that the opportunities for selection pressure in human populations fluctuate. The general trend however is that as a society becomes modernized, selective pressures become more relaxed. We see that specific environmental and cultural constraints provide enough variation for selection to act upon, where modern populations have moved away from a rural lifestyle and towards a more technologically orientated and improvement in welfare: medical technology, female involvement in the workforce, social interactions, fertility and mortality rates, etc.
Urbanized societies, such as those in the developed countries, seemingly indicate a strengthening or stabilization of selective pressures. A decrease in fecundity decreases the opportunities for selection but is countered by an increase in survivorship, hyper globalization (internet, social mobility), contraceptives, high demographic rates, irreligiousness, major population urban centers, which increases the selective opportunities. The net effect is that a population progressing toward modernization will progressively relax the selective pressures that influence it. For example, birth and death rates are found to be higher in primitive societies than in industrialized societies. This would indicate that there is a reduction in the opportunity of selection in industrial societies. This relaxation in selection would result in a change in the mean phenotype of a population.
We could summarize that modern women in developed countries are economically independent, freed from the restrictions of their biology by the pill and abortion, following their sexual instincts straight into soft polygamy, state-supported single motherhood, and grossly unjust payday divorce settlements. A great narcissism has flourished, leading women to overvalue themselves so much that they price themselves out of the mating market. Modern women are being choosier and they are increasing their mate standards. Before women entered into the workforce, so main reason that women married wealthy men was for financial support. If money is no longer a necessity, they can look for high phenotypic quality men. In the Western world, gender equality, the sexual revolution, and in particular the advent of the contraceptive pill has given women more freedom when choosing a partner. The contraceptive pill brought about a distinction between childbearing and sexuality, enabling women to choose to be with a partner who suited them but who was not necessarily the most suitable partner to bear children with (usually an older man with a relatively good income).
The pill also gave women the option of delaying childbirth or rejecting the notion of having children altogether. And cougar women are the significantly becoming more common in society. There are also several indicators as to why women are choosing this type of relationship; they are attracted to younger men simply because of their youth and the physical features that accompany youth. In the Western world, women are increasingly of similar education and income levels to men, are taking on senior roles in the workplace, and are gaining more status.
Froman evolutionary point ofview, there are only two quantities of value females can consider in mate choice, genetic benefits (indicated in physical attractiveness), and direct benefits (indicated in investment strategies with respect to material resources, and paternal investment). Clearly humans females have not evolved to ignore their short-term mating instincts (in privileging good genes, indexed by physical attraction), but why it is that nowadays long-term mating concerns (direct benefits) receive less consideration?
The answer is because there is always constant pressure against developmental incompetence – which thus ‘fixes’ shortterm mating instincts throughout evolutionary time. And since these two competing, time-variant, evolutionary strategies are co-evolitionary, long-term mating prevails only with sufficent ecological pressures to temper those shortterm instincts (manifesting through bi-parental advantage – where stable parental-pair bonds accord a competitive advantage to offspring success). This explains the declining success (lagged by the rate of information efficiency) of longterm mating, following from a progessive relaxation of ecological pressures to support its evolutionary advantage (given sufficiently prosperous, modern human societies).
For example, in the past, individual welfare was dependent on more localised support systems that strictly ensured reciprocity resulting in more stable and productive mate-pairings – where each party was rewarded for their contributions, and thus duly motivated to perservere. Males received sexual access to females, and females received some assurance of protection, and provision, for both themselves, and their offspring – and this model soon came to soundly outcompete, and displace, the polygamous antecedents.
Given insufficient, ‘floating’, prosperity, this system was far less tolerant of selfish free-riders (whether in the form of monopolists males, or obstinate hiper-choosy females), and thus limited their frequency accordingly, breeding pragmatic expectations. Of course, since contemporary developed human populations are no longer subject to the same pressures as in the past, it should come as no surprise that expectations have likewise changed.
I’m not even sure the most obstinate single female is naive enough to believe that such men are in abundance – they are simply not willing to compromise their biological mating instincts, no matter how this hinder’s their prospects – they would rather play a lottery. But, I agree with you that mass-communication media has skewed perceptions of normal, with important implications for the evolutionary principle of Koinophilia (ie. contrast this with centuries ago, where rural life was the norm, and expectations were locally ‘bounded’).
I would attribute this to the fact that ecological selection pressures (in prosperous, developed world populations) are now so relaxed, that there is a far greater emphasis on sexual selection as a result (ie. sexual selection pressures have filled the void left by diminishing ecological selection pressures). Because they are less prosperous, these populations are (by necessity) less tolerant of selfish free-riders (mating distributions can be seen as a free-rider problem for evolutionary stability, with implications for sub-replacement fertility, and, in particular the demographic economic paradox), which are the vector of selfish expectations. And this is what we are really observing – a population where there is too much free floating (ie. systemic) prosperity is rife for the indulgence of selfish/biological concerns. Where, in less prosperous systems, increased personal liability *compels* individuals to temper their selfish concerns with rational foresight (ie. no promiscuous single mothers, emboldened by an enabling welfare state). This level of critical apprehension is absent in a sufficiently prosperous population. Ultimately, this is an evolutionary problem of systemic prosperity.
I meant that in evolutionary game theoretic terms, where the evolutionary stability of a population can be perturbed from status quo, and observed in the behavioral trends of a population (such as where choice-sets become significantly skewed over some interval of time – which is what we can observe in developed world populations, particularly with respect to mating and reproductive choices). In such a case, the selfish interests of individuals could be expected to come into conflict with conditions for the evolutionary stability of a population. An agreement of data and theory suggests that these western trends are speaking to a dynamic which is increasingly, and disproportionately, enabling selfish choices.
To make a final clarification, I would like to add that since males and females tend have conflicting reproductive interests(despite that margin where they find necessary agreement), we can assume that male-female interactions are co-evolutionary, with inescapable consequences for reproductive fitness. Thus, when these interactions are stable (minimally changing over time), we can assume an equilibrium of sorts (both males and females are contributing *something* of reciprocal evolutionary value to preserve status quo). But, when these interactions are perturbed from stability (they are in an acute state of flux), this instability implies that selection is operating on evolutionary change. If these ‘changes’ correspond with a decline in fitness, then we can assume that some contributing factor of change is frustrating the reproductive interests of one or both sexes. If we make some critical observations of western society, we will see both acute flux in male-female interactions (over a relatively brief interval of time), as well as trends towards sub-replacement fertility (the demographic economic paradox). From this we can infer that a measurable increase in female sexual / reproductive autonomy is hindering the reproductive interests of a disproportionate number of males (given that the female role as the rate-limiting morph naturally conflicts with the high-rate fitness optima of males) – suggesting that the ‘x-factor’ in precipitating instability, is an acute, systemic empowerment of female sexual / reproductive choice.
It is precisely what we should expect.