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When women are scarce, men spend more and save less: study

Nadine Bells
Shine On
August 15, 2012

If you're looking for a man to shower you with expensive gifts, move to a town where single women are hard to find.

According to research from the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management, when males believe that females are scarce, they're more likely to become financially impulsive, saving less and borrowing more — in competition for access to the few females available.

Read the study, "The financial consequences of too many men: sex ratio effects on saving, borrowing, and spending," here.

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"How do humans compete for access to mates? What you find across cultures is that men often do it through money, through status and through products," Vladas Griskevicius, assistant professor of marketing, says in a statement.

Griskevicius explains the study in this video.

To test the theory that the sex ratio affects economic decisions, researchers had male participants read news articles: some of the articles stated that their population had more men, others that the population had more females.

The participants were then asked to indicate how much money they would save per paycheck and how much they would be willing to borrow from credit cards. The men who were led to believe that women were scarce saved 42 per cent less and borrowed 84 per cent more than those who thought there were plenty of women.

In a similar exercise, participants were shown photographs, some of which showed more men, some of which showed more women. After looking at the pictures, the men were told to choose between choosing $20 tomorrow or $30 in a month. When women were scarce in the photographs, the men were more likely to opt for the immediate $20.

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Griskevicius claims the men were unaware that the sex ratios were affecting their financial decisions.

"Economics tells us that humans make decisions by carefully thinking through our choices… Some of our behaviors are much more reflexive and subconscious. We see that there are more men than women in our environment and it automatically changes our desires, our behaviours, and our entire psychology."

Archival data backed up the study's findings: In communities with an abundance of single men, credit card ownership and subsequent debt levels were higher.

"Whereas individuals living in Macon, Georgia have one of the lowest consumer debt rates in the U.S., individuals living in Columbus, Georgia have one of the highest debt rates in the country. We suggested that this difference in consumer debt may be related to an often-overlooked difference between the two cities: the ratio of adult men to women in each area. Whereas Macon has substantially more women than men, Columbus has more men than women," the researchers write.

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Sex ratios didn't affect women's financial choices, but they did shape their expectations. When learning that there were more men than women, female participants expected men to spend more on dates, gifts and engagement rings.

Men agreed with these expectations.

"When there's a scarcity of women, women felt men should go out of their way to court them," adds Griskevicius.

The research has practical applications for marketers. Using images that imply that females are scarce might help convince men to splurge. It can also help make men and women alike aware of what influences spending habits and expectations.

According to the CIA World Factbook, in Canada, there are .98 males for every female. In the 15 to 64 age group, however, there are more men: 1.02 for every woman.

Watch the video below about what men want women to know about sex.

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