Big Spending in Men More Common When Women Are Scarce

The Ferraris and the diamond necklaces, the gold Rolexes and those lavish date-nights out on the town--wooing a woman can cost a pretty penny. To impress the ladies, some men throw down the cash, whether they have the means to or not. What's the point of all this big spending?

It's all about competition for mates, scientists say. Men are more likely to make poor financial decisions when women are in short supply, a new University of Minnesota study in the Journal of Personality Psychology suggests.

"What we see in other animals is that when females are scarce, males become more competitive," lead author Vladas Griskevicius said in a written statement. "They compete more for access to mates. 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."

In other words, mate-starved men spend excessively, save less, and borrow more.

For the study, men were asked to read news articles that described their local population as having more men or more women and then asked to estimate how much they would spend over the course of a month.

What happened? Men who were led to believe there was a shortage of women indicated that they would save 42 percent less than other guys. They were also 84 percent more willing to borrow money.

In a similar study, scientists showed men photos of mixed groups--some with more men, some more women, and some with he genders in equal numbers. Then they asked the men, "Would you rather receive some money tomorrow, or a larger amount in a month?" Guys shown photos with fewer women tended to opt for instant gratification, choosing an immediate $20 over waiting a month for $10 more.

What about women's spending habits? When the table was turned and women were asked the same questions, women's financial behavior was the same whether or not men were scarce.

But women expected men to spend more on dinner dates, Valentine's gifts, and engagement rings when there were fewer women around.

"When there's a scarcity of women, women felt men should go out of their way to court them," Griskevicius said. "Economics tells us that humans make decisions by carefully thinking through our choices; that we're not like animals," Griskevicius said. "It turns out we have a lot in common with other animals."