New Paleolithic Mating

Two women on modern mating.  Lori Gottlieb:

A couple of years ago, I wrote an essay for the Atlantic titled “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough,” in which I said that having found myself still single at 40 … had I known when I was younger what would make me happy when it came to marriage and family, I would have made very different choices in my dating life. … The majority of single women who responded to a survey I sent out said that getting 80 percent of what they wanted in a mate would be “settling.” The majority of single men said finding a woman with 80 percent of what they wanted would be “a catch.” …

Many single women — mostly those in their 20s — went wild with rage and disdain for my confession: … I’d happily take the 80 percent, if only it was as available to me as it had been when I was 30. …  Suddenly I was “ageist,” “sexist” and “anti-feminist.” … I’ll admit, just a few years earlier, I might have been one of the women bashing this Lori Gottlieb chick for saying the unthinkable. I, too, felt that women should “have it all” (whatever unrealistic ideal I took that to be) and that anyone who suggested otherwise was out of touch, offensive or just plain off her rocker. Compromise? No way. That would mean not being true to myself.  A lot of women my age and younger grew up thinking this way. … We’re supposed to have high standards, and if a guy doesn’t meet them, we should be gloriously fulfilled on our own. … According to some readers, I was an affront to the entire women’s movement … I remember watching a group of young women on the “Today” show discussing my article and the fact that they’d rather be single than with Mr. Good Enough. …

It’s probably no accident that once women adopted this “I don’t need a man” attitude, many were left without men. According to the Census Bureau, the percentage of never-married women ages 25 to 44 more than doubled between 1970 and 2006. …  Another woman proudly said she could easily get her sexual needs taken care of without marriage. So what? … 4 percent of women said what they wanted most from marriage was sex, while 75 percent said it was companionship.

Charlotte Allen:

The very day, March 17, 2005, that Scott Peterson—sentenced to death in California for killing his wife and unborn son and throwing their remains into San Francisco Bay—took up residence on San Quentin’s death row, he received three-dozen phone calls from smitten women, including an 18-year-old who wanted to become his second wife. According to an April story in People, Peterson is still being flooded with letters from female admirers almost five years later, many of the mash notes containing checks to pay for his commissary charges. That’s par for the course on death row, where the rule is: The more notorious the killer, the more fan mail and marriage proposals. The most fan-mail-saturated killer in San Quentin is Richard Allen Davis, who in 1993 kidnapped 12-year-old Polly Klaas at knifepoint from her home in Petaluma, Calif., killed her, and buried her in a shallow grave. …

Fewer than 60 percent of wives report that they are “very happy” in their marriages, in contrast to more than 66 percent in 1973. (Male marital happiness has declined, too: from 70 percent to 63 percent.) “Women initiate two-thirds of divorces.” … The percentage of married people ages 35 to 44 has declined precipitously over the last 40 years: … The percentage of children growing up in fatherless families … has risen … from 9 percent of all households with children in 1960 to 26 percent today. .. In 2004 … 24 percent of women ages 40 to 44 with bachelor’s degrees were childless, in contrast to 10 percent of women without a high school diploma. …

In The Mating Mind, Geoffrey Miller wrote:

Our ancestors probably had their first sexual experiences soon after reaching sexual maturity. They would pass through a sequence of relationships of varying durations over the course of a lifetime. Some relationships might have lasted no more than a few days. … Many Pleistocene mothers probably had boyfriends. But each woman’s boyfriend may not have been the father of any of her offspring. .  .  . Males may have given some food to females and their offspring, and may have defended them from other men, but .  .  . anthropologists now view much of this behavior more as courtship effort than paternal investment.

That’s a pretty fair description of mating life today in the urban underclass and the meth-lab culture of rural America. Take away the offspring, blocked by the Pill and ready abortion, and it’s also a pretty fair description of today’s prolonged singles scene. In other words, we have met the Stone Age, and it is us.  Living in the New Paleolithic can be hard on women, many of whom party on merrily until they reach age 30 and then panic. … The guys their age are starting to make money, they look better, they’ve got self-assurance, and they’ve also got the pick of the 23-year-olds. Some argue, though, that it is actually beta men who are the greatest victims of the current mating chaos: the ones who work hard, act nice, and find themselves searching in vain for potential wives and girlfriends among the hordes of young women besotted by alphas. …

F. Roger Devlin. … deftly uses theories of evolutionary psychology to argue that the sexual revolution was essentially aimed at restoring primate-style hypergamy to human females and freeing women to try to capture the attention of and mate with the alpha males of their choosing instead of remaining chaste until their early marriage to a decent and hard-working beta (only the very best looking young women stood a chance of snagging an alpha in the old days). … Beta men become superfluous until the newly liberated women start double-clutching after years in the serial harems of alphas who won’t “commit,” lower their standards, and “settle.”

It is not clear to me why longer-term monogamy was more natural for farmers, versus shorter term relations for isolated forager bands.  Its not even clear to me that it was more natural.  If true, perhaps farming men could better coordinate to keep women from running away.  Perhaps communal foraging and child-care worked well in isolated tribes, and productivity wasn’t much hurt when woman switched men, while for intensive farming longer-term investments were more hurt by women switching men.

In any case, as we’ve grown richer, and our fear of poverty and death has receded, we’ve decided we can afford more luxuries – more entertainment, government, education, and medicine.  And women have decided they can afford access to better men, and the freedom to switch more.  This is plausibly the low-coordination equilibrium of a rich world.  I don’t see much support for coordinating to achieve any other equilibrium – such supporters would signal they don’t think they are the highly-demanded folks who most gain from the current equilibrium.

Would a more monogamous equilibrium be better?  Perhaps, but the fact that young women are over-confident and old women regretful just isn’t very strong evidence; such attitudes are functional well regardless of which equilibrium is more efficient.

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