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Hypergamy (colloquially referred to as "marrying up") is a term used in social science for the act or practice of a woman marrying a man who is wealthier or of higher caste or social status than herself.[citation needed] The word "hypogamy"[1] typically refers to instances of the inverse occurring: marrying a person of lower social class or status.

In Western civilization in the 2010s and 2020s, the term has increasingly come to mean the tendency of the free market in sexual relations leading to a minority of men having a majority of sexual intercourse with women. This is popularly expressed as being an instance of the Pareto principle: 20% of the men are said to enjoy 80% of sexual intercourse (at least within the unattached dating pools). However, the actual percentage of young men partially or completely locked out of the relationship market may be even higher. This tendency is also worsened by male surplus immigration.

Hypergamy is strongly favored by feminists and their supporters. However close discussion of this matter is considered politically incorrect, and generally restricted or blocked in mainstream society.


Forms of hypergamy have been practiced throughout history, including in India, modern China [2] and imperial China, ancient Greece, the Ottoman Empire and feudal Europe.[3]

Today most people marry their approximate social equals, and in much of the world hypergamy is felt[by whom?] to be in slow decline: for example, it is becoming less common for women to marry older men.[4][5] However, even in relatively gender-equal societies it is generally accepted that young women will often partner with powerful older men.[6]

Mating preferences and hypergamy

Studies of heterosexual mate selection in dozens of countries around the world have found men and women report prioritizing different traits when it comes to choosing a mate, with men tending to prefer women who are young and attractive and women tending to prefer men who are rich, well-educated, ambitious, and attractive.[7] Evolutionary psychologists contend this is an inherent sex difference arising out of sexual selection, with men driven to seek women who will give birth to healthy babies and women driven to seek men who will be able to provide the necessary resources for the family's survival. Social learning theorists, however, say women value men with high earning capacity because women's own ability to earn is constrained by their disadvantaged status in a male-dominated society. They argue that as societies shift towards becoming more gender-equal, women's mate selection preferences will shift as well. Some research support that theory,[8] including a 2012 analysis of a survey of 8,953 people in 37 countries, which found that the more gender-equal a country, the likelier male and female respondents were to report seeking the same qualities as each other rather than different ones.[9] However, Townsend (1989) surveyed medical students regarding their perception of how the availability of marriage partners changed as their educational careers advanced. Eighty-five percent of the women indicated that "As my status increases, my pool of acceptable partners decreases" (p. 246). In contrast, 90% of men felt that "As my status increases, my pool of acceptable partners increases" (p. 246).[10]

Saint-Paul (2008) argued that, based on mathematical models, human female hypergamy occurs because women have greater lost mating opportunity costs from monogamous mating (given their slower reproductive rate and limited window of fertility), and thus must be compensated for this cost of marriage. Although marriage reduces the overall genetic quality of her offspring (e.g., the possibility of impregnation by a higher quality genetic male, yet sans his parental investment), this reduction is compensated by greater levels of paternal parental investment by her husband.[11] An empirical study examined the mate preferences of subscribers to a computer dating service in Israel that had a highly skewed sex ratio (646 men for 1,000 women). Despite this skewed sex ratio, they found that "On education and socioeconomic status, women on average express greater hypergamic selectivity; they prefer mates who are superior to them in these traits... while men express a desire for an analogue of hypergamy based on physical attractiveness; they desire a mate who ranks higher on the physical attractiveness scale than they themselves do."[12]

One study did not find a statistical difference in the number of women or men "marrying-up" in a sample of 1109 first-time married couples in the United States.[13]

Hypergamy in India

For citizens of rural India, hypergamy is an opportunity to modernize. Marriages in rural India are increasingly examples of hypergamy.[14] Farmers and other rural workers want their daughters to have access to city life, for with metropolitan connections comes internet access, better job opportunities, and higher caste social circles.[15] A connection in an urban area creates a broader social horizon for the bride's family, and young children in the family can be sent to live with the couple in the city for better schooling. Hypergamy comes with a cost though: the dowry, which often costs as much or more than an entire house.[16] The high price that has to be borne by parents to arrange a suitable marriage for a daughter has led to increasing rates of abortion of female fetuses.[17]

The concept of marrying up in India is prevalent due to caste-based class stratification. The women from the higher castes were not allowed to marry men from a lower caste. This concept, cited in the Vedas as the Anuloma was justified as the mechanism to keep the Hindu ideological equivalent of the gene pool from degrading. The opposite of the Anuloma, called the Pratiloma was not allowed in the ancient Indian society. However, the Vedas cite an example where one such exception was allowed when the daughter of Sage Shukracharya, Devayani was allowed to marry a Kshatriya king (lower caste compared to Brahmanas in the Indian caste system) named Yayati.

Feminist analysis of hypergamy says the practice needs to be understood in the context of a patriarchial system: men choose attractive partners because they can, and women choose partners with material resources simply because they make life more comfortable. Feminist historians say lower-status families participate in hypergamy because it's felt that the best possible use of a daughter is for her to increase the status of her natal family by marrying up.[18][19] Hypergamy allows higher-status men maximum choice in mate selection, and, as historically practiced in India, results in the man's family gaining wealth through the transfer of dowry from the bride's family.[20] Hypergamy disadvantages higher-status women (by removing high-status men from their mating pool, from which social constraints and economic disincentives already exclude lower-status men) and lower-status men (by removing lower-status women from their mating pool, from which social constraints and economic incentive structures already exclude higher-status women).[21]

Because a hypergamous marriage is unequal, hypergamy has been criticized for reinforcing and perpetuating gender inequality in society overall, for example when highly educated women married to high-income men decide to stay home to raise children rather than pursuing their own careers.[22]

See also



  1. not to be confused with the botanical term hypogamous.
  2. 三高男
  3. Watts Jr, Meredith W. (2012). Biopolitics and Gender (Google eBook). Routledge.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Rutter, Virginia (2011). The Gender of Sexuality: Exploring Sexual Possibilities. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (Gender Lens Series). p. 19. ISBN 0742570037.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Coltrane, Scott (2008). Gender and Families (Gender Lens Series). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 94. ISBN 0742561518.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Rudman, Laurie (2010). The Social Psychology of Gender: How Power and Intimacy Shape Gender Relations. The Guilford Press. p. 249. ISBN 1606239635.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Cashdan, Elizabeth (1996). "Women's Mating Strategies" (PDF). Evolutionary Anthropology 5:134–143. Retrieved 29 November 2013. Missing |author1= (help); Cite journal requires |journal= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Hadfield, Elaine (1995). Men's and Women's Preferences in Marital Partners in the United States, Russia, and Japan (PDF). Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology Vol. 26 No. 6, Western Washington University. pp. 728–750.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Zentner, M.; Mitura, K (1 October 2012). "Stepping out of the caveman's shadow: nations' gender gap predicts degree of sex differentiation in mate preferences". Psychological Science. 23 (10): 1176–85. doi:10.1177/0956797612441004. PMID 22933455.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Townsend, J. M. (1987). Sex differences in sexuality among medical students: Effects of increasing socioeconomic status. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 16, 425-444.
  11. Saint-Paul, G. (2008). Genes, Legitimacy and Hypergamy: Another look at the economics of marriage. Econstor, IZA Discussion Papers, No. 4456.
  12. Bokek-Cohen, Y., Peres, Y., & Kanazawa, S. (2007). Rational choice and evolutionary psychology as explanations for mate selectivity. Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, 2, 42-55. p. 51
  13. Dalmia, Sonia; Sicilian, Paul (2008). "Kids Cause Specialization: Evidence for Becker's Household Division of Labor Hypothesis". International Advances in Economic Research. 14 (4): 448–459. doi:10.1007/s11294-008-9171-x.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Caldwell, J.C. P.H. Reddy, Pat Caldwell. "The Causes of Marriage Change in South India." Population Studies, Vol. 37, No. 3 (Nov., 1983), pp. 343–361. Print.
  15. Barber, Jennifer. "Community Social Context and Individualistic Attitudes toward Marriage." Social Psychology Quarterly, Vol. 67, No. 3 (Sep., 2004), pp. 236–256. Print.
  16. Thornton, Arland. Dirgha J. Ghimire, William G. Axinn, Scott T. Yabiku. "Social Change, Premarital Nonfamily Experience, and Spouse Choice in an Arranged Marriage Society" American Journal of Sociology, Volume 111 Number 4 (January 2006): 1181–1218. Print.
  17. Srivinsan, Padma. Gary R. Lee. "The Dowry System in Northern India: Women's Attitudes and Social Change". Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 66, No. 5, Special Issue: InternationalPerspectives on Families and Social Change (Dec., 2004), pp. 1108–1117. Print.
  18. Bhatnagar, Rashmi Dube (2005). Female Infanticide in India: A Feminist Cultural History. New York: State University of New York Press. p. 96. ISBN 0791463273.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Maxwell, Mary (1984). Human Evolution: A Philosophical Anthropology. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 162. ISBN 0231059469.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Subberwal, Ranjana (2009). "Bride Price (also Bride Wealth) and Dowry". Dictionary of Sociology. Tata McGraw-Hill. p. B6. ISBN 007066031X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Meade, Teresa (2006). A Companion to Gender History. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. p. 446. ISBN 1405149604.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Kobayashi, Yoshie (2004). A Path Toward Gender Equality: State Feminism in Japan. Routledge (East Asia: History, Politics, Sociology and Culture). p. 65. ISBN 041594788X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

  • The dictionary definition of hypergamy at Wiktionary