May 30, 2004
Humans Maladapted To Relationships In Modern Society?

Sociologists Satoshi Kanazawa and Mary Still have found that teaching young women makes male teachers less satisfied with their wives.

Kanazawa believes that young female students are a vocational hazard for both male teachers and university lecturers. In a study he conducted on the marital status of Americans, Kanazawa found that male secondary school teachers and university lecturers were far more likely to be divorced than men in other professions.

Being surrounded by young and beautiful women caused the teachers to become dissatisfied with their wives and this often resulted in marriage breakdown.

At the time of the investigation, Kanazawa was lecturing at the geographically confusing Indiana University of Pennsylvania in America. Collaborating with fellow sociologist Dr Mary Still, of Cornell University, he discovered that teachers who had continuous exposure to pretty young female students found women in their own age group less attractive. The researchers describe the psychological process as "contrast and comparison effects".

Male occupational status as a teacher helps to predict divorce rates.

All things thus considered, their models could predict divorce status 86 percent of the time. The bottom line: with the GSS as background, and controlling for other factors, the study shows that male secondary school teachers or college professors are nearly 80 percent more likely to be divorced than men in other professions.

There is accumulating evidence (see below) that television, movies, and still pictures are exerting a similar effect. The more one has to compare to the more likely that achievable choices will seem less satisfying. There is a general trend toward a greater ability to compare due to urbanization, advances in communications, advances in transportation, and changing work place practices. All these changes must be making marriage less likely to be entered into and less likely to last.

Charlie's Angels and Playboy centerfolds both make men see other women as less attractive.

In a seminal 1970s study, psychologist Douglas Kenrick barged in on male students whilst they were watching the ‘babe’-packed TV programme Charlie’s Angels, and asked them to rate the attractiveness of a picture of an average female student. For comparison, he did the same with students watching largely ‘babe’-free shows, like the news.

He found that the men watching Charlie’s Angels gave the average female student a lower score than the news-watchers. In further experiments, he showed slides to three groups of male students, respectively of Playboy centrefolds, averagely-attractive women and abstract art. Sure enough, the Playboy group rated an average-looking woman lower than the others. This effect transferred to real life. After watching the slides, the Playboy centrefold-affected group rated their actual girlfriends lowest, not only in terms of attractiveness, but in how much they loved them.

To top it all, Kenrick showed male and female students slides of models and of average people. For both sexes, exposure to models of their own sex resulted in a lowering of mood, whereas seeing stunners of the opposite sex either raised their spirits or had no effect. Many other studies have produced similar results.

Modern media present a very beautiful comparison pool.

The strange thing is, being bombarded with visions of beautiful women (or for women, socially powerful men) doesn't make us think our partners are less physically attractive. It doesn't change our perception of our partner. Instead, by some sleight of mind, it distorts our idea of the pool of possibilities.

These images make us think there's a huge field of alternatives. It changes our estimate of the number of people who are available to us as potential mates. In changing our sense of the possibilities, it prods us to believe we could always do better, keeping us continually unsatisfied.

"The perception of the comparison pool is changed," says Gutierres. "In this context our partner doesn't look so great." Adds Kenrick: "You think, `Yes, my partner's fine--but why do I have to settle for fine when there are just so many great people out there?'" All you have to do is turn on the TV or look at the covers of magazines in the supermarket checkout line to be convinced there are any number of incredibly beautiful women available.

How is this changing the selective pressures on the human species? Are the least attractive people so repelled by other unattractive people that less attractive people are actually far less likely to reproduce now than they were in the past? Is beauty therefore being selected for? Or are the least attractive so resigned to their lack of attractiveness that they are more willing to hook up with a less attractive mate and stay together aware of their lack of real alternatives?

There is another possibility: The most attractive could have so many more choices now that high status attractive men may be spending less of their lives married and may be having fewer offspring. Both the greater intellectual ability that boosts their status and their greater physical attractiveness may be getting selected against.

A study of Swedish workplaces by sociologist Yvonne Åberg found that simple proximity to the opposite sex in the workplace boosted divorce rates considerably.

The seven-year study of 37,000 employees at 1,500 workplaces provides empirical evidence that working with people of the opposite sex is hazardous to your marriage. Working with co-workers who are all of the opposite sex increases the divorce rate by a startling 70%, compared with an office filled with co-workers of the same sex. Whether the co-workers were single or married had no impact, says author Yvonne Aberg, now a research fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford University, England.

All these reports are signs that natural selection is operating in different ways than it has in the past. Selective pressures for mating have changed and continue to change as living standards rise and technology changes how society is structured. What is less obvious is just which characteristics are being selected for and against.

In the longer run other technological trends are going to change the pressures caused by comparisons to attractive people.

  • Plastic surgery and other medical techniques for improving appearances. Of course this trend is already well underway as the use of plastic surgery keeps growing and growing.
  • Progeny genetic engineering to make more beautiful future generations.
  • Rejuvenation therapies to make people young again.
  • Drugs that make one feel more satisfied with one's mate and one's life.
  • Genetic engineering to make males more faithful to their mates. Yes some women, heart broken by being jilted, will respond by genetically engineering sons who are more likely to be monogamous.

Some of these responses may seem like they will ameliorate the problem of dissatisfaction over comparisons. Certainly male attraction to women in their late teens and early twenties will become easier to satisfy when rejuvenation therapies allow everyone to become young again. What many women claim to see as a shallow aspect of male nature is actually going to become a fairly easy problem to fix once all females can look young and attractive. But female desires for males of high status will be much harder to satisfy with a technological fix since in order to have some men with high status other men must be of lower status. We do not live in Lake Woebegone where all children are above average or all men are of high status.

There is also a political dimension in the trend toward greater ability to compare. While men are comparing their female mates to other women and they are also comparing themselves to other men in competition for those women the comparisons do not end there. More worrisome are politically charged comparisons across national borders and between ethnic, religious, and other groups. See my ParaPundit post Competition, Resentment, Demotivation, And Large Status Hierarchies. I see this as a real and growing problem in both domestic and international politics and terrorism as partially due to this phenomenon.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2004 May 30 04:59 PM  Trends, Human Evolution

Joshua Allen said at May 30, 2004 11:45 PM:

There may be another factor in play with these statistics. I believe I read once about a study which showed that the best predictor of marital longevity was the degree to which each spouse believed that the other had limited options. IOW, if the husband thinks he is a splendid catch, but the wife thinks he wouldn't be able to find a girlfriend, it didn't matter (and in fact, a husband who considers himself to be such a fine catch is more likely to think his wife is lucky to have him, and therefore limited in *her* options). So I might postulate that these divorces are caused as much by the jealous spouse of the professor, who thinks that her husband is surrounded by all of this pliable young potential; and perhaps by the fact that the professor is constantly faced with his own inadequacy at the face of these young ladies, and in his insecurity feels that his wife might be looking upon him as old and creepy like his students do.

Fly said at May 31, 2004 7:04 PM:

We can statistically observe social patterns but assigning causes is questionable, too many variables.

Currently there is only one way to have children and that is for a woman to get pregnant and carry the baby for nine months. Rearing the child then becomes a major burden on the educated couple. So much so that most have only one or two children. Then the couple pays for college. Either retirement or Social Security supports the parents in their old age. So children are a major economic drain on middle class parents with little return. No wonder that affluent societies aren’t reproducing. (Several countries have tried to increase the birth rate of their middle class with no success.)

How might this change? A society could decide to increase the population directly. Using artificial wombs and clones from high quality donors, a state might directly create its own citizens. Assuming that these children fulfilled their genetic potential they would significantly add to the economic health of the society. This should be technologically possible within the decade. (While it may be hard to imagine this approach in the US, consider Singapore or Japan. Or used by China or India to solve the sex imbalance.)

I would caution anyone projecting demographic trends to consider the effects of changing technology.

Rasheed Malik said at June 10, 2004 7:43 AM:

This article, while it can't specifically pinpoint and isolate the causes, does shed light on the problems of modern society and culture pertaining to women. I was researching to find evidence of how pop culture has caused more problems for morality and women in society to show how the Islamic view of modesty(dress) and taking the sexual feature out of relations between the sexes is superior and more practical for the benefit and stability of family and society. If women just wore more clothes and stopped being sexually dressed, drawing attention to their sexual side, there would be no problem with men and women working together and no negative results as mentioned in this article would occur. Obviously, men have a responsibility and role to play too by controlling themselves...but when the stimuli are removed...the behavior changes too. For those who do not really understand Islam...this does not mean cover a woman from head to toe, and her face, and take away equality...that is not is to say if morality is to become important, for family values and modesty to become important...the Islamic idea of dress..and really Biblically for that matter were adhered to...then society would not have these problems. God always knows best...and this research among others, proves changes need to be made for the sake of family and ultimately society...not by seperating men and women...but on individuals adopting to codes of modesty and abandoning dressing sexually and revealing.

Ebby said at June 15, 2004 6:24 AM:

Rasheed, I do not see how the research supports your conclusions. It is hard to see how dress alone can make a dramatic difference. A woman dressing in concealing clothes from head to toe can still signal to a man that she is interested in him. A man who is looking for a female can detect one under many layers of cloth. Your apparent aim would probably be better served by trying to make them hapy at home so that they did not wish to find each other, rather than by trying to reduce the chances that they will do so.

It is naturally difficult to compare the differences that wearing "modest dress" make, because many women who wear it are doing so as part of a very different lifestyle from the majority of people in these studies. If you are in fact looking to impose other aspects of that different lifestyle on women who do not want it, then I think that is immoral. Would you like to live under the rules that you think proper women should accept? Not "if I was a woman then..." but *you*, yourself, now, as a man with a lot of freedom to enjoy, would you change your life to live in the way that you think your sister should? If you don't want to live like that, why should she? Thinking it is better for you if she does, is not sufficient moral reason for you to collude in restricting her life (or that of other women).

One of the messages from the research seems to be that many people think that their life will be improved if they leave their present partner. We need to understand that fact and explore its ramifications as we try to build a better world.

victor matuer said at July 31, 2005 7:52 AM:

i agree with Ebby's response to Rashid Malik's 'modest dress' opinion. whilst working in Riyadh i witnessed many instances where young women covered head to toe were flirting and communicating with young saudi males, usually in shopping malls, at traffic lights (where the girls where in cars driven by their male drivers). having met young saudis from an eclectic circle, it became clear, if it is not obvious in general, that men and women are attracted to each other in similar ways to those in liberated societies. attraction is a combination of biological/biochemical, sociological and social circumstances. men and women, in social proximity, covered or uncovered, perhaps even blindfolded, will develop affection and strong attraction due to many stimuli that exist between the sexes. in a world where our prime senses allow us to 'compare and contrast' (Still, Kenrick et al), at almost all levels, in schools, libraries, shopping malls, tv etc., and further where traditional mode of communication is carried out, in work environment, or even shopping trip to the same bakery where some cutie works, will eventually lead to attraction between sexes. i personally believe that the social impact, the development of our social surrounding, due to developments in working patterns is leading, very logically to more intersexual interaction. as long as men and women can communicate with each other, sooner or later, when two minds/hearts/ideals/basic animal instincts, the attraction will occur. Malik Sahib, unless you stick to the traditional/islamic idea where women are kepts behind four walls, you will have love/lust between males and females. by codifying our behaviour, it will minimise marital break-ups, but unfortunately it is very often the men who break these codes and take advantage of lust and leave the women oppressed. of course the women have been indoctrinated in that code and hence few have the strenght, support or th eopportunity to exert their wishes. i read a recent review of Thomas Hardy's Arabella character in the novel 'Jude the Obscure', Arabella is describes is a 'fickle woman who is subjugated by her animal sexual instincts'. I think we are all under the same yoke of animal instincts, some of us are more or less fickle. as long as we can balance reality and fiction, what can be achieved and what cannot, as long as we can prioritise love, relationship, children, etc, only then we can have marraiges/relationship which are harmonious, up and down, but heading somewhere in lines with the 'balance'. wait, even then we can change out mind, we are human and make sometimes 'fickle' decisions and relationships break, we get hurt, then we hurt (others), then go through denials and finally we come to some bitter peace to begin again the cycle. that tells me that we are all under the yoke of our animal instincts.

PS Malik Sahib I hope I have not offended your culture and faith, i think all cultures and faiths had their place and time in the time line of humanity.

Guitar Guy said at January 19, 2010 1:03 PM:

I think that the whole question is the way females relate to males. Females control what males want. If it is packaged differently, it is still out there "for sale" or "for rent" or is available for a quick "taste test". Supply and demand, the two shall meet! If a college instructor has many young girls around and some of them have agendas of their own, he may wish to make a change, or add to his stable of females in his life.

In my mind, the leaving of one female for another in many cases is due to the absense of the opportunity the females often offer in the "he is mine" type of thinking. Also, while many men will cheat with many women at the same time, how many of these women would consider sharing openly, because they either know of or are in deep denial about his wandering?

IMHO there are only about 35% of men who should be in a relationship with a woman and about 65% of women who are good potintial "mother material" available across the board. So what I see is a need for women to open up to the idea of a good man is good to find and if he finds another good woman why waist time and energy and focus on making a happy life and home? If two incomes are better than one, then three incomes has to be at least 50% better than two incomes? If two can live a cheap as one, then three can live cheaper than two. If a woman does not wish to be at home all of the time, but wants to have a solid home for her children. Would a female person she trusts be better than day care or letting a stranger into your home? Is it easier to cook 7 nights a week or 3 nights a week? If the man cooks then cooking 2 nights a week is better than cooking 3 nights a week. If a female is happy with sex a couple of times a week then a male can have sex 3-5 nights a week and can focus on home and family and not so much on making the choices being presented to him, because he is content in our more crazy scocial environment in todays world.

Just a thought...

Bob Badour said at January 19, 2010 1:15 PM:

Guitar Guy,

That might work except for divorce law. Only one of the women can be married to the man, which means one of them can demand half and the other cannot.

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