An array of literature spanning economics, sociology, biology, and psychology suggests that the availability of romantic partners has profound consequences for individuals and the societies in which they live. Here we build on this growing body of research to understand how variation in mate availability—operationalized via experimental imbalances in the ratio of men to women (the sex ratio)—affect women’s willingness to enhance their physical and sexual attractiveness to men.
Using a series of three treatments, with four replicate stimuli nested within each treatment conditions, we experimentally manipulated the sex ratio of the dating environment for 334 women, giving them the impression that romantic partners were either abundant, scarce, or balanced relative to competitors. We measured women’s satisfaction with their body image, their interest in enhancing their sexual attractiveness to men, their acceptance of cosmetic surgery, and their overall belief that they were a high-quality romantic partner (their mate value; a potential moderator of the sex ratio effect).
Contrary to expectations, we found no evidence that sex ratios affected women’s enhancement of their physical and sexual attractiveness, but we did find that individual differences in mate value robustly covaried with all three outcome variables.
Results raise the possibility that female self-sexualization does not covary with the relative availability of mates, but that it is reliably associated with individual differences in mate value.
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We acknowledge Anish Sharma and Gabriela Cavaler da Silva for help with methods and data collection.
This study was funded by in part by Australian Research Council Discovery Grant (DP160100459).
Conflict of Interest
Lindsie Arthur declares that she has no conflict of interest. Robert Brooks declares that he has no conflict of interest. Khandis Blake declares that she has no conflict of interest.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
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Arthur, L.C., Brooks, R.C. & Blake, K.R. Female Self-Sexualization Covaries with Mate Value but Not Mate Availability. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology 6, 277–291 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40750-020-00133-5
- Sex ratios
- Mating competition
- Mate vale