Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

Living Edition
| Editors: Todd K. Shackelford, Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford

Social Status and Economic Resources

  • Katherine ValentineEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_12-1


Social Status Economic Resource High Social Status Earning Capacity Married Father 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Social status: a person’s standing within the hierarchy of a community or society; economic resources: the ability to provide food directly through foraging or indirectly through money.


Only 3–5 % of mammalian species have long-term pair bonds between males and females and paternal care (Clutton-Brock 1991). Among great apes, the species most closely related to our own, in no species do fathers provide food for their offspring (Gray and Anderson 2010). Pair-bonding seems to have evolved in humans in part to facilitate paternal provisioning (Quinlan and Quinlan 2007). Forager men provide an average of 64 % of food, and in the USA married fathers provide more money for their family than mothers in about 75 % of households (Wang et al. 2013). This suggests that women have an evolved preference for men offering resources, particularly when choosing long-term partners.

Preference for Social Status

Women display a preference for high social status in potential long-term mates across cultures (Buss 1989). Von Rueden et al. (2010) revealed that in a small-scale forager-horticulturalist society more similar to the societies in which humans evolved than industrialized societies, high-status men had more children within their marriages, and those children were less likely to die before reaching adulthood either because of genetic quality, better access to resources or both. This suggests that high status positively affects men’s wives’ reproductive success. Furthermore, a study of 186 preindustrial societies demonstrated that women value social status in men because of the benefits it brings to their mutual children: high-status men have more wives and are better able to feed their children (Betzig 1986).

Women in industrialized societies also prefer high-status men as long-term mates. Buss’ (1989) study of 37 industrialized nations across the globe found that women value ambition-industriousness more than men in 78 % of the countries sampled, and in only one country did men value the same trait more than women. Recent studies have shown that social status is a necessity for women selecting a long-term mate: it is highly valued when scarce, but diminishes in value once sufficient levels of it are obtained (Li, Valentine, & Patel, 2011). A series of speed-dating studies demonstrated that this preference is not merely theoretical; women prioritize social status when choosing long-term mates in a live-interactive setting (Li et al. 2013).

Preference for Economic Resources

If women select men with high social status because of the resources that such men can provide women and their future children, then a more direct preference for men with resources should also be evident. Indeed, it is. Among the Hadza foragers, good foraging ability was the most common trait that women listed as being important in a spouse (Marlowe 2004). Furthermore, in the 37-nation study discussed above, women value “good financial prospect” more than men in 36 of the 37 cultures sampled. In a nationally representative US sample, these results were conceptually replicated: women were found to be more willing to marry someone who earns more than them and less willing to marry someone who earns less than them compared to men (Sprecher et al. 1994). Similarly, women value earning capacity more than men at every level of involvement, and a higher earning capacity is required at each stage of commitment (dating, sexual relations, steady dating, and marriage; Kenrick et al. 1990). Just as we saw with social status, there is also real-world evidence that women prefer men with more resources as long-term mates. Income significantly predicts how many replies men receive from personal ads (Baize and Schroeder 1995).


The survival of the fittest has favored women who select mates who give them the most benefits with the fewest costs. One benefit men can bestow upon women is resources. Women prefer men who can provide resources and men who have high status, a signal of the ability to provide resources as long-term mates. This preference has been found in both preindustrial and postindustrial countries and has been demonstrated in studies with high ecological validity. However, that does not mean that this preference is insensitive to context. Women’s personal resources and women’s mate value can impact the extent to which social status and resources are prioritized (Zentner, this volume; Edlund and Beck, this volume).



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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Chapman UniversityOrangeUSA