Sunday, November 4, 2012

Baumeister on Sexual Economics

                                                            (Roy Baumeister)

 Roy Baumeister's work on applying the logic of scarcity economics to the mating market has been discussed a few times on this blog, as has the application of microeconomic incentive theories to sexual behavior.  Baumeister, an esteemed psychologist at Florida State, and co-author Kathleen Vohs, a business school professor, have recently released a new piece describing how the progressive/feminist agenda of increasing female power in academia, the workplace, and political life has largely succeeded in creating a gender-equal playing field, but at the cost of giving men easier access to casual sex and fewer incentives to commit.

The paper.

Baumeister & Vohs:

In simple terms, we proposed that in sex, women are the suppliers and men constitute the demand (Baumeister and Vohs 2004). Hence the anti-democratic, seemingly paradoxical sex ratio findings that Regnerus describes. When women are in the minority, the sexual marketplace conforms to their preferences: committed relationships, widespread virginity, faithful partners, and early marriage. For example, American colleges in the 1950s conformed to that pattern. In our analysis, women benefit in such circumstances because the demand for their sexuality exceeds the supply. In contrast, when women are the majority, such as on today’s campuses as well as in some ethnic minority communities, things shift toward what men prefer: Plenty of sex without commitment, delayed marriage, extradyadic copulations, and the like.

The authors go on to discuss the so-called "male sexual deficit" and its ramifications under two regimes:

Sexual marketplaces take the shape they do because nature has biologically built a disadvantage into men: a huge desire for sex that makes men dependent on women. Men’s greater desire puts them at a disadvantage, just as when two parties are negotiating a possible sale or deal, the one who is more eager to make the deal is in a weaker position than the one who is willing to walk away without the deal. 

...Women certainly desire sex too — but as long as most women desire it less than most men, women have a collective advantage, and social roles and interactions will follow scripts that give women greater power than men (Baumeister et al. 2001). We have even concluded that the cultural suppression of female sexuality throughout much of history and across many different cultures has largely had its roots in the quest for marketplace advantage (see Baumeister and Twenge 2002). Women have often sustained their advantage over men by putting pressure on each other to restrict the supply of sex available to men. As with any monopoly or cartel, restricting the supply leads to a higher price. 

...Feminist theory almost always harks back to male oppression, and so the cultural suppression of female sexuality reflected men’s desires to dominate women, possess them, and/or prevent them from finding sexual fulfillment. In both cases, the cultural suppression of female sexuality should come from men. Yet the evidence overwhelmingly indicated that the cultural suppression of female sexuality is propagated and sustained by women (Baumeister and Twenge 2002). Only sexual economics theory predicted that result. Similar to how OPEC seeks to maintain a high price for oil on the world market by restricting the supply, women have often sought to maintain a high price for sex by restricting each other’s willingness to supply men with what men want.

 After looking at how education and job prospects have been steadily improving for women (also creating a delay in marriage and the well-known "hook-up culture" on college campuses), Baumeister and Vohs also consider what easier access to sexual opportunities could mean for the marriage market.

Simplistically stated, young men who were motivated to gain sex in different, more male-centric educational and work cultures could have been forced to obtain sex by gaining skills, becoming good providers, and then offering access to the resources generated by these educational and professional skills to women.  The cold-blooded logic that follows would expect that those women who were deemed capable of providing particularly high-quality sex would command higher resource-equivalency exchange rates in the mating market, and would be able to select from an assortment of highly-educated, high status, eligible males. 

As female empowerment has diminished the control that men had over provisioning activities and created many more roles for female breadwinners, however, the underlying logic of the commitment/resources-for- sex relational transaction has also been diminished.  As would be predicted by the Guttentag-Secord theory, a social climate of empowered women leads, perhaps paradoxically, to a more sexually liberated culture.

Baumeister and Vohs see this new, lower equilibrium market clearing price for sex as having, among many other consequences both positive and negative, the effect of habituating young men to adventurous and fun sexual escapades.  These frolics may not ultimately be available within the socio-legal confines of marriage, particularly if the female has incentives to offer a fantasy of a lifetime of sexual excitement in the early courtship stages and then, later on, to restrict sexual access for monopolist-pricing reasons.   

Baumeister and Vohs cite the new terms as a "market correction" and note that:

Meanwhile, the implications of the recent social changes for marriage could fill a book. Sexual economics theory has pointed to a wealth of data depicting marriage as a transaction in which the male contributes status and resources while the woman contributes sex (Baumeister and Vohs 2004). How will that play out in the coming decades? The female contribution of sex to the marriage is evanescent: As women age, they lose their sexual appeal much faster than men lose their status and resources, and some alarming evidence even indicates that wives rather quickly lose their desire for sex (Arndt 2009). To sustain a marriage across multiple decades, many husbands must accommodate to the reality of having to contribute work and other resources to a wife whose contribution of sex dwindles sharply in both quantity and quality—and who also may disapprove sharply of him seeking satisfaction in alternative outlets such as prostitution, pornography, and extramarital dalliance.

We speculate that today’s young men may be exceptionally ill prepared for a lifetime of sexual starvation that is the lot of many modern husbands. The traditional view that a wife should sexually satisfy her husband regardless of her own lack of desire has been eroded if not demolished by feminist ideology that has encouraged wives to expect husbands to wait patiently until the wife actually desires sex, with the result that marriage is a prolonged episode of sexual starvation for the husband. (A memorable anecdote from Arndt’s 2009 diary study on marital sexuality involved a couple in which the wife refused sex so often that the husband finally said that they would not have sex again until the wife initiated it. When Arndt interviewed them nine years later, he was still waiting.) Today’s young men spend their young adulthood having abundant sex with multiple partners, and that seems to us to be an exceptionally poor preparation for a lifetime of sexual starvation. 


Baumeister discusses his latest book: