Female Scarcity Reduces Women's Marital Ages and Increases Variance in Men's Marital Ages

Document Type


Subject Area(s)

psychology, social sciences


When women are scarce in a population relative to men, they have greater bargaining power in romantic relationships and thus may be able to secure male commitment at earlier ages. Malemotivation for long-term relationship commitment may also be higher, in conjunction with the motivation to secure a prospective partner before another male retains her. However, men may also need to acquire greater social status and resources to be considered marriageable. This could increase the variance in male marital age, as well as the average male marital age. We calculated the Operational Sex Ratio, and means, medians, and standard deviations in marital ages for women and men for the 50 largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas in the United States with 2000 U.S Census data. As predicted, where women are scarce they marry earlier on average. However, there was no significant relationship with mean male marital ages. The variance in male marital age increased with higher female scarcity, contrasting with a non-significant inverse trend for female marital age variation. These findings advance the understanding of the relationship between the OSR and marital patterns. We believe that these results are best accounted for by sex specific attributes of reproductive value and associated mate selection criteria, demonstrating the power of an evolutionary framework for understanding human relationships and demographic patterns.