Social sneering and peer pressure notwithstanding, many females fail to muster enough moti­vation to pursue a relationship. Stuck between Scylla and Charybdis, they simply refuse to opt for matrimony as a necessary evil. In the poll about “leftovers”, around 41 percent clai­med that they still believed in love, but at the same time, nearly 20 percent declared that they are not confident in finding an ideal and stable relationship at all.[1] How can that be? The problem lies in their own fussiness. On the one hand, women have a good sense of the longevity of their reproductive career ahead and about the optimal timing for their preg­nancy. On the other hand, they have to be fastidious, because they need to be extremely cau­tious in the selection of their spouse, taking into consideration various aspects such as gene quality, the ability to protect herself and provide resources, commitment, the likelihood that the man will make a good long-term partner and parent, etc. The opportunity costs are tre­mendous. A small mistake here, and their lives and that of their offspring could be in danger or wasted. Thus, over the last millennia, the drive and aptitude to identify the best possible mate have become an inherent reflex and an important device in every female’s survival instinct. Those ancestors who picked wisely acquired major reproductive advantages, thus setting the path for an evolutionary development of choosiness.[2] As their descendants, today’s women cannot be expected to do anything except than following the same, inherited, strategy.

One of the main factors that may slow down a woman in her decision making is the tendency to seek a husband of higher socio-economic status than herself, that is, a husband who is greater than her in terms of educational degree, occupation, financial and social capi­tal, perhaps even physical attractiveness. This phenomenon is called, hypergyny, a spe­cial case of hypergamy where a female “marries above her station”.[3] Under this scheme, she is inclined to be attracted to men comparatively older, wealthier or otherwise more pri­vi­leged than herself.[4] This explains why doctors, lawyers, and business executives are par­ti­cularly popular among single ladies, but also the existence of statements such as “second-year women don’t go out with first-year guys, but second-year guys go out with first-year women, or with chirps or undergrads” in a university context.[5] A study involving medical students revealed that most of the females interviewed liked men who were above them pro­fes­sionally and financially, while none of them opted for a spouse with lower income or occupational status. Then, one-third of the respondents declared that they were looking for someone “who made them feel protected”, and over half of them needed a man “who was a challenge, one they could admire and respect”, i.e., who make them more secure.[6] Appa­rently, only males with superior wealth, income, educational level, career success, social stan­ding, etc. can fulfil this demand – even in the 21st century.

Since most women resist “marrying down”, high-status individuals are at a disadvantage in the mating game. The pool of single men who meet their standards is relatively small, so their chance to find someone fulfilling the requirements is accordingly lower. If a woman has enough means to support herself, why would she settle for less? Why would she need male assistance? Statistics in the Chinese study mentioned above illustrate this trend: The higher the education and income, the higher the chance to be, or at least to feel “leftover”.[7] Thus, it appears that women’s increasing economic independence and success fail to miti­gate the incidence of hypergyny. On the contrary, it exacerbates the phenomenon by making women more confident about them­selves and clearer about who (or what) is acceptable, and who (or what) is not. In view of the dilution of men’s relative economic strength, their value is significantly depreciated, and their function as providers in jeopardy. Under such condi­tions, marriage naturally becomes less and less appealing and divorce more and more likely. For the same reasons, older female singles and divorcees who are financially indepen­dent display lower fertility rates, as they remain childless, or have fewer children on average. For example, evidence from the 1980s shows that Singaporean educated women’s reluctance to marry down was so strong that members of this socio-demographic group were producing only 1.4 babies on average, compared to 4.5 babies for uneducated women.[8]


[1]    Cited in: Lu (2012).

[2]    It is not by accident that the term “old maid” (originally “a woman who has remained single beyond the conventional age for marrying”) is also used to refer to “a person regarded as being primly fastidious”. (Source:

[3]    Similarly, hyperandry refers to instances where men date or marry up. In contrast to that, hypogamy (hypogyny, hypoandry) stands for the disposition to date or marry a person of lower social status.


[5]    Cited in: Townsend (1998), p. 85

[6]    Townsend (1998), p. 65

[7]    Lu (2012)

[8]    Townsend (1998), p. 134, 242

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