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Yes, Women Do Compete for Men

Over the past decade or so, I've explored the various ways that women, and to a lesser extent men, compete against same-sex rivals for mates. Much of this competition is unconscious, and some of it can be disguised under the context of doing something else. Read More

I feel the need to ask: how

I feel the need to ask: how is it that you have come to the conclusion that men compete less for mates than women? I'm a guy, and from my experience, this isn't true. With guys, the competitions are quicker and more decisive, and tend to be either extremely subtle or extremely obvious--either a fight, or a passive-agressive exchange that other people don't notice. They're also extremely intense, and can lead to violence of the destruction of even the closest friendships. I'm not discounting the idea that women compete more, but I would just like to know why you believe what you believe. I'm open to the idea of conversion, haha.


Yeah, I don't get it. I totally agree that women compete for men. But I think men compete even more for women. That's true across mammal species, isn't it?

level of competition

Cindy, I'd actually argue that the amount of competition is not different, or at least it does not appear to be different according to my results. Violent, direct confrontations are biased towards men (and males in most mammalian species).

The difference is in how competition is defined. If it is any act that one performs to acquire or retain a mate, that opens the situation up to include things like misinforming a friend (eg, telling a rival who is a friend that the guy you are both interested in has an STI when he doesn't, in the hopes that she backs off). In fact, when I ask women and men to list ALL the ways they can think of competing or have experienced first hand, women list far more than men. I'm not saying that is proof that women compete more than men by any stretch, but it is something that I find interesting.

Competing More

Several people probably assume that you claim that women compete more than men do, because of an ambiguity in your article's introduction: "Over the past decade or so, I've explored the various ways that women, and to a lesser extent men, compete against same-sex rivals for mates."
I assume you mean to say that you've explored the ways of women to a greater extent than the ways of men. Putting it like this could make your meaning clearer: "Over the past decade or so, I've explored the various ways that women, and to a lesser extent [the ways that] men, compete against same-sex rivals for mates.

I have first hand experience

I have first hand experience as a female :-)

Why all the competition about fashion and looks? It is to attract men. Granted some of the ideal beauty standards for fashion are not attractive to most heterosexual men i.e. extreme thinness.

Why is it that the wife thats been cheated on goes nuts on the female that her husband cheated with and not her husband? Who made a vow to whom? Yes...

Women get jealous too. It is just not likely to get violent. They keep tabs on their men. I cannot talk to some former male friends because of it.

Women mate poach too.

The list can go on but those examples leap to mind.

Men do compete, too

First, sorry for the minor delay in responding (I'm traveling).

PKeegs, you are right (as is the next commenter) that men compete, too. I didn't come to the conclusion that men don't compete - in fact, male competition for mating access is far more violent usually than that of women. I wouldn't say it is subtler though. Research findings suggests that women tend to be very indirect about their aggression and competition, and rarely resort to the type of direct violent competition that men sometimes do.

What I find bothersome is scholarly writing that simply dismisses women's competition because it is not violent. I also find it strange when I hear people (both women and men) say they don't compete for mates - yet they try to look good to impress a mate on a first date or something.

In any case, hope that clarifies.

Girls competing over guy? i

Girls competing over guy? i will believe it when i see it. But how do you get a girl to even appreciate you for the good guy you are first. i have strong feelings for a girl but some days it seems like she likes me and others she seems like she doesn't. i go above and beyond for her but she doesnt seem to care i dont understand. i have lost over 100 lbs and feel great about myself but it doesnt seem to cut it.


I wish I could take you with me into a bathroom at a dance club on a busy Saturday night so that you could hear the women interact - I'm fairly certain that within a minute you'd be convinced that women do compete for men.

Your question about how to make women identify "good men" is far harder to answer. I'm assuming we're talking about women looking for a long-term partner (criteria are different depending on desired relationship duration). Physical attractiveness is part of it, but more important (according to one large international study) is honesty, kindness, and a whole host of personality attributes, shared values, and so on. My words of advice to you would be to emphasize these traits - honestly- and emphasize shared interests and values.

My other advice is that you might want to directly talk with her about it. You need to live a life that fulfills you, and trying to live the way someone else wants you to so that you have a hope of being with her is probably not working towards that. If she says that there is no chance, it's time to move on, as difficult as that might.

I thought this would be in

I thought this would be in the "duh!" file with the correction - "yes, women do compete for eligible men". In other words, you do see competitions for eligible bachelors but not bachelors per se. Plenty of guys are single however he'll be lucky if one woman wants him hence there will be no competition for him.

Eligible or not

Gil, I don't agree that it has to be "eligible" men per se. A "good man" is a good man, whether he's involved with someone or not. Women engage in mate poaching, as I talked about in the post. That means that a "good man" in a relationship might be stolen by a rival woman. Please note that I'm not at all saying this is a positive thing, but rather that it seems to be part of human nature. Many women will completely back off from a man when they learn he's attached - but some will not.

As you point out, there are lots of single, available men out there - and lots of single women, too. The reason these people are single are too numerous to list here, but it can include things like not advertising that you're single, not self-promoting positive attributes, having limited opportunities to interact with the opposite sex, and so on.

Of course there has to be a

Of course there has to be a high quality reason for people wanting to compete with someone. A worker with highly desirable, unique job skills will find employers trying to outbid each other to hire him - even if he's already hired. By the same token, a highly desirable man will find women competing with each other to win him just as a beautiful woman will see the same actions with men. However most men and women aren't that desirable and won't have anyone fighting over them rather they will simply find another person to settle down with them.

I'm definately not academic

I'm definately not academic in any sense, so I might have misunderstood some things in the article. About the high achieving I was thinking (this is just my personal view), that maybe it's just another strategy competing for men? When I meet an interesting women, with an interesting life, I want to get to know (if she is actractive and stuff like that :) So, if this girl is "hard to get", I get even more interested in her. It's what I get, I want the most.
Here in Denmark (where I'm from) we have song called "Don't look for love" (maybe you can hear it on youtube) with a chorus saying "Don't look for love, love will look for you". Maybe the women really believe this :)
Another thing, I was thinking about while reading the article, was how most women look for the "few good men". Are the "few good men" defined by being handsome, athletic, rich (please continue if you want)? I have a lot of girlfriends (in the term friends who are girls, how do you say this in English?), who are looking for this type of man. What they all have in common is low self-esteem. As far I know, low self-esteem is closely related to a desire or need for perfection. They can only feel good about themselves, when they have this perfect man to confirm their own success in life. Maybe this is why, it's difficult broaden the idea of a good man?

Good points

Niels, you raise several really interesting points - thank you!

1) Is high achievement just another strategy to compete for men? Now that is really intriguing. I have two thoughts about this, and I'm really just "thinking aloud" here, so bear with me. First, if we step back and think of competition for men is simply a way to acquire the best mate and to in turn have children who are genetically fit, able to themselves acquire mates later in life, then I think it is. High achieving women are exposed to high achieving men - men with status, resources, and power. It might not be directly within their own workplaces, as it could be socially. Second, one comment I hear often from high achieving women is that they want the independence that comes with position. These are women who might be free to search for a good mate based on his phenotype (physical appearance) and genotype (genes) alone. They don't have to worry as much about a mate's status and resources because they have their own. There has been some recent research on this latter part, and it suggests that there is some merit to this idea. (I like your comment about interesting women, by the way, but I must admit that some of the most interesting people I know are people whom I wouldn't consider high achieving.)

2) Do women (and perhaps men) believe that it's not necessary to look for love, and that love will find them? I think that many hope that the latter is true, but the proliferation of online dating sites leads me to believe that many people believe that they can - must? - look for love.

3) How does self-esteem relate to difficulty in finding a "good man" and is this why it is difficult to broaden the idea of what constitutes a "good man?" Hmmm. To be frank, I don't know. I did a brief search of the academic literature and I didn't find anything to directly support this possibility. In my opinion, those with low self-esteem are more likely to pursue a mate who they feel is on par with their own self image. In other words, I would expect that women with low self-esteem would be more likely to have a broad idea of what a good match for them would be, and less likely to have a narrow definition of "good men."

Several interesting lines for future research here!

Dr. White's other reader...

Another reader of Dr. White's post commented on how she (I assume she) made several life changes and has decided to not compete "for the few good man that are left around for women in their late 40's." She then states, "I've found that it's a lot more rewarding for me to look for nice and polite younger men who suffer at the hands of mean younger women. I'm very, if not extremely successful at this game, mostly because I'm sure that I don't want to marry again." I propose that she is competing - she is acquiring mates by adopting a strategy, and she is successful at it.


I am Dr. White's other reader...

I wanted to respond to your blog entry with my own thoughts even though I'm no expert whatsoever. However, I am conversant with economic theory to some extent. If I understand correctly, you assume competition is a zero-sum game where the gain of a woman (a good man we hope) equals the expense of all other women, who get nothing.

I wonder if I actually operate under the premise of a non-zero zum game situation. More specifically a win-win situation... Maybe the Internet has brought a more "perfect" sense of information when it comes to choosing a partner. Now, I don't feel constrained to look only in my immediate circle of friends and acquaintances to find men. In fact, I think there are good and decent men everywhere, the problem is finding them, and the Internet has made this a lot easier.

I accept that I strategize, and possibly that I'm competing to some extent, but as one of the posters above said, there are a lot of men who feel they're not being competed for, so if they're in that situation and I approach them, I wouldn't really be competing, would I?

Great point...

...female competition would normally be a zero-sum game if the number of men competed for says constant: to put it very simply for every woman that "wins" a man, another loses him. But your strategy of expanding your "choice set," approaching men whom other women do not consider first rate, means they can get their men and you get yours, which is truly a win-win.

I won't presume to say if your strategy counts as competition in the sense that Dr. Fisher uses it, but to me, as I said at the end of my post, it means you're competing in a different way--rather than intensifying your efforts towards the same men other women are competing for, you're expanding your horizons. Good for you!


You've found that women compete with same-sex rivals for mates to a much greater extent than men do. I know that that women and females of many species go for the guy who has a girl already, they see him in action and evaluate him as a partner and decide there must be something good about him since he has a partner. Could this be why so many women think that there are "only a few good men"? The men that are most appealing are those men that other women find appealing as well.
Women are the slow sex therefore they are the choosey sex because they are out of the mate pool for years while they are raising their child. A man is good to go again in a few minutes, he's not out of the mate pool for long so he'd have to be more competitive in order to procure a partner. Because of this I thought men would be more competitive than women since women, being the slow sex are responsible for the sex differences we see between men and women and must be choosey when they are looking for a partner. Could it be then that one reason men are less competitive with same sex rivals than women are is because men are trying to impress the women and the best men will be quickly accepted? Consequently a woman doesn't have to worry about impressing men so much (they need to do more of the impressing) as she has to worry about good men being accepted by her rivals before they get to her or before she gets to them.
I'm a psychology student and I really enjoy thinking about the information presented on this site and learning from it.
Thank you for the article.

competition ugh

I skimmed your article. At the age of 40 I feel that people are way too hard on others for satisfaction. People rely on instant gratification and demeaning others to feel better. I have seen most adults 20 or something to men and women my age and also people past my age. It's amazing with me because have been around social groups to know that everyone competes over selfish stuff. Whos on first, who are the Alphas and subservents. Who gets the gal who really isn't that friendly to begin with. Most people and I say most are 1st born and the baby of the family. Dysfunction is traced back to sibling rivalry.

i'm in the middle and just laugh at people who demonstrate stupidity just to have the way. unreal

From my experience, there are

From my experience, there are women who will try to compete for male competition and try to come between a potential romance. I won't chase after or fawn over men. Too shy, too proud, too not-in-the-mood. However, I manage to attract men's attention. I can't tell you how many times some competitive woman will show up and try to throw themselves at men who show interest in me. My attitude is to walk away. If a man isn't interested enough then I'm not interested either.

However, I find the whole thing annoying and disrespectful. It's not pleasant to have to set boundaries with some rude third party when I'm enjoying a nice conversation/flirtation with a man. ugh!

I think all of us compete, as in try to look our best and present our best selves. When it crosses over into fighting over the same man and blatently trying to upstage, count me out. My dignity is more important.

Sex Differences in Mate Guarding, Reliance on Social Proof

"I should also be clear in that the research shows that women who are in a committed relationship and experience some satisfaction from that relationship are just as competitive as those who are single (e.g., Fisher, Tran & Voracek, 2008). Competition is not simply about getting a mate, it's about keeping the mate, too. Data shows that about 47% of men have been poached (compared to 32% of women) from a current partner by another woman!"

Perhaps a man's mate guarding (competitive behavior) is greater until his partner is pregnant and then drops to some extent, since pursuing paternal certainty through competition then no longer plays as much of a role. It seems likely that a woman's mate guarding would increase from the moment of her pregnancy on. So it might be more stable over time.

The differential you mention supports that speculation; it also seems to point to the a greater prominence of social proof in women's decision making: men who are taken have been tested, and the evidence says that they are worth having. This may also explain the feeling that "all good men are taken". Looked at differently it is: "all taken men are good".

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Maryanne Fisher, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, Canada.


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