In my last two posts, I discussed the harsh economic data on the differential economic value of a man’s company as opposed to a woman’s.  To briefly overview, bride-price has been found in most of the world’s societies, dowry (or money provided by the bride’s family) is rarer.  When dowry is found, the money typically goes along with the bride, rather than being a gift to the husband’s family (see The cost of a woman vs. the cost of a man).  There’s also prostitution, which is almost always an affair in which men pay, often several thousand dollars an hour, for a woman’s company (see Does a woman’s company always cost more than a man’s?). 

Whilst perusing the economic, sociological, and psychological literature on these sex differences, I thought it might be fun to ask the students in my social psychology class to consider a couple of hypothetical questions:

1. Imagine you lived in a society in which it was normal to pay money for a spouse.  What is the maximum you would be willing to pay?  (I instructed the students to be realistic, and not to name a sum they could not afford, but also to consider that they could borrow on credit, as they would when buying a house or a car).

2. Imagine you lived in a society in which it was completely acceptable to pay money for a sexual partner for a single evening, and that it did not violate your moral, religious, or cultural rules.  What is the maximum you would pay for a one-night stand (again being realistic about what you could actually afford).  

I also told them to note if they would find this completely unacceptable, even if they lived in a society with different norms. 

Despite the culture shock that might be involved, the students were able to put some numbers down. The data were analyzed by my collaborator Jessica Li (a budding behavioral economist who has just taken a position in marketing at the University of Kansas). 

Guess what: there was a big sex difference.   Sadly, even in this imaginary world, a man’s company was worth less than a woman’s (the graph depicts the most men and women would pay). 

Here’s the prices: 


Maybe it’s not surprising that men will pay seven times more for a sexual partner, but women won’t even pay as much for a marriage partner, who in theory, might bring home a paycheck for decades to come (or maybe not, in the current economy I understand young guys are losing economic value more precipitously than are young women).

And then there’s the percentage of people who would find it unacceptable to pay for a partner, regardless of the society’s norms in which they were living:


Almost half of women find it hard to even imagine a society in which it would be normal for a woman to pay for a man as a sexual partner.  But if a guy will hang around for a couple of years and take out the garbage, well maybe.

Douglas Kenrick is author of Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life: A psychologist investigates how evolution, cognition, and complexity, are revolutionizing our view of human natureThe ability to compose such eloquent scientific prose ought to make him worth more than a mere $14,476, but he decided not to survey his wife on the matter.

Related blogs: 

The cost of a woman vs. the cost of a man: What do women pay for in a man? 

Does a woman’s company always cost more than a man’s? Behavioral economics meets bride-price, dowry, and prostitution. 

The 7 worst things about being a male.  

Deep Rationality: Evolutionary psychology meets behavioral economics.

* Thanks to Eric Abbruzzese for entering the data. 

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