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Why Waitresses Look Sexy

Men give larger donations to attractive women.

There is a basic grammar of courtship in birds where the male offers a gift to the female, such as a bit of food, or a piece of nesting material. If the gift is satisfactory, the pair moves on to the next phase of bonding. This grammar also influences men's willingness to donate to women, even in an era of gender equality.

The Attractive Female Effect on Donations

Giving to charity is a surprisingly emotional phenomenon. In experiments, people who are asked to behave rationally by solving problems make smaller donations. Men give more to female collectors and they give most if solicited by an attractive woman according to English research. On the other hand, women do not give more to male collectors (handsome or otherwise).

As to why men are more likely to give to women, there is an obvious courtship analog. In virtually all societies, men give gifts to women as a prelude to courtship. This might be an ornament, a piece of clothing, or some food.

Amongst hunter gatherers, a successful hunter might hide some meat when the game is divided up and send it to a potential lover via an intermediary. In developed countries, male suitors may pay for a meal in a fancy restaurant as a way of initiating a romantic relationship.

In an age when many women are willing to pick up the tab, such customs retain an emotional significance that is hard to escape. Why might an attractive woman collect more for charity? Why do sexually attractive waitresses get bigger tips from men?

The Sexy Waitress

The logic of male generosity in a courtship situation is complex. It is more than a token offering through which male birds can defuse aggression in a female by stimulating a different behavior, such as feeding, or nest-building. Other reasons to be generous as a tipper include: 

  • Wanting to seem kind, sensitive, and considerate.
  • Advertising earning capacity and social status by giving freely.
  • Placing the waitress under an obligation that could be repaid sexually.

Intercourse is widely considered a privilege that women provide to men. That is not always true, of course, and one clear exception is the case of middle-aged British women who visit Kenya as sex tourists and hook up with much younger local lovers and reward them with gifts. Of course, young attractive women do not need to give gifts to anyone!

Male generosity is also an index of the man's social status. If a man gives the waitress a large tip, he is also advertising his own social status in terms of disposable income. It just happens that women weigh a man's earning capacity more highly as a mate selection criterion than men do.

When a man is served by an attractive waitress, he is rather unlikely to strike up a romantic relationship with her. Even so, her income will improve by dressing sexily. As the English researchers said, “Good deeds among men increase when presented with the opportunity to copulate.”