Satoshi Kanazawa

The Scientific Fundamentalist

Why young single men are more xenophobic II

Why young single men are more xenophobic

Posted Dec 18, 2008

Social and cultural ornamentation presents men with one problem that males of other species, who lek via physical ornamentation, do not face:  It does not travel well.  Social and cultural ornamentation is, by definition, socially and culturally specific.  Men cannot brag about their achievements in conversations with women unless they speak the same language.  Yanomamö women in the Amazon rain forest would not be able to tell the difference between a BMW and a Hyundai or the difference between an Armani suit and a Burger King uniform, and their status implications; a Grammy or a Nobel will not impress them at all.  (Has any Nobel Prize winner ever had massive head scars, indicating their experience in club fights?)  Conversely, Western women are unlikely to be impressed by body scars and large penis sheaths.  (A large penis, yes; a large penis sheath, probably not.)  Signs of men’s status and mate value are specific to societies and cultures, and they lose meaning outside of them.

This is in clear contrast to women’s status and mate value.  Standards of  youth and physical attractiveness, the two most important determinants of women’s status and mate value, are culturally universal because they are innate (as I explain in a previous post).  Men in preliterate and innumerate cultures without any concept of fractions or the decimal point will be able to distinguish between women with 1.0 and .7 waist-to-hip ratios.  Yanomamö men will see that a Victoria’s Secret lingerie model is extremely moko dude (a Yanomamö phrase meaning “perfectly ripe”).

If men’s status and mate value are specific to their own society and culture, then they should avoid different cultures, where a completely different set of rules, of which they are ignorant, may apply.  In contrast, women should not avoid foreign cultures to the same extent that men do, because rules applicable to them are cross-culturally universal.  This is partly why young single men do not travel to foreign countries as much as young single women do, and why most members of expressly xenophobic organizations (such as the Ku Klux Klan and the British National Party) are young single males.

However, this sex difference should disappear once men marry, for a couple of reasons.  First, married men who have achieved some reproductive success should have less of an urgent need to attract mates by social and cultural ornamentation than do unmarried men.  Second, and more important, mates are probably the only ornamentation or lekking device men can display that is cross-culturally meaningful.  There is evidence that females of species as varied as guppies, Japanese medaka, black grouse, and Japanese quail prefer to mate with males who have recently mated.  Females use other females’ choice of males as evidence of their genetic quality; in other words, they copy each other.  And there is some evidence that human females might do the same.

The idea is simple:  If a woman meets a strange man, she has no basis on which to form an opinion of him.  He can be a high-quality mate, or he can be a low-quality mate; she just doesn’t know (unless, of course, he’s driving a Jaguar or wearing a Rolex, but only if she knows what it means).  However, if he has a wife, that means that at least one woman, who presumably closely inspected his quality before marrying him, found him good enough to marry.  So he couldn’t be that bad after all; at least one woman found him desirable.  So being married (the presence of a wife) is one cross-culturally transportable ornamentation or lekking device that signifies men’s superior mate value, and married men therefore should not avoid foreign cultures as much as single men do.

Dislike of foreign cultures can be measured by the likelihood of travel to foreign countries or by the expressions of xenophobic attitudes.  One empirical study with a large European sample shows that, controlling for age, education, and income (factors that are expected to, and in most cases do, affect people’s ability to travel), unmarried women are significantly more likely to vacation abroad than unmarried men.  The same study also demonstrates that, controlling for age and education, unmarried women are significantly less likely to express xenophobic attitudes than unmarried men toward individuals of other nationalities, races and religions.  The pattern is similar among Americans as well.  In all cases, the sex difference disappears once the respondents are married; married women are no more likely to travel to foreign countries (probably because married couples tend to vacation together) or no less likely to express xenophobic attitudes than married men.

Both the likelihood of travel abroad and expressions of xenophobia may reflect men’s need to attract women using social cultural ornamentation.  Men’s status and mate value, unlike women’s, are socially and culturally specific, and they cannot successfully attract women outside of their own society and culture.  Married men, on the other hand, can use their wives as cross-culturally meaningful social ornamentation to signify their mate value.  In sharp contrast, the standards and criteria by which women are judged for their mate value are socially and culturally universal, and thus women have no need to fear foreign cultures.