An Evolutionary Theory of Sex Differences in Status Striving

The extent to which human men and females may adjust their reproductive outputs differs substantially. Male reproduction has a considerably higher ceiling than female reproduction since sperm is relatively plentiful, and males are not required to spend much on their kids. In other words, male reproductive success is far more unpredictable than female reproductive success. Regardless of socioeconomic rank, nearly all fertile females will reproduce, but the same cannot be accurate for all viable men.

Other men are condemned to bachelorhood and reproductive oblivion for every male who acquires reproductive access to a disproportionate fraction of women. This implies that the more polygynous the mating system—that is, the greater the variation in male sexual availability to women—the greater the selective pressure on males to become one of the few who succeed in reproducing. Additionally, selection will reward tactics for avoiding being wholly barred from reproducing.

Evolutionary Theory of Sex Differences in Status Striving

According to the evolutionary hypothesis of sex differences in status striving, men and women have developed distinct strategies for achieving societal standing. This theory holds that males are more likely to seek status through rivalry, whereas women are more likely to seek status through cooperation. This theory is founded on the notion that male rivalry was required for the species' survival and reproduction in the ancestral world, while female cooperation was required for child-rearing.

Men have greater testosterone levels on average, which is linked to characteristics like aggression and rivalry. This may motivate males to strive for high societal standing, increasing their odds of marrying high-quality partners and carrying on their genes. Men's desire for prestige is primarily motivated by a desire to access resources and mates.

This theory has been used to explain various gender variations in behavior, such as men being more likely to seek high-status employment, males competing fiercely, and women cooperating. Women's standing aspirations are primarily motivated by a wish for societal acceptance and prestige. Women are more prone than men to seek low-status jobs. Women are more apt to collaborate. Women, on the other hand, have fewer eggs and a higher stake in each child. This may cause women to value mate quality over societal standing, as a suitable mate can provide resources and security for their children.

Elevated Dominance and Status in Males

Increased dominance and prestige can give males more sexual access in two ways.

  • First, women may choose domineering males as partners (Kenrick et aI., 1990). High-status males can provide women with more safety, improved access to resources to assist in sustaining them and their children, and possibly even better health care. Women in polygynous societies frequently choose to share a bounty of resources that a high-ranking man may supply with other cowives rather than having all of the smaller portions of resources a lower-ranking man possesses. As a result, one possible advantage of being a high-ranking male is preferential mate selection by women.

  • Intrasexual control is a second way for dominating males to obtain more access to women. Dominant males may easily take or poach subordinate men's partners, leaving these low-ranking guys powerless to resist. Men are known by their peers as "the sort who can be pushed around" and "the sort who will not take any shit," as "people whose word means action" or "people who are full of hot air," as "guys whose girlfriends you can chat up with impunity" or "guys you do not want to mess with."

Status and Sexual Opportunity

Is there evidence that increased male status leads to more excellent sexual opportunities for women? Throughout recorded history, kings, emperors, and despots have frequently gathered women in harems, selecting the young, fertile, and pretty. For example, the Moroccan sultan Moulay Ismail the Bloodthirsty maintained a harem of 500 women with whom he fathered 888 children. Laura Betzig, an evolutionary anthropologist, compiled systematic data from the world's first six civilizations: Mesopotamia, Egypt, Aztec Mexico, Incan Peru, imperial India, and imperial China.

From 4,000 B.C., these civilizations covered four continents and around four thousand years. Let us take one of them as an example. Bhupinder Singh's harem in India held 332 women. There were ten high-ranking Maharanis, fifty middle-ranking Ranis, and several mistresses and enslaved people without rank among them. They were all at the disposal of the Maharaja. He could fulfill his need at any time of day or night with any of them.

This lavish sexual access to women was limited to those with significant positions and authority. Many men could only afford one wife, and some were so impoverished that they could not afford one. On the other hand, the wealthier lords could easily afford harems, and until very recently, in India, many did.

This connection also appears to exist recently, but not to the same level. Monogamy is legally enforced in modern Western civilizations, limiting the number of women a man can marry. The abolition of harems corresponded with the decline of despotism and kingship.

Nevertheless, males with high social rank have better sexual access to a more significant number of women. Because this access happens in the context of legally mandated monogamy, high-status men's enhanced sexual access is exclusively the result of short-term sex partners and extramarital relationships. For example, men who score high on social dominance admit to having more affairs.

Moreover, contemporary men with high wealth and positions tend to have more sex and have a more significant number of children. Surprisingly, Austrian research found that even inside universities, men professors in high-status jobs had more children than ordinary staff. Likewise, men of high rank can marry women who are far more physically appealing than men of lesser status. High-status guys like women who are younger and hence more fertile. Although the organization of modern society has altered significantly from that of the first civilizations, the relationship between a man's rank and sexual availability to young, attractive women has remained relatively constant.

Factors Determining the Sex Differences in Status Striving

Several variables are considered to add to the documented gender differences in prestige striving between men and women. Biological, evolutionary, societal, and social variables are among them.

Biological Factors

Biological variables influence sex variations in behavior and psyche. Men and women, for example, have varying levels of hormones such as testosterone and estrogen, which can impact their desire for social standing and their behaviors in social and competitive settings.

Evolutionary Factors

Evolutionary variables may also influence gender variations in prestige striving. Because of variations in biology and reproductive anatomy, men and women have distinct reproductive tactics, which has resulted in differences in behavior and psyche. Men's desire for social prestige may stem from a desire to draw high-quality partners and pass on their DNA. In contrast, women's emphasis on relationship quality may stem from higher reproductive investment in each child.

Cultural and Social Factors

Cultural and social variables also influence sex variations in prestige seeking. Gender roles and expectations differ across countries, impacting how men and women view and seek societal status. Women, for example, may be expected in some societies to value family and relationships over job achievement, which can contribute to differences in status-striving behavior.


Socialization and events affect sex variations in prestige aspiration. Men and women may have been raised differently and have had different experiences in social and work settings, which can impact their actions and views toward social standing. Women, for example, may experience workplace discrimination or bias, limiting their ability to achieve high social standing or progress in their jobs.

It is also essential to observe that these variables are complicated and multifaceted, and their interactions may influence sex differences in prestige striving in complex ways. Furthermore, each gender has substantial individual variation, and not all men or women adhere to conventional gender stereotypes or assumptions.

Men and Women Express Their Dominance through Different Actions

The activities by which men and women demonstrate their power are one form of evidence for a sex difference in dominance. Edwin Megargee, a personality psychologist, discovered the gender difference in dominant manifestation through a modest psychological experiment. Megargee wished to create a laboratory test environment to investigate dominance's impact on leadership. He initially gave a dominance scale to a big group of men and women who may be future participants.

He then chose men and women who scored high or low on dominance. After completing this selection procedure, Megargee (1969) brought in pairs of persons, each matching a high-dominant subject with a low-dominant subject. He devised four scenarios: (I) a high-dominant man with a low-dominant man, (II) a high-dominant woman with a low-dominant woman, (III) a high-dominant man with a low-dominant woman, and (IV) a high-dominant woman with a low-dominant man.

Megargee gave each pairing a massive box of red, yellow, and green nuts, bolts, and levers. According to the subjects, the study investigated the link between personality and leadership under stress. Each pair of subjects was to work as a troubleshooting team to fix the box as rapidly as possible by removing specific colored nuts and bolts and replacing them with others.

However, one team member had to be the leader, which involved delivering directions to his or her partner. The second person was to be the follower, performing the mundane chores assigned by the leader. The experimenter then informed the subjects that it was their responsibility to determine who would be the leader and the follower.

Megargee's main concern was determining who would become the leader and the follower. He documented the percentage of high-dominant subjects who rose to the leader position in each circumstance. He discovered that 75% of high-dominant males and 70% of high-dominant women adopted the leading role among same-sex partnerships. When high-dominant males were coupled with low-dominant women, 90 percent of the men rose to the leader position. The most shocking outcome happened when the woman was dominant, and the male was not. Just 20% of the highly dominant women accepted leadership in these settings.


At last, we can derive that this evolutionary theory describes sex variations in status-seeking that may originate from reproductive strategy differences, with men contending for resources to entice partners and women engaging in parenthood. Social and cultural variables, on the other hand, play an essential role in defining gender norms and expectations. To achieve better gender equality, these variables may need to be addressed, and a more inclusive and supportive social atmosphere for all people, regardless of gender.

Updated on: 11-Apr-2023


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