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Esther is crowned in this 1860 woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Karolsfeld.

Hypergamy (colloquially referred to as "dating up" or "marrying up"[1]) is a term used in social science for the act or practice of a person dating or marrying a spouse of higher social status or sexual capital than themselves.

The antonym "hypogamy"[a] refers to the inverse: marrying a person of lower social class or status (colloquially "marrying down"). Both terms were invented in the Indian subcontinent in the 19th century while translating classical Hindu law books, which used the Sanskrit terms anuloma and pratiloma, respectively, for the two concepts.[2]

The term hypergyny is used to describe the overall practice of women marrying up, since the men would be marrying down.[3]


One study found that women are more selective in their choice of marriage partners than are men.[4][5]

A study done by the University of Minnesota in 2017 found that females generally prefer dominant males as mates.[6] Research conducted throughout the world strongly supports the position that women prefer marriage with partners who are culturally successful or have high potential to become culturally successful. The most extensive of these studies included 10,000 people in 37 cultures across six continents and five islands. Women rated "good financial prospect" higher than men did in all cultures. In 29 samples, the "ambition and industriousness" of a prospective mate were more important for women than for men. Meta-analysis of research published from 1965 to 1986 revealed the same sex difference (Feingold, 1992). Across studies, 3 out of 4 women rated socioeconomic status as more important in a prospective marriage partner than did the average man.

Gilles Saint-Paul (2008) proposes a mathematical model that purports to demonstrate that human female hypergamy occurs because women have greater lost mating opportunity costs from monogamous mating (given their slower reproductive rate and limited window of fertility compared to men), and thus must be compensated for this cost of marriage. By this argument, marriage reduces the overall genetic quality of her offspring by precluding the possibility of impregnation by a genetically higher quality male, albeit without his parental investment, but the reduction may be compensated by greater levels of parental investment by her genetically lower quality husband.[dubiousdiscuss]. At the end of his introduction, Saint-Paul states his model is consistent with statistics published by Bertrand et al (2013) but also notes that in US Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) data gathered the same year "aggregate evidence is not so clear-cut."[7]

An empirical study examined the mate preferences of subscribers to a computer dating service in Israel that had a highly skewed sex ratio (646 men for 1,000 women). Despite this skewed sex ratio, they found that "On education and socioeconomic status, women on average express greater hypergamic selectivity; they prefer mates who are superior to them in these traits... while men express a desire for an analogue of hypergamy based on physical attractiveness; they desire a mate who ranks higher on the physical attractiveness scale than they themselves do."[8]: 51 

One study did not find a statistical difference in the number of women or men "marrying-up" in a sample of 1,109 first-time married couples in the United States.[9]

Another study found traditional marriage practices in which men "marry down" in education do not persist for long once women have the educational advantage.[10]

Additional studies of mate selection in dozens of countries around the world have found men and women report prioritizing different traits when it comes to choosing a mate, with both groups favoring attractive partners in general, but men tending to prefer women who are young while women tend to prefer men who are rich, well educated, and ambitious.[11] They argue that as societies shift towards becoming more gender-equal, women's mate selection preferences shift as well. Some research supports that theory,[12] including a 2012 analysis of a survey of 8,953 people in 37 countries, which found that the more gender-equal a country, the likelier male and female respondents were to report seeking the same qualities in each other rather than different ones.[13]

In a 2016 paper that explored the income difference between couples in 1980 and 2012, researcher Yue Qian noted that the tendency for women to marry men with higher incomes than themselves still persists in the modern era.[14]


It is becoming less common for women to marry older men. Hypergamy does not necessitate the man being older; rather, it requires him to have higher status. The term 'social equals' typically pertains to shared social circles rather than economic equality.[15][16][17]

See also


  1. ^ Not to be confused with the botanical term "hypogynous".


  1. ^ Abgarian, Almara (21 October 2018). "What is hypergamy and are some people prone to it?". Retrieved 2 July 2019.
  2. ^ Shah, A. M. (6 December 2012), The Structure of Indian Society: Then and Now, Routledge, pp. 37–, ISBN 978-1-136-19770-3
  3. ^ Dickemann, Mildred (May 1979). "The ecology of mating systems in hypergynous dowry societies". Social Science Information. 18 (2): 163–195. doi:10.1177/053901847901800201. S2CID 144749330. It seemed clear from my materials that, as long ago proposed by Risley (1908) and Rivers (1921), this practice was a product of hypergyny, the upward flow of brides in a society which, being pyramidal, had fewer grooms at the top
  4. ^ Geary, David C.; Vigil, Jacob; Byrd-Craven, Jennifer (2003). "Evolution of human mate choice". The Journal of Sex Research. 41 (1): 27–42. doi:10.1080/00224490409552211. PMID 15216422. S2CID 6848381. Retrieved 30 December 2020.
  5. ^ Geary, David C.; Vigil, Jacob; Byrd-Craven, Jennifer (2003). "Evolution of Human Mate Choice" (PDF). Retrieved 30 December 2020.
  6. ^ "Women's Mate Preferences". ResearchGate. January 2017. p. 3. Retrieved 16 November 2021.
  7. ^ Saint-Paul, G. (2008). "Genes, Legitimacy and Hypergamy: Another look at the economics of marriage.] Econstor, IZA Discussion Papers, No. 4456". Journal of Demographic Economics. 81 (4): 331–377. doi:10.1017/dem.2015.8. hdl:10419/36029.
  8. ^ Bokek-Cohen, Y.; Peres, Y. & Kanazawa, S. (2007). "Rational choice and evolutionary psychology as explanations for mate selectivity" (PDF). Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology. 2 (2): 42–55. doi:10.1037/h0099356.
  9. ^ Dalmia, Sonia; Sicilian, Paul (2008). "Kids Cause Specialization: Evidence for Becker's Household Division of Labor Hypothesis". International Advances in Economic Research. 14 (4): 448–459. doi:10.1007/s11294-008-9171-x. S2CID 153727934.
  10. ^ Esteve, Albert (2016-11-21). "The End of Hypergamy: Global Trends and Implications". Population and Development Review. 42 (4): 615–625. doi:10.1111/padr.12012. PMC 5421994. PMID 28490820.
  11. ^ Cashdan, Elizabeth (1996). "Women's Mating Strategies" (PDF). Evolutionary Anthropology. 5 (4): 134–143. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1520-6505(1996)5:4<134::AID-EVAN3>3.0.CO;2-G. S2CID 83722614. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-04-12.
  12. ^ Hadfield, Elaine (1995). Men's and Women's Preferences in Marital Partners in the United States, Russia, and Japan (PDF). Vol. 26. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. pp. 728–750. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-12-03. Retrieved 2013-11-29.
  13. ^ Zentner, M.; Mitura, K (1 October 2012). "Stepping out of the caveman's shadow: nations' gender gap predicts degree of sex differentiation in mate preferences". Psychological Science. 23 (10): 1176–85. doi:10.1177/0956797612441004. PMID 22933455. S2CID 3099690.
  14. ^ Yue Qian (2016). "Gender Asymmetry in Educational and Income Assortative Marriage". Journal of Marriage and Family. 79 (2): 318–336. doi:10.1111/jomf.12372.
  15. ^ Rutter, Virginia (2011). The Gender of Sexuality: Exploring Sexual Possibilities. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (Gender Lens Series). p. 19. ISBN 978-0742570030.
  16. ^ Coltrane, Scott (2008). Gender and Families (Gender Lens Series). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 94. ISBN 978-0742561519.
  17. ^ McVeigh, Tracy (2012-04-07). "Shift in marriage patterns 'has effect on inequality'". The Guardian. Retrieved 2018-11-14.