Foreclosures, credit card debt, bank bailouts – all symptoms of compulsive overspending, which a University of Michigan (UM) researcher believes can be explained by evolution. It all boils down, says UM’s Daniel Kruger, to making babies.
Kruger tested his hypothesis in a sample of adults aged 18-45 and found that the degree of financial consumption was directly related to future mating intentions and past mating success for men but not for women.
Financial consumption was the only factor that predicted how many partners men wanted in the next five years and also predicted the number of partners they had in the previous five years, Kruger explained. Being married made a difference in the frequency of one-time sexual partners in the last year, but not in the number of partners in the past or desired in the future.
“It gives an ultimate explanation for why we feel we have to keep up with the Joneses. Especially for guys, our position in the social hierarchy is based on our resources. Economic success has traditionally been good for men’s reproductive success, so men have an incentive to show that they are doing well economically,” he added.
So where does the current economic downturn fit into this theory? “I really do think that our evolved mating strategies have an influence. Our competition for economic displays drives our consumer economy and culture of affluence,” Kruger said. “In terms of the current mortgage crisis, the findings suggest that one of the reasons why we overextend ourselves is that we’re basically in a status race. We have expectations that spiral upward… and everyone wants to show that they are better than average.”