Study authors found that the bad money habits are related to the biological desire to find a mate.
“What we see in other animals is that when females are scarce, males become more competitive,” Vladas Griskevicius, lead author of the study, explained in a press release. “How do humans compete for access to mates? What you find across cultures is that men often do it through money, through status and through products.”
The conclusion is based on two field experiments designed to see how sex ratio affects economic decisions. In one experiment, participants were asked to read newspaper articles that described their local population as having more men or more women, then asked how much money they would save from their paychecks and borrow from their credit cards if they lived in the area.
When led to believe women were scarce, the savings rates for men decreased by 42% while borrowing rates increased by 84%, researchers say.
In the second experiment, participants viewed photo arrays of men and women, then asked to choose between receiving some money tomorrow or a larger amount in a month. When women were scarce in the photos, men were much more likely to take an immediate $20 rather than wait a month to receive $30.
The findings were also supported by a subsequent analysis of population data. According to researchers, the change in spending habits is exacerbated by the fact that women become more demanding when they realize they are in demand, expecting men to spend more on dinner dates, Valentine’s Day gifts and engagement rings.
“When there’s a scarcity of women, women felt men should go out of their way to court them,” says Griskevicius.
What factors can lead you to subconsciously spend less? Find out in MainStreet’s roundup of 7 Things That Stop You From Spending.