Men will spend a lot more money on engagement rings if they hear that there are fewer eligible women nearby, according to a new psychological study.
The study, “The Financial Consequences of Too Many Men: Sex Ratio Effects on Savings, Borrowing, and Spending,” published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, had local college students read news articles said to be from the Chicago Tribune. (The students were told the study was testing recall, to offset suspicion.)
One article highlighted that sex ratios on campuses are becoming female-biased (more women than men). The other said that sex ratios are becoming male-biased. Participants were then asked how much a man should spend on an engagement ring, with options provided to them in $250 increments.
The study found that when males read the articles that said there were more men than women, they estimated they would spend an average of $2,764 on their rings. Men who thought the ratio was going the other way said they’d spend less: $2,270.
Women also expected the men to cough up more. When female participants read the male-biased articles, they expected men to spend $2,348 on a ring—versus $2,023 for women who read the female-biased pieces.
The study found similar results for other “mating-related” purchases, such as a romantic dinner and Valentine’s Day gifts.
Lead author Vladas Griskevicius said in a YouTube video that the study proves that human behavior can be quite similar to that of other animals. In most species, males grow more competitive when there is a lack of eligible mates.
“What no one expected is how persuasive sex ratio is in all kind of behaviors,” explained Griskevicius, an assistant professor of marketing at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. “What’s interesting is, in none of these studies were people aware that sex ratio was having any effect of their behavior. They just felt like they wanted to [spend] more money.”
He added the study could have marketing implications.
“This research suggests that if you have one woman in the context of multiple men, that men will respond to those ads by wanting to spend more money now, and be more interested in engaging in things like conspicuous consumption,” he said.