Original Paper

Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 43, Issue 7, pp 1289-1301

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Female Economic Dependence and the Morality of Promiscuity

  • Michael E. PriceAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, School of Social Sciences, Brunel University Email author 
  • , Nicholas PoundAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, School of Social Sciences, Brunel University
  • , Isabel M. ScottAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, School of Social Sciences, Brunel University


In environments in which female economic dependence on a male mate is higher, male parental investment is more essential. In such environments, therefore, both sexes should value paternity certainty more and thus object more to promiscuity (because promiscuity undermines paternity certainty). We tested this theory of anti-promiscuity morality in two studies (N = 656 and N = 4,626) using U.S. samples. In both, we examined whether opposition to promiscuity was higher among people who perceived greater female economic dependence in their social network. In Study 2, we also tested whether economic indicators of female economic dependence (e.g., female income, welfare availability) predicted anti-promiscuity morality at the state level. Results from both studies supported the proposed theory. At the individual level, perceived female economic dependence explained significant variance in anti-promiscuity morality, even after controlling for variance explained by age, sex, religiosity, political conservatism, and the anti-promiscuity views of geographical neighbors. At the state level, median female income was strongly negatively related to anti-promiscuity morality and this relationship was fully mediated by perceived female economic dependence. These results were consistent with the view that anti-promiscuity beliefs may function to promote paternity certainty in circumstances where male parental investment is particularly important.


Promiscuity Sociosexuality Paternity certainty Parental investment Evolutionary moral psychology