The Effect of Mate Value Discrepancy on Hypothetical Engagement Ring Purchases


Few material goods entail as high a cost and carry as little practical value as an engagement ring. Despite their obvious signaling value, engagement ring expenditures have rarely been studied. The purpose of the current study was to experimentally manipulate a discrepancy in the physical attractiveness of romantic partners to determine its effect on hypothetical engagement ring purchases. We predicted that (1) men would purchase larger, more expensive engagement rings when imagining themselves mated to a more attractive rather than less attractive woman and (2) women would desire larger, more expensive engagement rings when imagining themselves mated to a less attractive rather than more attractive man. We further predicted a positive correlation between women’s self-ratings of attractiveness and the size and cost of the engagement ring women chose, regardless of target attractiveness. Results supported all three predictions. Data about the cost and quality of actual engagement rings was also collected to explore their correlations with age and attractiveness discrepancies in real-world couples; however, we failed to find a consistent pattern whereby more desirable women received more expensive and higher quality engagement rings. Results from the experimental portion of the current study show that men invest greater resources in attractive women and that increased resource investment can compensate for decreased physical attractiveness within the domain of women’s mate preferences.

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    Correlational analyses on participants’ ratings of the target’s attractiveness in an absolute sense and ring choice echoed these findings. A significant positive correlation emerged among male participants, r(335) = .28, p < .001, such that as participants’ perception of the target’s attractiveness increased, they chose larger, more expensive rings. In contrast, a significant negative correlation emerged among female participants, r(251) = − .21, p = .001, such that as participants’ perception of the target’s attractiveness decreased, they desired larger, more expensive rings.


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The authors thank Mark D. Cloud, Carin Perilloux, and Zachary L. Simmons for providing helpful feedback on drafts of this manuscript.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jaime M. Cloud.

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Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.



Example Experimental Photograph and Vignette

Instructions: Please imagine yourself as the boyfriend of the woman shown below. Below her picture are a few quick facts describing the woman you are dating in greater detail.


Quick Facts:

  • Hometown: Bend, OR

  • Hobbies: Hiking, watching movies

  • Favorite Food: Pizza

  • Descriptive Traits: kind, outgoing, and creative

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Cloud, J.M., Taylor, M.H. The Effect of Mate Value Discrepancy on Hypothetical Engagement Ring Purchases. Evolutionary Psychological Science 5, 22–28 (2019).

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  • Assortative mating
  • Mate preferences
  • Physical attractiveness
  • Consumer behavior