Income Inequality and Reproductive Competition: Implications for Consumption, Status-Seeking, and Women’s Self-Sexualization



We argue that inequality plays such an important role in shaping human behavior because of the strong effects it exerts on individual reproductive success and thus evolutionary fitness. Here we examine evidence of the relationship between economic inequality and reproductive incentives in men and women. Inequality has been shown to increase men’s competition for status and respect, particularly among men who are younger and poorer. This competition is an important explanatory variable in rates of accidental death, addiction, violence, and property crime. We then focus on parallel links in women, summarizing evidence that high economic inequality increases women’s investment of time and attention on competitive reproductive pursuits (such as improving physical and sexual attractiveness). We suggest that these behaviors are due to proximate desires to socially signal and socially climb, and may also reflect a concern with external approval. We show that these proximate mechanisms can be interpreted in terms of the ultimate function of achieving greater reproductive success via enhanced status, safety, and material well-being in economically unequal environments.


Inequality Evolution Fitness Future discounting Hypergamy Mating effort Mate choice Resource holding 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Evolution & Ecology Research Centre, and School of Biological, Earth and Environmental SciencesUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia

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