Hypergamy – it’s the social science term for the phenomenon of “marrying up,” or “dating up,” something which we know occurs as a result of behavior common to us all thanks to the field of Behavioral Economics. Put plainly, it is the sexual/mating strategy of trading one’s “value” in the sexually related arena to gain nonsexual resource or status not otherwise accessible.
Personal behavioral economics describes a system of players with goals (here, persons seeking sexual and/or marriage partners) and looks to the mass effect and overall statistical picture of the many individualized choices (by the players) which occur. The variables (changes to circumstance) which change behaviors or which produce statistical anomalies are then examined in more depth.
Interestingly, the studies show that contrary to players’ belief within such a system, they do not actually exercise free will – not completely. We see this fact bear out, e.g., in the decision to sell one’s sexual services.
It is easy to say that one decides, based on one’s own free will and analysis, to engage in prostitution or not. I don’t judge the activity of prostitution, but many do. Legislatively, we criminalize it; socially, on the whole, we condemn it. It is condemned, however, because we believe that the offender makes a (primarily and substantially) free will choice to engage in the activity.
Yet we know, from social science research, that there will be a predictable rise in the number of women engaging in prostitution that correlates very closely to drops in economic condition. So in this example, what behavioral economics does is suggest that prostitution is in fact the natural and predictable consequence of a poor economy …perhaps more so than a product of “poor” individualized decision making.
This doesn’t mean it is wrong to address a social issue exclusive of the individual experience. It just means that in many areas of decision making, the individual, despite his/her experience of exercising free will, is in fact heavily and predictably manipulated by environmental factors, including cultural factors.
What does this mean in terms of the anomalously high number of Asian American women and Asian women in America pairing with white men? Well, we know that most (all?) Asian / Asian American women who pair with white men will claim it is the product of their own choice and preference – claimed to be apart from racial considerations too.
As a product of both patriarchy and sexism, women of color will face, on the average, a more difficult life than anyone else. In the sometimes crude sounding social science terminology, women of color have the most undervalued human capital and face the most restriction to resource and social status.
The more racist and sexist a place is, the more difficult conditions become. Access to the resources of financial security and racial (caste) status becomes correspondingly more limited, and access to the highest levels of financial security and status is virtually non-existent. As this happens, hypergamy predictably increases. If America succeeds in decreasing the amount of racial hostility and caste enforcement, we would see Asian and Asian American women in the U.S. select fewer white men as partners.
In the sometimes heated discussions between Asian American men and women over partner selection, I think this gives us a reason to stop making individual Asian American women the targets of racial frustrations and move onto a more productive strategy that gives us all a fair chance at healthy sex lives… and healthy lives.