Why Women are Hottest in Countries With Too Few Dudes

September 4, 2009


Latvian Women Strut Their Stuff

Recently, the economics blog Marginal Revolution ran a piece called  A Theory For Why Latvian Women are Beautiful, after a colleague returned from Latvia astounded by the beauty of the women there. This would hardly surprise Latvian women, 500 of whom marched in a Blonde Weekend parade last May to cheer people up during the global economic downturn.

Alex Tabarrok offers a theory, based on a study by David Schmitt. Basically, it says these women are horny as hell, and implies that they’re getting all dolled up and strutting their stuff to snag a shag. The study was called Sociosexuality from Argentina to Zimbabwe: A 48-nation study of sex, culture, and strategies of human mating (2005). It looks at why women’s attitudes towards casual sex might differ among countries.

First, Marginal Revolution’s definition of sociosexuality:

Sociosexuality is a concept in social psychology that refers to how favorable people are to sex outside of commitment. It can be measured by answers to questions such as “I can imagine myself being comfortable and enjoying “casual” sex with different partners” (agree strongly to disagree strongly) or “Sex without love is ok,” as well as with objective measures such as the number of sexual partners a person has had. A low score indicates subjects who favor monogamous, long-term, high-investment relationships. A high score indicates subjects more favorable to sex for pleasure’s sake alone. with less regard to commitment. On average, males have higher sociosexuality scores than females but sociosexuality scores for females vary widely across countries.

Schmitt hypothesized that women in countries with a low ratio of marriageable men to marriageable women would be more friendly to the idea of commitment-free sex. This theory explores the flipside of a study done by Pedersen (1991), which found that when the sex ratio is high, an oversupply of men leads to greater fidelity, stronger commitment to career, and an increased male willingness to engage in child care. It’s also interesting to note that in the United States, every study has shown that men report higher sociosexual scores than women. (Did that knock you off your chair? I didn’t think so.) Those findings are confirmed in this study across all the countries.

Here’s what Schmitt found:

Female Sociosexuality in 48 Nations

You can see that Latvian women are indeed quite friendly to the idea of bumping just for fun. They are outdone only by my kinswomen in Lithuania, women in Austria, Slovenia, New Zealand and Finland. Estonian chicks also look pretty eager, so if I were a single guy I would book my next vacay to the Baltics.

(It turns out the Baltic nations have a low sex ratio due to the high rates of male suicides and deaths from accidents within these nations. That sounds very strange, doesn’t it? I suspect diabolical plots on the part of the Russian Mafia.)

Another interesting finding of the study is that in cultures where women possess more political, economic, and relational power to make their own sexual decisions, women appear to preferentially choose a more unrestricted form of sociosexual expression. This refutes the idea that women are solely designed for long-term monogamy.

The bottom line? Sex is a commodity that reflects the laws of supply and demand. Go crazy in Latvia, Taiwan’s a bust.

Guy wants it badly, girl grants access according to market conditions. The number of guys in line determines her price.

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  • hambydammit

    Isn't it gratifying when the predictions (like those made by Buss, Symone, et al) turn out to be backed up by the evidence?

    The good news is that the feminists were right. Women aren't “designed” to be at home, barefoot, pregnant, and beholden to their man for winning bread. The bad news — for men, anyway — is that it seems like some of us have got to take one for the team if others are going to get lots of casual sex. I feel like there's a bad horror movie in this somewhere.

  • Anni

    Interesting. So women in countries with less desireable men have to be more willing to have sex without commitment just to have a chance to get a guy? Or they have to be more favorable to the idea of sex without commitment to get any sex at all? Or both? I wonder if cheating rates are higher in these conditions as well.

    And no, I doubt it's the Russian mafia. It's probably just the post-communist transition still having an effect. Market economy has its downsides, especially if you're not used to it. Men work too hard and then die of heart attack (or suicide) at 40. Big wage gaps between men and women aren't helping either.

  • http://FT.com/ VJ

    Even though HD is perhaps a more frequent & familiar 'digester' of such things, the study in question really does not show this assertion made below. In point of fact if they're talking about SEX Ratios? It demonstrably Can Not show this, but some of the conditions that existed perhaps 20 or more years ago. This would then separate out the aspect of commodity to something that has to be imagined either 20 years ago, or 20 years into the future.

    Ergo, talk of 'supply & demand' in the present day context of mating is a bit premature at best. And perhaps worse, an unknown commodity that's particularly hard to plan for or react to, subconsciously or consciously. It can also easily be affected by many different confounding effects of health & medicine, such as access to contraception & adequate reproductive health care. Some of these critiques were noted in the cited research. I've not read all of it, but so far, no one has resorted to such 'market based' analogies. It's a bit more complicated than that, a good deal more tenuous & controversial too. No matter how compelling the graph might be. So far, nothing's been proven conclusively. Even if it's a nice bit of work. Which is not untypically how these theoretical papers go.


    “The bottom line? Sex is a commodity that reflects the laws of supply and demand. Go crazy in Latvia, Taiwan’s a bust.
    Guy wants it badly, girl grants access according to market conditions. The number of guys in line determines her price.”

    So again, NO. Your 'price' may depend upon many things. But most typically in Economics? Local market conditions & a willingness to actively participate fully in the market. This may or may not describe many of the situations people find themselves participating in however.

    But an interesting citation & research. And probably, necessarily, one of the worse applications of effective & operational sex ratio I've ever encountered too. Thanks for the reminder! Cheers, 'VJ'

  • hambydammit


    I hope everyone recognizes a certain amount of levity in talking about this study. VJ, you make a valid point to say that this one study doesn't demonstrate the universal truth of the underlying principle. However, it's also kind of flippant to dismiss the principle altogether. Natural selection IS economics, and as a small business owner myself, I can tell you that there are precious few options when demand goes down other than making the supply more attractive to buyers, which usually translates to cheaper. (Offering “more for your dollar” is the same as cheaper, so if I add on a free toaster, I'm making my widget cheaper. You know this, of course.)

    This isn't the first time scientists have noticed a correlation between available men and women's willingness to have non-committal sex. It's been either a central facet or interesting side note on a number of studies over the last few decades.

    Oh, and Anni, you stopped before the last paragraph, I think. When women have *more* money and political power, they become more likely to engage in casual sex. You've got it backwards. Think about it — when men control the money, they control the pussy, to put it bluntly.

    As a final thought, I have to do my standard disclaimer dance. Casual sex is not inherently “less valuable” than long term sex. Nor are men (or women) who are interested in casual sex inherently less desirable than those who want a relationship. Humans are extremely versatile, and that is probably the main trait that has led to our incredible population growth in the last few thousand years. The fact that women can adapt to a situation with few men is surely an adaptive response. Again, if you think about it, it's really easy. Suppose that women *ONLY* mate monogamously, and won't ever have casual sex. Now, suppose that there is a population of 100 women and 40 men. The math is pretty easy. Only 40 women will reproduce, and the overall population will drop. If 90 of the women reproduce, even though they have fewer resources because they're sharing men, the population stays stable. Clearly, in an pre-agricultural evolutionary environment, those human populations where women's standards for monogamy were flexible would fare substantially better than those who insisted on monogamy.

    We shouldn't make the mistake of imposing modern values on evolutionary math. I think it's the easiest way to cloud our judgment when evaluating and describing “real” human nature.

  • susanawalsh

    Yes, I do feel happy when the camp I align myself with produces clear evidence! Interesting, in the peer comments section of the study, several of those guys weigh in with approval and appreciation for Schmitt's work.

  • susanawalsh

    I think the study shows that women in countries with a low marriageable sex ratio have to be more willing to have sex without commitment to get attention from a man. Some number of those encounters will lead to relationships (in the U.S., casual hookups lead to relationships about 12% of the time). Most of them will end there. The problem is that women don't have better options – they have been forced to “reduce the price” for sex, granting it without expecting anything in return, though they may hope for something more lasting.

  • susanawalsh

    Haha, VJ, I knew you'd hate this one – I recall how vociferously you objected to my original Supply and Demand of Sex post. I think the results are indeed compelling, backed by interesting, credible research. So yes, I maintain that sex is a commodity. I also think that comparing the sex ratio in countries to corresponding sociosexuality scores is logical and revealing!

  • susanawalsh

    I wonder what the long-term consequences will be of the current low birth rates in many Western countries. When sexually active women choose not to reproduce, evolutionary math is turned on its head. Of course, the effects of this are already visible in China, where families are only allowed one child. Additionally, the fact that many there have selected for male offspring (by terminating female fetuses) has led to a pronounced gender imbalance there, presumably with long-term effects we can only guess at today.

  • Anni

    Hambydammit, I'm not sure what excatly you opposed in my comment. Maybe the fact that I implied that casual sex is less valuable than sex in a committed relationship? Well, I agree with you that inherently there is no value difference. And yes, my comment was biased against casual sex, reflecting my personal preference. Sorry about that.

  • http://FT.com/ VJ

    Yep, an interesting study, and deeply flawed just the same. Elegant, nicely done, but logically shot through with enough holes to sink it in sight of the harbor. Happily, most of the objections can be read succinctly in the critiques of the article, should anyone care to do so. And China is a wonderful test case too. It has one of the most skewed sex ratios in the modern world, and only a few ways of achieving this in a short period of time. Most of which happen to involve government bureaucrats involved with central planning and certainly not individual 'maximizing behavior' with respect to mating.

    And yes, W.D. Hamilton would be brought to tears if he had seen some of this 'stuff' which now passes for 'dispassionate' & 'objective' research. It's all amusing to be certain. And it also really does not, and indeed cannot prove what you suspect it does. Which of course is part of its charm too. It almost seems like it might. But not really.

    Nice work if you can get it indeed. Keep up your day jobs folks. You'll all need them! Cheers, 'VJ'

  • hambydammit

    Anni, it seems like you were saying that big income gaps between men and women would lead to women wanting more casual sex. Maybe that's not what you meant. In any case, the opposite is true. When women become more independent of men's pocketbooks, their desire for and willingness to engage in casual sex goes up.

    Sorry if I misunderstood you.

  • hambydammit

    Well, one thing to consider is that we turned evolutionary math on its head when we invented modern medicine. “In the wild,” more human babies die than live. Today, virtually all babies live. So in the strictest sense, restricting ourselves to one or two surviving children is sort of like correcting the deviation we've already made.

    Altering the gender ratio is not necessarily turning things on their head, either. There are a lot of animals that can select the gender of their offspring, and during times of environmental stress, they actively change the gender ratio. One could argue, I suppose, that the severe overpopulation of China is environmental stress, and that the decrease in females is a predictable evolutionary response.

    The thing that's difficult for us to wrap our human brains around is that evolutionary change takes a LONG time, and more importantly, consistency of environment. The current environment in China is only a few generations old, and for there to be any significant evolutionary changes, it would have to continue for several *THOUSAND* generations. That's 30,000 years or so. The fact is, before evolution has any chance to respond to China's birth policy or infanticide practices, the environment will change, and people will emerge virtually identical to what they are now.

  • http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1211676/Goldman-Sachs-banker-offered-28-year-old-Slovakian-500-000-leave-pensioner-husband.html VJ

    FYI: Finally! A ready example of Sex as a commodity reflecting the laws of 'supply & demand'. And a quantifiable sum of something slightly in excess of $700K. Real money too.


    But unfortunately, the woman in question was a.) already Married and b.) from Slovokia, part of the 'mess in the middle' of that infamous chart #1 up there. Cheers, 'VJ'

  • susanawalsh

    Well, here we have a Goldman Sachs banker obsessed with a prostitute. And the pensioner husband, who approves her career chioce, and encourages her to keep seeing Banker for the lavish gifts. The prostitute dumps the pensioner husband, and shows up in court on the arm of Banker (whose career just may have peaked at this point). Sounds to me like she's the only one behaving rationally, so perhaps this case is not really representative.

  • http://FT.com/ VJ

    Perhaps not a perfect example, but we do have commoditization, and 'supply & demand' & an essential agreement (well mostly) about the entire contract from all parties, where some rational market process finally prevails. What's not to like? Just wondering… Cheers, 'VJ'

  • Anni

    No, I meant income gaps leading to early death of men due to stress.

  • Bill

    First of all, the article you mention says nothing of Latvian women being “horny as hell”, nor does the survey paper on which be bases his post. The highly irresponsible post you've based this one does imply that they get “dolled up”. However, you may want to define what “dolled up” means, or is that what the photo from a low angle on mini-skirts is supposed to do?

    For your information, Miss Wharton School, that march of Latvian women was the only of its kind to date, the women in the photo were atypically attired for that event, and the person you should say is “horny as hell” is the photographer. He's the one who got down on his knees to snap the photo, or maybe he snapped it from the mirror on one of his shoes.

    The facts are, that a) you have never been to Latvia, b) neither have your “readers”, c) the study is horsehockey, d) you've offended a great many people, e) you are feeding sexism, f) you must be jealous of beauty, g) you may have a bone to pick with Latvians, h) An overwhelming preponderance of Latvian women do not flaunt their beauty, but seem quite unaware of how beautiful they actually are i) the survey was based on a sample of 78 women, j) the survey was translated, you probably don't speak any other languages so this is meaningless to you, k) Alex Tabarrok is gay.

    In fact, Latvian women, no matter where they live or are born, are incredibly attractive. Particularly opposed to typical and even atypically lovely American women. My sisters were both offered modeling contracts in high school, but chose to attend Ivy League schools, thereafter pursuing law and actual rocket science, respectively. This high level of accomplishment is also typical.

  • susanawalsh

    Bill, I apologize for offending you. I have nothing against Latvian women. I don't know if you caught it, but I am Lithuanian, which is basically the same thing, except for the Protestant/Catholic divide. My daughter looks like she could have been in this photo, actually.

    The Latvian march was designed to cheer people up, and I state that clearly. In fact, the Latvian tourist board promoted it heavily to showcase beautiful Latvian women. It wasn't about their smarts, it was about men having beautiful, sexy women to look at. The women were happy to strut, and there's nothing wrong with that.

    I understand that you disagree with the validity of the study. It has been widely disseminated in the press, and I was merely commenting on it. It's no surprise to me that women in countries with a shortage of men are more likely to have casual sex. It makes total sense. Many studies have shown that the supply of men in a population directly correlates to the roles and behavior of both men and women.

    I am sorry that my use of irreverent language, i.e. horny as hell, offended you. But the research does show that women in countries with low sex ratios, are more likely to engage in commitment-free sex. And Latvia is one of those countries. It's not a character assassination on Latvian women, it's a recognition about what Latvian women are up against.

  • Vigrx plus

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  • RT Wolf

    Have you read Myth of Monogamy? It’s got some things that are relevant to your idea of supply and demand.

    Females tend to go for a dual strategy rather than the one we generally think: they’re not just looking for good long term relationship partners but also seeking opportunities to have access to the genes of an attractive male (however that’s defined across species). The best strategy is to have access to the genes of the attractie male (so have him impregnate her) and then the sweet, caring guy raise the kids…thinking they’re his. And historically females of most species pursue this strategy.

    Rates of cuckoldry among humans, even in westernized nations with our preponderance of birth control (you’d think they’d use a condom/pill for an affair, no?) START at 10% at the low end. This is data since the 50s and has been pretty consistent. That means that about one in ten guys out there is running around raising a kid who they think is theirs but isn’t.

    Like you pointed out in another post: men have thus a desire to make sure the kid they’re goint to invest a ton of time and energy in raising are theirs (and men do have this motivation–most men are not the love ’em and leave ’em type…cause it may lead to their kids dying). Things like seeking women of sexual inexperience (a virgin means by definition the kid will be yours…as long as she doesn’t have sex again with someone else very soon…which is surprisingly common). Ever notice why the woman’s family tells the guy and his family “the baby looks like the father”? Seems to be about the same mechanism of reassuring the man of his parentage.I recall at least one study which did indicate that newborns do indeed look a bit more like fathers.

    Point is: it’s not just men who’re promiscuis and may thus be interested in short-term relationships. Women are motivated to do the same and that’s often something I’ve noticed is swept under the rug when you analyse some article or other. But then, you have a particular goal–you’re not trying to be impartial–so that’s fair enough.

  • Animut

    I need to marry Latvian lady.

  • http://www.partytravelsexlove.com Party Travel Sex Love

    It’s hardly an insult for it to be said that Latvian women like sex. Congratulations to them. I’m from Eastern European origin and it good to see that the women of my ancestry like sex. Supply and demand have always driven everything, but this solely doesn’t explain all sexuality. There are countries on this chart that are more sexual than the chart shows. Religion beliefs can override supply and demand.