Whether they are hazing in a traumatic fraternity ritual or using systemic advantage to dominate the corporate sphere, much conventional wisdom says men in groups are bad. But a new study suggests that violence is not necessarily correlated with a high concentration of testosterone-charged males. In fact, it's living around a lot of women that may correspond to higher rates of homicide, assault, and sexual violence.
Called "Marriage Markets and Male Mating Effort: Violence and Crime Are Elevated Where Men Are Rare" and conducted by researchers at the University of Utah, the study outlines common presumptions about violence and threats to "social stability" surrounding male-dominated population ratios—and then promptly dismisses them. After analyzing demographic data from all 3,082 US counties collected by the Census Bureau in 2010, the study authors concluded that violent crime rates were lower in areas where men outnumber women—not the other way around, as many might assume.
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Led by Ryan Schacht, a postdoctoral researcher in the university's anthropology department, the study examined five different factors against demographic sex ratios: homicide rates, rates of aggravated assault, rape, other sex offenses (such as attempted rape, sexual assault, and "offenses against common decency"), and levels of prostitution or "commercial vice." All of them—even prostitution—were lower when there were more men around than women.
"I still find it hard to wrap my head around," Schacht told Broadly over the phone, "but we really tried to think about behavior as strategic as a response to place."
Schacht and the researchers pose an economic theory for why this is: supply and demand. In areas where women are scarce, competition over them is higher, meaning that men can't be carousing in bar fights at five in the morning if they hope to reproduce. "In places where women are relatively rare, this is where they're valued," Schacht said, "so the expectation is that men will be attempting to acquire a single relationship, and they'll be more responsive to what women want in a relationship."
Generally, what heterosexual women want in a relationship is for their partners to not commit violent crimes or sexual assault, so this makes sense. Schacht also says that, according to another study he conducted on demographic sex ratios and relationship behavior, male-biased areas also correspond to higher rates of marriage and paternal involvement.
Generally, what heterosexual women want in a relationship is for their partners to not commit violent crimes or sexual assault.
The relationship between rates of prostitution and the number of men in an area was particularly surprising to Schacht; it was opposite to "the general expectation in literature, and also what you read in public [media]." But the study notes that the "bachelor threat"—or the idea that a lack of women will "elevate rates of violence at the population-level because of a growing class of unattached bachelor males"—is largely unsupported by evidence. While single men are more likely to engage in criminal behavior, men who live in male-biased areas must "respond to the demands of women," and are thus "not competing with one another for multiple partners."
Schacht first became interested in the effects of demographic structure on men and women's relationship and child-rearing behavior while writing his dissertation in Guyana. There, he and his wife spent two years interviewing around 300 men and women about their relationship preferences, family life, and sexual histories, and they found that stereotypical attitudes about men and women—that men are aggressive and promiscuous, while women are coy and prefer long-term monogamy—only really played out in areas where women outnumbered men. In areas where men dominated—because they were drawn there for mining work, for example—"the preferences between men and women were indistinguishable."
"Your gender was no longer an accurate predictor of behavior," Schacht said of his research in Guyana. "Men were much more interested in a long-term committed relationship with a single partner."
Even after controlling for race, income, education level, and other factors, this bore out in the United States as well, and Schacht hopes his team's findings will be able to have an effect on policy. In particular, he noted that attempts at crime reduction tend to focus on targeting poor, minority neighborhoods, which could be counterintuitive. In the South, for example, you have "outside forces creating artificial female-based communities," which could lead to an uptick in violent crime. Schacht noted that areas particularly affected by mass incarceration are more likely to have a shortage of men. "Think about why you see female-concentrated biases in the South," he said. "It's due to the very high incarceration rates, which [could be] incentivizing the male pursuit of multiple partners and low paternal investment."