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Hypergamy (colloquially referred to as "marrying up") is the act or practice of marrying someone wealthier, or of higher caste or status than oneself.[citation needed] Although the term is not gendered, it is generally used by social scientists to refer to women marrying higher-status men, rather than to men marrying higher-status women.[citation needed]

The word "hypogamy"[1] typically refers to instances of the inverse occurring: marrying a person of lower social class or status.


Forms of hypergamy have been practiced throughout history, including in India, imperial China, ancient Greece, the Ottoman Empire and feudal Europe.[2]

Today most people marry their approximate social equals, and in much of the world hypergamy is felt to be in slow decline: for example, it is becoming less common for women to marry older men.[3][4] However, even in relatively gender-equal societies it is accepted that young women will often partner with powerful older men.[5]

Mating preferences and hypergamy[edit]

Studies of heterosexual mate selection in dozens of countries around the world have found men and women report prioritizing different traits when it comes to choosing a mate, with men tending to prefer women who are young and attractive and women tending to prefer men who are rich, well-educated, ambitious, and attractive.[6] Evolutionary psychologists propose this as an inherent sex difference arising out of sexual selection, with men driven to seek women who will give birth to healthy babies and women driven to seek men who will be able to provide the necessary resources for the family's survival. Townsend (1989) surveyed medical students regarding their perception of how the availability of marriage partners changed as their educational careers advanced. Eighty-five percent of the women indicated that "As my status increases, my pool of acceptable partners decreases" (p. 246). In contrast, 90% of men felt that "As my status increases, my pool of acceptable partners increases" (p. 246).[7]

Saint-Paul (2008) argued that, based on mathematical models, human female hypergamy occurs because women have greater lost mating opportunity costs from monogamous mating (given their slower reproductive rate and limited window of fertility), and thus must be compensated for this cost of marriage. Although marriage reduces the overall genetic quality of her offspring (e.g., the possibility of impregnation by a higher quality genetic male, yet sans his parental investment), this reduction is compensated by greater levels of paternal parental investment by her husband.[8] An empirical study examined the mate preferences of subscribers to a computer dating service in Israel that had a highly skewed sex ratio (646 men for 1,000 women). Despite this skewed sex ratio, they found that "On education and socioeconomic status, women on average express greater hypergamic selectivity; they prefer mates who are superior to them in these traits... Men express a desire for hypergamy on physical attractiveness; they desire a mate who ranks higher on the physical attractiveness scale than they themselves do."[9]

In modern society, discussing the role money plays in determining how women select long-term male partners is often considered a taboo.[10]

Hypergamy in India[edit]

For citizens of rural India, hypergamy is an opportunity to modernize. Marriages in rural India are increasingly examples of hypergamy.[11] Farmers and other rural workers want their daughters to have access to city life, for with metropolitan connections comes internet access, better job opportunities, and higher caste social circles.[12] A connection in an urban area creates a broader social horizon for the bride's family, and young children in the family can be sent to live with the couple in the city for better schooling. Hypergamy comes with a cost though: the dowry, which often costs as much or more than an entire house.[13] The high price that has to be borne by the parents while marrying a daughter has led to increasing rates of abortion of female fetuses.[14]

The concept of marrying up in India is prevalent due to caste-based class stratification. The women from the higher castes were not allowed to marry men from a lower caste. This concept, cited in the Vedas as the Anuloma was justified as the mechanism to keep the Hindu ideological equivalent of the gene pool from degrading. The opposite of the Anuloma, called the Pratiloma was not allowed in the ancient Indian society. However, the Vedas cite an example where one such exception was allowed when the daughter of Sage Shukracharya, Devayani was allowed to marry a Kshatriya king (lower caste compared to Brahmanas in the Indian caste system) named Yayati.

Hypergamy is also seen in men who marry women from powerful or influential families as a way to increase their social status and access to opportunities.

Because a hypergamous marriage is unequal, hypergamy has been criticized for reinforcing and perpetuating gender inequality in society overall, for example when highly educated women married to high-income men decide to stay home to raise children rather than pursuing their own careers.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ not to be confused with the botanical term hypogamous.
  2. ^ Watts Jr, Meredith W. (2012). Biopolitics and Gender (Google eBook). Routledge. 
  3. ^ Rutter, Virginia (2011). The Gender of Sexuality: Exploring Sexual Possibilities. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (Gender Lens Series). p. 19. ISBN 0742570037. 
  4. ^ Coltrane, Scott (2008). Gender and Families (Gender Lens Series). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 94. ISBN 0742561518. 
  5. ^ Rudman, Laurie (2010). The Social Psychology of Gender: How Power and Intimacy Shape Gender Relations. The Guilford Press. p. 249. ISBN 1606239635. 
  6. ^ Cashdan, Elizabeth (1996). "Women’s Mating Strategies". Evolutionary Anthropology 5:134–143. Retrieved 29 November 2013.  Missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  7. ^ Townsend, J. M. (1987). Sex differences in sexuality among medical students: Effects of increasing socioeconomic status. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 16, 425-444.
  8. ^ Saint-Paul, G. (2008). Genes, Legitimacy and Hypergamy: Another look at the economics of marriage. Econstor, IZA Discussion Papers, No. 4456.
  9. ^ Bokek-Cohen, Y., Peres, Y., & Kanazawa, S. (2007). Rational choice and evolutionary psychology as explanations for mate selectivity. Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, 2, 42-55. p. 51
  10. ^ Sachs, Andrea (Jan 7, 2009). "The Truth About Women, Money and Relationships". Time Magazine. Retrieved 2009-07-24. 
  11. ^ Caldwell, J.C. P.H. Reddy, Pat Caldwell. "The Causes of Marriage Change in South India." Population Studies, Vol. 37, No. 3 (Nov., 1983), pp. 343–361. Print.
  12. ^ Barber, Jennifer. "Community Social Context and Individualistic Attitudes toward Marriage." Social Psychology Quarterly, Vol. 67, No. 3 (Sep., 2004), pp. 236–256. Print.
  13. ^ Thornton, Arland. Dirgha J. Ghimire, William G. Axinn, Scott T. Yabiku. "Social Change, Premarital Nonfamily Experience, and Spouse Choice in an Arranged Marriage Society" American Journal of Sociology, Volume 111 Number 4 (January 2006): 1181–1218. Print.
  14. ^ Srivinsan, Padma. Gary R. Lee. "The Dowry System in Northern India: Women's Attitudes and Social Change." Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 66, No. 5, Special Issue: InternationalPerspectives on Families and Social Change (Dec., 2004), pp. 1108–1117. Print.
  15. ^ Kobayashi, Yoshie (2004). A Path Toward Gender Equality: State Feminism in Japan. Routledge (East Asia: History, Politics, Sociology and Culture). p. 65. ISBN 041594788X. 

External links[edit]

  • The dictionary definition of hypergamy at Wiktionary