Tyler, Alex, Alex’s wife Monique, Bryan (Caplan), Ilia (Rainer) and I had a fun conversation on Thursday.
A standard story says that women like cads for short term relationships, to get good sex (i.e., genes), and dads for long term relationships, to get security and comfort (i.e., resources to raise kids). Of course some men are good in both roles, but most men are thought to be better at one role than the other.
Woman always want both sex and security, but they seem to prefer "bad boy" cads more when they are young, and dads more when they are older. Why? We were looking less for proximate psychological causes and more for functional explanations. We came up with these four theories:
1. Young women must practice having relationships, in part to discover the distribution of guys out there and their own ability to attract guys. This requires short term relationships. But it is not clear why these should be more with cads rather than dad candidates. And this would predict young women avoid sex when practicing, to avoid having kids. This theory applies to better to young teens than to young women.
2. Instead of having all her kids with a dad, many women may have enough negotiating power to get a dad to support her even if she has one kid with a cad. Dads object less to supporting a cad kid created before they met, as a cad kid created during their relationship suggests that it won’t be the last. A cad kid early in life can be written off to the "foolishness of youth," and she can credibly claim that she didn’t intend for this to be a cad kid; she had hoped the cad would be a dad.
3. Girls more than women expect parents to help with their mistakes. A young woman expects a cad kid to be cared for not by a dad but by her parents and extended family. Since parents die eventually, older women are less likely to have such support available. This theory predicts that women without living parents would be less attracted to cads, all else equal.
4. Young people have stronger incentives to signal than older people, since they are still forming long term attachments, and want to attract the best partners. Young women compete to attract cads in order to signal their attractiveness and social power, and having sex with cads helps to attract cads. Women compete more for cads than for dads because cad quality is easier to see in young men – it can take many years to reveal who are the best resource providers. This theory predicts young women have less interest in private unobserved relationships with cads.
The truth is probably a mixture of these theories. But some are probably more important that others.
TC: Here are related posts on the topic.