Money, Status, and the Ovulatory Cycle (politically incorrect paper of the month)

That is a new research paper by Kristina M. Durante, Vladas Griskevicius, Stephanie M. Cantú , and Jeffry A. Simpson, and the abstract is here:

Each month, millions of women experience an ovulatory cycle that regulates fertility. Previous consumer research has found that this cycle influences women’s clothing and food preferences. The authors propose that the ovulatory cycle actually has a much broader effect on women’s economic behavior. Drawing on theory in evolutionary psychology, the authors hypothesize that the week-long period near ovulation should boost women’s desire for relative status, which should alter their economic decisions. Findings from three studies show that women near ovulation seek positional goods to improve their social standing. Additional findings reveal that ovulation leads women to pursue positional goods when doing so improves relative standing compared with other women but not compared with men. When playing the dictator game, for example, ovulating women gave smaller offers to a female partner but not to a male partner. Overall, women’s monthly hormonal fluctuations seem to have a substantial effect on consumer behavior by systematically altering their positional concerns, a finding that has important implications for marketers, consumers, and researchers.

Here is some popular coverage of the piece.  For the pointer I thank C.


It's a real treat seeing these young female scholars completely reject the ideological trappings of the previous generation and do some serious science, no matter what the conclusions may be. My hats off to you, Durante.

There seems to be a body of literature that suggests women are more emotional and irrational than men

I disagree that unemployment is a precious waste of resources. The economy can afford to have these people out of work if the costs for employers to employ them exceeds the benefits they provide.

ummm, you don't think men have hormones promoting irrational behavior?

Is beer a hormone?

You win.

Tough guys have always been said to suffer from "too much testosterone" – but oestrogen is also to blame, say scientists.

Tests on male mice found female sex hormones boosts aggression and those with the most are likelier to pick fights and mark their territories with urine.

Gender is just a social construct.

You're trying to be snarky, but you are factually correct. Gender is made up nonsense. Sex is biology and it is as real as math.

> Sex is biology and it is as real as math.
That's an odd way to put it. Are you by chance a Platonist?

I do not see why this is "politically incorrect." So only once a month women act like men act all month. It's all relative.

I suppose the studies might be "fun" in that sense, if you didn't know about the other studies, where women manage their retirement funds better than men, or are chosen to operate heavy machinery because they make less mistakes.

Yes, we all live our lives in a hormonal soup, and no one is Mr. Spock.

Well amok time is a male trait ....

That was an interesting "fix" to the unworkability of purely logical life.

or are chosen to operate heavy machinery because they make less mistakes.

That doesn't sound right. Ovaries are a big handicap in spatio-temporal coordination.

My gut reaction is that few men would be able to drive those trucks without constantly shouting "THIS IS SO AWESOME!" and blasting AC/DC. Which would be distracting.

The article suggests women are more cautious, which is generally correct.

Women tend to be better marksman than men, in general. That's probably because females are over represented in the middle of the bell curve while males are over represented at the extremes.

MarksWOMEN you cretin. ;-)

Loving this thread..

Marginal Revolution is so much more fun when we're only dealing with biology, instead of important things like politics.

*Make fewer mistakes.

(normally not a grammar pedant, but in context...)

You know, I'm so far gone that I don't even know when my wording is ironic.

The "popular coverage" is a press release from one of the Universities involved. The bit in their abstract about cycles affecting clothes preferences refers to research that has been pretty convincingly debunked by Andrew Gelman. If this is the line of work they're placing themselves in, it doesn't inspire confidence in their results.

I suppose 'pretty convincing' is subjective. I had not previously heard of the research or Gelman's critique, but I have to say that in looking over both the critique and the author's response, it's not at all clear to me that Gelman gets the best of it:

This is the not the sort of web site that worries itself about confidence in results.

A self-proving post?

So, if this turns out to be true, a smart phone ap that tracks ovulation (like many women already may be using) to the extent that it is accurate provides valuable information that could be used for direct marketing. I'm guessing this is already happening to some extent. Even if its not accurate, knowing someone is tracking their cycle in this way in and if itself makes them a gods prospect for a number of goods and services. So there a probably a lot of snake oil aps out there that may not really do what they are supposed to, but are really designed just to extract valuable data from users. Probably a lot of new regulations coming down the line to address this, good or bad. Probably more bad than good.

Can be done remotely through analyzing women's behavior and odor. The app should just mimic what men already do unconciously:

One approach is analyzing women's odor:

A video camera and a couple of sensors on the device should suffice.

......or just place in Google's play store an app named Womanlog, just saying =)

A major retailer is in the process of providing easily accessible parking for women suffering from "the curse". They have yet to determine how the driver of the car will be required to indicate their eligibility.

If Walgreens or some other major pharmacy was smart they'd give away generic birth control away for free but require the receiver to register with their Google or Facebook account. Then they'd sell the linked ovulation data they have to the tech giants to more specifically target advertisements. Alternatively you could design an app that would serve some ostensible health, fitness, diet or fertility need. But in reality it's ultimate purpose is to induce the female user to input her menstrual cycle as part of the program.

Should have read the rest of the comments first. Credit to Matt Bogard for beating me to the punch.

Uh, I don't think that could work. Birth control pills act by suppressing ovulation (e.g. emulating pregnancy). The effects of that are also an area of study:

Noting that this is not a web site that exactly attracts women, one should note that 'they’d give away generic birth control' could equally mean that ovulation stops.

'Combined oral contraceptive pills were developed to prevent ovulation by suppressing the release of gonadotropins. Combined hormonal contraceptives, including COCPs, inhibit follicular development and prevent ovulation as a primary mechanism of action.'

Birth control != the pill.

That is what 'could equally mean' means.

Maybe I should be clearer, and state that generic birth control in the form of oral contraceptives suppresses ovulation, while various forms of generic birth control involving such barrier methods as condoms and diaphragms, somewhat modified barrier methods such as the contraceptive sponge, other hormonal methods such as Depo-Provera implants, contraceptive foams and suppositories, and IUDs, both with and without hormonal elements, don't.

Seems a bit longer than the three words 'could equally mean,' but if one requires more detail, no problem.

So we seek to out-peacock other females around peak fertility? Shocker. Live and learn.

are you being sarcastic?

Not being married, and never having had a girlfriend with whom I didn't have a blisteringly hot/chillingly cold relation all the time, I have a really poor understanding of women's behavior v.a.v. cycles.

With her body ripe for conception, a woman is hormonally conditioned to want her choice of prime genetic material. Hence (a) a higher preference for masculine and highly symmetric faces, large frames, etc. and (b) efforts to increase her own short-term eligibility. Once she is done ovulating, preference shifts towards ensuring survival of progeny, i.e. towards providers and long-term setups, with explicit signals of her own relative social standing playing less of a role in that context or indeed constituting a hindrance.

Reductionism, as john says, but only to a degree. Long enough into puberty, you can basically tell where you are in the cycle by how appealing Brad Pitt circa Fight Club looks.

This study is so sexist. I was going to show it to my wife...but I have to wait a few days. Not now. You know, the monthlies are here....

So much for intertemporal transitivity of choices. But this is only one of many examples how hormones influence choices without us being aware of it.

"So much for intertemporal transitivity of choices." No.

I don't think this is un-PC. Being Politically Correct is just a nice way of saying "not being an asshole". It's not some blanket to suppress talking about all topics involving race, gender, or sexuality.

What would be really interesting is to test this on males who have long time living arrangements with females. We know almost nothing about male hormonal cycles except that they exist. Could be fascinating to use this sort of test to verify they do and see if they cycle in sync with the women they live with.

No, not being PC is often voicing uncomfortable (to some) truths.
Only sometimes being an asshole.

Being politically correct is frequently voicing uncomfortable truths as well so that can't be the definition. And if it was then pointing out that someone is racist or a misogynist would be non-politically correct.

Testosterone levels in men fluctuate daily. The min is around 8-9PM and the max is about 6AM (which is why morning wood is so common).

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