This Data on Monogamy Stuns Even the Social Scientists

Geplaatst op 25-04-2024

Categorie: Lifestyle


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Economist Bryan Caplan writes on the Modality of Monogamy at the Library of Economics and Liberty, noting something that our own reader MM pointed out a couple of years ago. Looking at the GSS’ data for number of sexual partners, he was surprised by the following:

Figure 1: Women’s Reported Number of Lifetime Opposite-Sex Partners

Figure 2: Men’s Reported Lifetime Number of Opposite-Sex Partners

When MM first shared this information, he was derided by red pill types because “Everyone knows people lie on surveys, especially women.” Caplan disagrees with this explanation:

“Of course, people could be lying.  But in what direction would they lie?  Conventional wisdom says that men overstate and women understate.  For men, then, the modal monogamy result is probably even stronger than it looks.  Furthermore, to overturn the modal monogamy result for women, we would have to imagine that women have markedly more partners than men claim to have.”

Caplan thinks the numbers are accurate, and that it’s his surprised reaction that’s off:

“It seems weird because people with lots of partners are vivid and memorable.  Think about how many popular adult t.v. characters are in the 21-100 or even 100+ bins!  The obvious explanation is that the media is desperately trying to pique and hold our interest.

…It’s easy to believe that the media amplifies our biases.  The root bias, though, is overestimating the frequency of the vivid and the memorable.”

A commenter notes that “You find this distribution in every sex survey of different subpopulations, not just the GSS, and it’s shape is stable over decades. The number of partners young people has not increased either.” That’s been my finding as well – culture changes, pluralistic ignorance reigns, but we’re not really any more sexually active than we were 50 years ago. Monogamy has been the dominant preferred behavior throughout history.

Tyler Cowan of Marginal Revolution thinks that everyone is understating their numbers, and estimates the male average at about 4. Caplan replies:

In the GSS, males report an average of 14.19, women an average of 4.76.*  If you mean the median, then males report a median of 3, woman a median of 2.  For men, 4 partners is the 62nd percentile.  So perhaps the results are compatible with your guesses.

P.S. The modality of monogamy is not an artifact of age.  Monogamy is modal for 25-44, 30+, and 40+, for both men and women.

* Excluding the “989 or higher” bin.

You can see why using the “average” is so deceptive – it is skewed by a few people with extraordinarily high numbers. This deception was present and significant in Buss and Schmitt’s paper on Sexual Strategies Theory. They asked men how many sexual partners they would ideally prefer, and the number was quite large, on average, especially compared to women:

This data appears to support their theory about differing sexual strategies between the sexes.

Pedersen replicated the study, however, and found something very interesting. Rather than focusing on the mean, he looked for the median:

This is in keeping with the GSS data, with over half of men preferring one partner over the next 30 years. So if it sometimes seems as if no guys want relationships or all the good ones are taken, remember this. The odds are that any single guy you meet doesn’t even want to be a player. He wants sex with one special person.

Why not you?