Why young single men are more xenophobic And more young women travel abroad.
Ask a group of friends what their hobbies are. If you have many young, unmarried friends of both sexes, chances are that many of your female friends would mention traveling as one of their hobbies, while very few of your young unmarried male friends would. Alternatively, you may find that many of your young single female friends have recently been to a foreign country on a vacation, but few of your young single male friends have. Why is this?

Or make a completely different observation. Pay close attention to the news coverage of the most recent Ku Klux Klan rally in the United States or the convention of the British National Party or any other gathering of an expressly xenophobic organization. You will notice that most participants in such xenophobic organizations are young, unmarried men; there are comparatively few women or older men in the membership of such organizations. Why? It turns out that the reasons why more young single women vacation abroad may be the same as why most neo-Nazis are young single men. It may have to do with a zoological phenomenon called lekking.

Lek is a Swedish word for “play” and refers in zoology to a complex of behavior whereby members of one sex, almost always male, strut and display their genetic quality in a contest, in front of an audience consisting of members of the other sex, almost always female. At the end of the lek, the females choose the winner and exclusively mate with him. The winner of lekking monopolizes all of the mating opportunities, and none of the other males get any.

At first sight, humans appear to be an exception in nature. Among most species, males are gaudy, colorful, decorated, and ornamented, while females are drab in appearance. (Compare peacocks with peahens.) Males of lekking species display their physical features in order to attract mates, and females choose their mates on the basis of the males’ physical appearance; the gaudier and more colorful, the better. In contrast, among humans, it is women for whom physical appearance is more important for their mate value, and it is men who choose their mates mostly for their physical appearance. And, at least in industrial societies, women tend to be more decorated and ornamented than men are, although men in many preindustrial societies often wear more elaborate ornamentation than do women.

The female of most species in nature does not receive any material benefit from her mates; the male does not make any parental investment beyond the sperm deposited inside the female body during copulation. This is why the male’s genetic quality is especially important for the female; in fact, nothing else matters. So among these species, males display their genetic quality in lekking, and the females choose their mates solely on the basis of their genetic quality.

Human males are exceptional in nature in this regard; they make a large amount of material investment in their offspring, even though they don’t make as much parental investment as women do, as I explain in previous posts (Part I, II, III). This does not mean, however, that their genetic quality is not important to women; men’s genetic quality can predict their future ability to acquire resources and attain status, hence their ability to make parental investment. For humans, because of high male parental investment, what is important is not the male’s genetic quality per se but his earning potential. His genetic quality is important only to the extent that it predicts or correlates with his potential to earn and accumulate material resources.

This is why when men lek, they display their earning potential and accumulated wealth in addition to their genetic quality. And unlike other lekking species, like the sage grouse or the antelope, men lek mostly by nonphysical means. They drive luxury cars, wear expensive watches and designer suits, carry electronic gadgets like the latest cell phones and PDAs, and brag about their achievements in casual conversations. Young men also advertise their genetic quality and earning potential by “cultural displays” – excelling in such “quantifiable, public, and costly” activities as music, art, literature, and science.

In one study, for example, researchers covertly observed patrons of a bar in central Liverpool in the late 1990s, when cell phones were still relatively rare and expensive. The researchers discovered that men’s tendency to place their cell phones on the table in clear view of others, unlike women’s tendency to do the same, increased with the number of men in their group and its ratio of men to women. The researchers’ interpretation is that men do this, consciously or (more likely) unconsciously, in order to compete with other men in their group for the attention of the women, and to display their wealth and statlus and hence their genetic quality and earning potential. So men lek via social and cultural, rather than physical, ornamentation.

What in the world does any of this have to do with xenophobia and foreign travel? I will explain in my next post.

Why young single men are more xenophobic II

Why young single men are more xenophobic
I explain in my previous post that, unlike males of other lekking species, who display their genetic quality by physical ornamentation in their gaudy and colorful appearance, men display their genetic quality and earning potential by social and cultural ornamentation. This can explain simultaneously why women travel abroad more and why young single men are more xenophobic.

Social and cultural ornamentation presents men with one problem that males of other species, who lek via physical ornamentation, do not face: It does not travel well. Social and cultural ornamentation is, by definition, socially and culturally specific. Men cannot brag about their achievements in conversations with women unless they speak the same language. Yanomamö women in the Amazon rain forest would not be able to tell the difference between a BMW and a Hyundai or the difference between an Armani suit and a Burger King uniform, and their status implications; a Grammy or a Nobel will not impress them at all. (Has any Nobel Prize winner ever had massive head scars, indicating their experience in club fights?) Conversely, Western women are unlikely to be impressed by body scars and large penis sheaths. (A large penis, yes; a large penis sheath, probably not.) Signs of men’s status and mate value are specific to societies and cultures, and they lose meaning outside of them.

This is in clear contrast to women’s status and mate value. Standards of youth and physical attractiveness, the two most important determinants of women’s status and mate value, are culturally universal because they are innate (as I explain in a previous post). Men in preliterate and innumerate cultures without any concept of fractions or the decimal point will be able to distinguish between women with 1.0 and .7 waist-to-hip ratios. Yanomamö men will see that a Victoria’s Secret lingerie model is extremely moko dude (a Yanomamö phrase meaning “perfectly ripe”).

If men’s status and mate value are specific to their own society and culture, then they should avoid different cultures, where a completely different set of rules, of which they are ignorant, may apply. In contrast, women should not avoid foreign cultures to the same extent that men do, because rules applicable to them are cross-culturally universal. This is partly why young single men do not travel to foreign countries as much as young single women do, and why most members of expressly xenophobic organizations (such as the Ku Klux Klan and the British National Party) are young single males.

However, this sex difference should disappear once men marry, for a couple of reasons. First, married men who have achieved some reproductive success should have less of an urgent need to attract mates by social and cultural ornamentation than do unmarried men. Second, and more important, mates are probably the only ornamentation or lekking device men can display that is cross-culturally meaningful. There is evidence that females of species as varied as guppies, Japanese medaka, black grouse, and Japanese quail prefer to mate with males who have recently mated. Females use other females’ choice of males as evidence of their genetic quality; in other words, they copy each other. And there is some evidence that human females might do the same.

The idea is simple: If a woman meets a strange man, she has no basis on which to form an opinion of him. He can be a high-quality mate, or he can be a low-quality mate; she just doesn’t know (unless, of course, he’s driving a Jaguar or wearing a Rolex, but only if she knows what it means). However, if he has a wife, that means that at least one woman, who presumably closely inspected his quality before marrying him, found him good enough to marry. So he couldn’t be that bad after all; at least one woman found him desirable. So being married (the presence of a wife) is one cross-culturally transportable ornamentation or lekking device that signifies men’s superior mate value, and married men therefore should not avoid foreign cultures as much as single men do.

Dislike of foreign cultures can be measured by the likelihood of travel to foreign countries or by the expressions of xenophobic attitudes. One empirical study with a large European sample shows that, controlling for age, education, and income (factors that are expected to, and in most cases do, affect people’s ability to travel), unmarried women are significantly more likely to vacation abroad than unmarried men. The same study also demonstrates that, controlling for age and education, unmarried women are significantly less likely to express xenophobic attitudes than unmarried men toward individuals of other nationalities, races and religions. The pattern is similar among Americans as well. In all cases, the sex difference disappears once the respondents are married; married women are no more likely to travel to foreign countries (probably because married couples tend to vacation together) or no less likely to express xenophobic attitudes than married men.

Both the likelihood of travel abroad and expressions of xenophobia may reflect men’s need to attract women using social cultural ornamentation. Men’s status and mate value, unlike women’s, are socially and culturally specific, and they cannot successfully attract women outside of their own society and culture. Married men, on the other hand, can use their wives as cross-culturally meaningful social ornamentation to signify their mate value. In sharp contrast, the standards and criteria by which women are judged for their mate value are socially and culturally universal, and thus women have no need to fear foreign cultures.

-Satoshi Kanazawa {an evolutionary psychologist at LSE and the coauthor (with the late Alan S. Miller) of Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters.}


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