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.As a child of the seventies or perhaps from living in Sweden for a number of years or by personality or family heritage or because I had an aunt who was an early progressive feminist - for whatever reason, I have a strong egalitarian streak expressed in the model that people of both sexes ought to be treated identically save for where there are explicit reasons not to based on biology.
One of the hoary tropes that was still in circulation, though declining, in the seventies was the idea of women as being slave to their biology.
So I have a fairly visceral reaction to this research. Really? You are resurrecting that old cliché?
But I am also, deeper still, an empirical rationalist. What is the truth? I look at this study, and after my knee jerk reaction, I also think - hmmph. Plausible. And I like being surprised by counter-intuitive information. From a press release about the research:
But, the studies find that ovulation doesn't always make women want more status. When women played against a man rather than a woman in the dictator game, the researchers found an even more surprising result. Whereas ovulating women became meaner to women, they became nicer to men. While non-ovulating women shared about 45 percent of the money with a man, ovulating women gave 60 percent of the money to the man.Dangerous and intriguing. I'll park it for the time being as something to be aware of but likely not true (small sample sizes, college based, and the WEIRD plague - Western, Educated, Industrial, Rich, Democratic).
"These findings are unlike anything we have ever seen in the dictator game. You just don't see people giving away more than half of their money," noted Durante. "One possibility is that we're seeing ovulating women share more money as a way to flirt with the men."