Hypergamy (colloquially referred to as "marrying up") is a term used in social science for the act or practice of a woman marrying a man of higher caste or social status than herself.

The word "hypogamy"[1] typically refers to instances of the inverse occurring: marrying a man of lower social class or status.

Both terms were coined in India in the 19th century while translating classical Hindu law books, which used the Sanskrit terms anuloma and pratiloma for the two concepts.[2]


Forms of hypergamy have been practiced throughout history, including in India, imperial China, ancient Greece, the Ottoman Empire, feudal Europe, and the United States.[3]

Today most people marry their approximate social equals, and in much of the world hypergamy is felt to be in slow decline: for example, it is becoming less common for women to marry older men.[4][5] However, even in relatively gender-equal societies it is generally accepted that young women will often partner with powerful older men.[6]

Mating preferences

Studies of heterosexual mate selection in dozens of countries around the world have found men and women report prioritizing different traits when it comes to choosing a mate, with men tending to prefer women who are young and attractive and women tending to prefer men who are rich, well-educated, ambitious, and attractive.[7] Evolutionary psychologists contend this is an inherent sex difference arising out of sexual selection, with men driven to seek women who will give birth to healthy babies and women driven to seek men who will be able to provide the necessary resources for the family's survival. Social learning theorists, however, say women value men with high earning capacity because women's own ability to earn is constrained by their disadvantaged status in a male-dominated society. They argue that as societies shift towards becoming more gender-equal, women's mate selection preferences will shift as well. Some research support that theory,[8] including a 2012 analysis of a survey of 8,953 people in 37 countries, which found that the more gender-equal a country, the likelier male and female respondents were to report seeking the same qualities as each other rather than different ones.[9] However, Townsend (1989) surveyed medical students regarding their perception of how the availability of marriage partners changed as their educational careers advanced. Eighty-five percent of the women indicated that "As my status increases, my pool of acceptable partners decreases" (p. 246). In contrast, 90% of men felt that "As my status increases, my pool of acceptable partners increases" (p. 246).[10]

Saint-Paul (2008) argued that, based on mathematical models, human female hypergamy occurs because women have greater lost mating opportunity costs from monogamous mating (given their slower reproductive rate and limited window of fertility), and thus must be compensated for this cost of marriage. Marriage reduces the overall genetic quality of her offspring by precluding the possibility of impregnation by a genetically higher quality male, albeit without his parental investment. However, this reduction may be compensated by greater levels of paternal parental investment by her genetically lower quality husband.[11] An empirical study examined the mate preferences of subscribers to a computer dating service in Israel that had a highly skewed sex ratio (646 men for 1,000 women). Despite this skewed sex ratio, they found that "On education and socioeconomic status, women on average express greater hypergamic selectivity; they prefer mates who are superior to them in these traits... while men express a desire for an analogue of hypergamy based on physical attractiveness; they desire a mate who ranks higher on the physical attractiveness scale than they themselves do."[12]:51

One study did not find a statistical difference in the number of women or men "marrying-up" in a sample of 1109 first-time married couples in the United States.[13]

In India

For citizens of rural India, hypergamy is an opportunity to modernize. Marriages in rural India are increasingly examples of hypergamy.[14] Farmers and other rural workers want their daughters to have access to city life, for with metropolitan connections comes internet access, better job opportunities, and upper-class social circles.[15] A connection in an urban area creates a broader social horizon for the bride's family, and young children in the family can be sent to live with the couple in the city for better schooling. Hypergamy comes with a cost though: the dowry, which often costs as much or more than an entire house.[16] The high price that has to be borne by parents to arrange a suitable marriage for a daughter has led to increasing rates of abortion of female fetuses.[17]

The concept of marrying up in India is prevalent due to caste-based class stratification. The women from the higher castes were not allowed to marry men from a lower caste. This concept, cited in the Vedas as the Anuloma was justified as the mechanism to keep the Hindu ideological equivalent of the gene pool from degrading. The opposite of the Anuloma, called the Pratiloma was not allowed in the ancient Indian society. However, the Vedas cite an example where one such exception was allowed when the daughter of Sage Shukracharya, Devayani was allowed to marry a Kshatriya king (lower caste compared to Brahmanas in the Indian caste system) named Yayati.

Feminist analysis

Feminist analysis of hypergamy says the practice needs to be understood in the context of a patriarchial system: men choose attractive partners because they can, and women choose partners with material resources simply because they make life more comfortable. Feminist historians say lower-status families participate in hypergamy because it's felt that the best possible use of a daughter is for her to increase the status of her natal family by marrying up.[18][19] Hypergamy allows higher-status men maximum choice in mate selection, and, as historically practiced in India, results in the man's family gaining wealth through the transfer of dowry from the bride's family.[20] Hypergamy disadvantages higher-status women (by removing high-status men from their mating pool, from which social constraints and economic disincentives already exclude lower-status men) and lower-status men (by removing lower-status women from their mating pool, from which social constraints and economic incentive structures already exclude higher-status women).[21]

See also


  1. not to be confused with the botanical term hypogamous.
  2. Shah, A. M. (6 December 2012), The Structure of Indian Society: Then and Now, Routledge, pp. 37–, ISBN 978-1-136-19770-3
  3. Watts Jr, Meredith W. (2012). Biopolitics and Gender (Google eBook). Routledge.
  4. Rutter, Virginia (2011). The Gender of Sexuality: Exploring Sexual Possibilities. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (Gender Lens Series). p. 19. ISBN 0742570037.
  5. Coltrane, Scott (2008). Gender and Families (Gender Lens Series). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 94. ISBN 0742561518.
  6. Rudman, Laurie (2010). The Social Psychology of Gender: How Power and Intimacy Shape Gender Relations. The Guilford Press. p. 249. ISBN 1606239635.
  7. Cashdan, Elizabeth (1996). "Women's Mating Strategies" (PDF). Evolutionary Anthropology. 5 (4): 134–143. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1520-6505(1996)5:4<134::AID-EVAN3>3.0.CO;2-G.
  8. Hadfield, Elaine (1995). Men's and Women's Preferences in Marital Partners in the United States, Russia, and Japan (PDF). Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology Vol. 26 No. 6, Western Washington University. pp. 728–750.
  9. Zentner, M.; Mitura, K (1 October 2012). "Stepping out of the caveman's shadow: nations' gender gap predicts degree of sex differentiation in mate preferences". Psychological Science. 23 (10): 1176–85. doi:10.1177/0956797612441004. PMID 22933455.
  10. Townsend, J. M. (1987). "Sex differences in sexuality among medical students: Effects of increasing socioeconomic status". Archives of Sexual Behavior. 16 (5): 425–444. doi:10.1007/BF01541424. PMID 3689109.
  11. Saint-Paul, G. (2008). Genes, Legitimacy and Hypergamy: Another look at the economics of marriage. Econstor, IZA Discussion Papers, No. 4456.
  12. Bokek-Cohen, Y.; Peres, Y. & Kanazawa, S. (2007). "Rational choice and evolutionary psychology as explanations for mate selectivity" (PDF). Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology. 2 (2): 42–55. doi:10.1037/h0099356.
  13. Dalmia, Sonia; Sicilian, Paul (2008). "Kids Cause Specialization: Evidence for Becker's Household Division of Labor Hypothesis". International Advances in Economic Research. 14 (4): 448–459. doi:10.1007/s11294-008-9171-x.
  14. Caldwell, J.C.; P.H. Reddy; Pat Caldwell (1983). "The Causes of Marriage Change in South India". Population Studies. 37 (3): 343–361. doi:10.1080/00324728.1983.10408866.
  15. Barber, Jennifer (2004). "Community Social Context and Individualistic Attitudes toward Marriage". Social Psychology Quarterly. 67 (3): 236–256. doi:10.1177/019027250406700302.
  16. Thornton, Arland; Dirgha J. Ghimire; William G. Axinn; Scott T. Yabiku (2006). "Social Change, Premarital Nonfamily Experience, and Spouse Choice in an Arranged Marriage Society" (PDF). American Journal of Sociology. 111 (4): 1181–1218. doi:10.1086/498468.
  17. Srivinsan, Padma; Gary R. Lee (2004). "The Dowry System in Northern India: Women's Attitudes and Social Change". Journal of Marriage and Family. Special Issue: International Perspectives on Families and Social Change. 66 (5): 1108–1117. doi:10.1111/j.0022-2445.2004.00081.x.
  18. Bhatnagar, Rashmi Dube (2005). Female Infanticide in India: A Feminist Cultural History. New York: State University of New York Press. p. 96. ISBN 0791463273.
  19. Maxwell, Mary (1984). Human Evolution: A Philosophical Anthropology. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 162. ISBN 0231059469.
  20. Subberwal, Ranjana (2009). "Bride Price (also Bride Wealth) and Dowry". Dictionary of Sociology. Tata McGraw-Hill. p. B6. ISBN 007066031X.
  21. Meade, Teresa (2006). A Companion to Gender History. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. p. 446. ISBN 1405149604.

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