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Study: Men’s overspending hardwired from caveman days

Daniel Ray

That box of stone crabs your boyfriend splurged on, ice-packed and flown in from Miami? It’s really a freshly speared mastodon.

The big screen TV in his living room? Invention of fire.

And that cashmere sweater wrapped under the tree? In reality, it’s bison fur he has draped lovingly over the shoulders of a shivering young cavegirl.

When men compulsively overspend, new research asserts, we’re not simply being irresponsible. We’re also responding to instincts our caveman ancestors developed to win mates.

And according to the research, it still works.

Males may be hardwired from ancient days to showy displays of acquisition, says a new research paper, “Male Financial Consumption is Associated with Higher Mating Intentions and Mating Success,” printed in the journal Evolutionary Psychology.  In other words, men run up big credit card bills for the same reason they chased herds of buffalo: To impress women.

“Men in the ancestral environment were valued if they were good providers,” says the study’s author, University of Michigan researcher Daniel J. Kruger. “Now we have this new consumer culture, so basically we show our potential through the consumer goods that we purchase, rather than being a good hunter or providing protection,” Kruger said.

“It gives an ultimate explanation for why we feel we have to keep up with the Joneses. Especially for guys, our position in the social hierarchy is based on our resources. Economic success has traditionally been good for men’s reproductive success, so men have an incentive to show that they are doing well economically.

“For humans, male displays of wealth may literally be a costly signal analogue to the peacock’s tail.”

Using a sample population of young adults from in and around Flint and Saginaw, Mich., researchers rated their saving versus spending attitudes by asking whether they agreed with three statements:

  • I always live within my income range.
  • Each income period, I set aside at least 10 percent for savings.
  • I pay off my entire credit card bill each month.

Then researchers asked how many sexual partners the person had in the past five years, and how many they desired in the future five.

The research found the strongest correlation between males who stressed consumption over saving, and sexual activity, past and anticipated. In short, men who sport big bling have an evolutionary advantage over the guy who makes regular 401(k) contributions and drives a Toyota Prius.

“Males who have higher mating intentions may maximize their economic displays, saving little and even spending beyond their capacity through the use of credit. These men may seek and possibly obtain a greater number of sexual partners,” the study concludes.

Overspending: So simple even a caveman can do it. Like that one in the red ‘Vette coming around the corner.

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  • Funny, I pretty sure I’ve dated a few cavemen…a couple had hefty credit card debt. I can only speak for myself as a woman, but I’d rather have a guy who hugs and cuddles and talks to me about his feelings over a gift-giving overspending caveman….although stone crabs would be the one exception…