Hypergamy

Anna Nicole Smith

Hypergamy [hahy-pur-guh-mee] (colloquially referred to as ‘marrying up’) is the act or practice of seeking a spouse of higher looks, socioeconomic, caste or status than oneself. The term is often used more specifically in reference to a perceived tendency among human cultures for females to seek or be encouraged to pursue male suitors that are higher status than themselves, which often manifests itself as being attracted to men who are comparatively older, wealthier, or otherwise more privileged than themselves.

According to evolutionary psychologists, females have evolved a preference for higher status males because they offer their prospective children both ‘better’ genes and greater resources, e.g. food and security. Men, who invest less in their children, have less reason to prefer mates with high social status. Some have even argued that men ‘marry-down’ to ensure that their mates have a higher incentive to remain faithful.

The word ‘hypogamy’ typically refers to instances of the inverse occurring: marrying a person of lower social class or status. Some evolutionary psychologists believe that women exhibit mate-selective preferences for spouses who are greater than them in terms of attained physical attractiveness, educational level, job status, social standing, and capital accumulation. In comparison, males would tend to place higher emphasis on the value of physical attractiveness in a woman alone. In an anthology about money and relationships by many prominent female writers, the authors expressed that the role money plays in determining how women select long-term male partners is often considered a taboo subject.

For citizens of rural India, hypergamy is an opportunity to modernize. Marriages in rural India are increasingly examples of hypergamy. 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 higher caste social circles. 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. The high price that has to be borne by the parents while marrying a daughter has led to increasing rates of abortion of female fetuses. The concept of marrying up in India is prevalent due to caste based discrimination. The women from the higher caste were not allowed to marry men from a so called lower caste.

This concept, cited in the ‘Vedas’ (Hindu scripture) as the ‘Anuloma’ was justified as the mechanism to keep the Vedic 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.

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