Thursday, September 28, 2006

Hypergamy Means That the Rich Favor Sons; The Poor, Daughters

One of the most interesting things that I learned from Richard Conniff's The Natural History of the Rich is an implication of hypergamy. Hypergamy is the tendency of women to marry up socially, no matter how high they themselves are in the social structure. The highest-status women, therefore, run out of suitable mates, as do the lowest-status men. Therefore, the rich through history have favored sons and disfavored daughters, while the poor have done the reverse.

The new thought that this led me to was this helps explain why poor neighborhoods tend to produce matriarchal clans. It is not simply that the men are not expected to be responsible, but that the mothers favor their daughters as the more likely child to lift the whole family up.

I am still chewing on the implications of this idea.


Ken Lammers said...

In my experience, the US lower-class matriarchal tendency seems to be an outgrowth of government social welfare policies. I've had any number of male clients who had children by a 2-3 women without acrimony between the various women. There is no reason to be upset because he is not failing to provide for the children - the government has stepped into that role. It also seems to have been a self reinforcing system. The matriarchy fails miserably in its ability to control young males and this seems to drive the women together with the young women becoming an accepted part of the heirarchy when she has her first child from some young guy who's spending half his time slinging and half in jail. When you see the 16, 17, 18 year old girls in court with their kids you usually see an older female there helping them instead of a male.

There have been some changes in the law over the last couple decades which may change this dynamic aventually. The government now pays support to the mother but goes after the father for the money paid in court. This often leads to a situation where Father and Mother are on one side and the government is on the other. Mother and Father are astounded by the breach of the social contract under which they operated: sex-child-government supports mother and child-father has no responsibility; they feel cheated by the substitution of sex-child-government supports mother and child-father has ultimate responsibility. Mother just wants her support - as previously promised. Father just wants to go free without any responsibility - as previously promised. When the government enforces the new social contract and Father gets that 6 months in jail for civil contempt because he cannot possibly pay the $4,000 which the government says he owes, I'd guesstimate that about 40% of the time it's the mother who's in court with him who arranges however much money the judge is requiring before letting Father out of jail (yes, we do have debtors prison here in the good old USofA).

I'm not sure how much of a change will come eventually. The women still get the money and therefore don't have a lot of incentive to change behavior. Males definitely have an incentive to change but, having practiced criminal law now for 7 years and seen the seemingly infinite parade of young males who have done dumb things, I'm not certain that it will work.

Which, I guess is a long-winded way of saying that I don't see a connection between the lower class matriarchy and a "marry-up" philosophy.

Gruntled said...

The connection I see is that the idea of marrying up would explain why slum women don't want to marry slum men, and why their mothers would not encourage them to. The mystery is why they want to have children with those men, the same men they don't want to marry. The book, Promises I Can Keep, which I have blogged about before, partially answers the question. The world of slum single moms, though, is still through the looking-glass from bourgeois culture.