Reciprocal Scarcity: A Treatise in Two Parts (Part II)

On Friday I discussed a Wall Street Journal article about workplace perks and riffed about how two parties in a market can both be chasing a high-quality/non-fungible and thus scarce resource the other possesses, and that this “reciprocal scarcity” produces a paradox where both sides perceive a critical shortage despite their being, by the numbers, a lot of supply in the field.

The thing is, if you look like the rest of the field…you’re in the “presenter” role, and you have to try to get employers’ attention. You avoid mistakes that bounce people out of interviews, and hope that someone in the process liked you enough to give you the job above a bunch of other cookie-cutter candidates, because when they have more suitors than spots, they start making decisions on ever more petty criteria.

However, if you have some trait that makes you desirable for a particular niche…you will be more of a selector, and employers will fight over you. Those who need someone to do, say, international tax law, or arcane circuit design, or precision welding, or to close deals that couldn’t otherwise be closed, will find themselves adapting to the applicants more than the other way around, lest they be caught entirely without someone to do essential work for their business.

It should be pretty clear to regular readers that this mutual asymmetry also exists in the sexual and mating marketplace. It’s a fascinating analogy, as mates are not fungible commodities either – some people are more desireable than others, which changes people’s negotiating behavior, IOW what they are willing to give for what they get. When you feel your options for mates are scarce, you will instinctively put yourself in a submissive bargaining position, accepting poor mate quality and bad behavior out of fear that you will never convince another person to to love you.

(Sidebar: The “romantics,” as you might call them, are deeply disturbed by this model and reject it. Their concept is of a special, individualized “life force” that matches you lock and key with a soulmate, and that the dating culture is a large-scale randomization that enables soulmates to match up. They see the idea of a mating “marketplace” to be crass and dehumanizing. The truth is, though, that there are physical, structural and contextual factors that predict attraction between the genders, and these can leveraged and modulated by individuals to improve their results. You do not have to be an evo-psych true believer to buy this; The Selfish Gene is pretty well-accepted in the popular scientific community.)

The incidence of reciprocal scarcity in the SMP, obviously, is that the most desirable mates of either gender have strong bargaining power and wide choice. This came up in the Introverted Playboy’s recent post “Women are not the selectors, hot people are”:

“Both hot men and hot women–in other words, the most sexually desirable members of each gender–are the sexual selectors because a large number of people want to date or sleep with them…

If we look at the hottest men, the men who are the most attractive to the female gender, they do not have an issue when it comes to sexual access. They can either generate sexual opportunities for themselves relatively easily, or they have opportunities coming to them with less effort…The least attractive men are the most sexually driven–because they have so few options–and this is what makes them overeager whenever a hot woman gives them a little interest. This creates the illusion that women are the selectors, but what is really happening is that one person is more eager than the other, and as a result, the less eager person has leverage in the relationship. If the man is less eager (i.e. by being outcome independent, living a powerful life that is more interesting to him than getting the next lay, etc), then suddenly the tables start to turn.”

(Cross-blog plug: I really like the IP’s stuff, Badger Hut regulars would probably enjoy his style.)

A key note on the idea of “selection” is needed here. In today’s American society, outside of a sliver of religious sects, sexual selection is the predecessor to relationship selection. The vast majority of men are not interested in dating/having a relationship with a woman they aren’t attracted to. The same goes for women, excepting those who are trying to snag the beta-provider security in their SMP twilight, so let’s say no woman with options is going to date a man she’s not attracted to. In the vast majority of cases, some kind of sexual activity that goes beyond first base is going happen before the relationship is sealed.

So the sexual and so-called “marital” marketplaces are not operating in parallel as much as some kind of success in the SMP is a prerequisite to enter the MMP.

Now, let’s analyze the dual scarcities.

The dominance-and-status basis for male attraction, the strong influence of preselection and female hypergamy, and the horrifically inadequate social training provided to young men in today’s society put only a small cohort of men in the “desireable” category. These men are either nailed down by partners or “unavailable” by virtue of pluralistic availability (i.e. playing the field), and so to a woman seeking such a mate, they are perpetually scarce targets.

This is exactly the source of the feminist Apex Fallacy the manosphere is repeatedly citing (hat tip to Bernard Chapin for coining the term): if you are a woman who is not at the top of her food chain, you are a presenter and the men you desire are the selectors, and their behavior dominates your perception of what men and their lives are like. And select they will. Early on, the Manosphere get behind the Pareto Principle or the 80/20 rule – a longtime male proverb that “80% of the girls are sleeping with 20% of the guys.” This was never intended to be an absolute numerical description but expressed a Thompsonian verisimilitude of the sexual marketplace that resonated with most men – that the trend of women’s interest went to a small sliver of guys, while the rest are to be rejected with prejudice or tolerated as a secondary strategy when the music is stopping and there’s no handsome hunk offering her a seat on his lap.

Recent statistics that there are more male than female virgins in American colleges seems to back up the idea. (A corollary of the 80/20 rule was “you just have to get into that 20% and you’re set,” reflecting preselection’s power to make a sexually successful male even more desired.)

On the other side of the seesaw, you have reams of indistinguishibly drab beta males, whose mating fields run fallow in one season after another. They have meager means to attract and retain women, and are desperate for female attention and approval. These men are presenters, and the women they desire the selectors (and often the women they desire are of modest SMP “resources”). The results are predictably disastrous; they are the SMP equivalent of fresh college graduates begging employers for that first boost up the staircase, hoping someone will take a chance on them. They will have infinite, and corrosively self-destructive, loyalty and dedication because they are existentially scared of being cast out, of losing their newfound font of romantic attention and sexual access. The female reactions to this behavior are, to put it mildly, extremely negative.

We in the Manosphere are continually warning and coaching men to develop a mindset of abundance and avoid the mindset of scarcity. By a quirk of psychology, if a man acts in a manner congruent with having a lot of options, enough women will see him (and treat him) as a man with options for him to level up his bargaining position and have a chance at some success. It is truly amazing to watch a humble, mild-mannered man assume an affected posture of social dominance and outcome independence and see his fortunes with women improve. (Again, the romantics would say he’s tapping into some kind of core value buried deep inside him that people are responding to – but no, he’s simply exhibiting behaviors that are known to increase his perceived social value.)

As I once noted in a comment, the overall selection auction goes something like this:

  1. The top men take whom they want (who are happy to go along)
  2. The remaining top women pick the best greater-betas
  3. The middle betas and below then take the women they can get (who go along grudgingly)

So there’s a scarcity mindset at every rung relative to the rung above it. Even the men at the top perceive some scarcity, because their personalities and tastes for variety are insatiable (that’s part of why they are up there). Note that the women in step 2 are put in a position of relationship leadership that the empirical evidence suggests women are not very keen on.

In other words, just like in the job market, the mindset of sexual-marketplace scarcity can and does go in both directions. It’s easy to get wrapped up in cognitive bias by telling yourself, if you’re a woman for instance, that men have it easy. Men don’t have it easy, the small subset of highly-desired men have it easy (the apex fallacy lives), as do the most desired women.

My friend Captain Capitalism has undertaken some original research to determine the exact terms of the SMP’s interpersonal bargaining: he polled his male readership for their age and approximately how much time they spent pursuing women. The results were predictable but useful – guys in their mid-20’s to early 30’s spent almost a quarter of their free time pursuing women, with the results falling off such that by age 50 or so, guys were putting in almost no effort.

The numbers suggest that the age at which men perceive the most benefit from female pursuit is in the young adult years, however it also suggests that they are relatively weak bargainers at that age which itself motivates the intense effort to meet and date girls.


I penned two earlier posts that overlap with this Treatise, and rather than stuff their hyperlinks into the new text, I figured they were worth outboard citations in their own right.

Reflections on Frost’s Analysis of the Sexual Revolution

Decoupling Intimacy and Commitment


Filed under dating and field game, junk culture, original research

15 responses to “Reciprocal Scarcity: A Treatise in Two Parts (Part II)

  1. Badger,

    Outstanding post. Excellent writing and very thought-provoking.

    In a sense, you’ve got a “new model” here that can break out of the silly alpha/beta debate, what is “alpha”, and are women attracted to beta traits as well.

    Instead of alpha/beta, guys break down into selectors and presenters. The key difference being for selectors, women have to “win them over” whereas for presenters they have to “win” and woo the girl.

    The goal then would be to try and become a selector through a combination of building real value (looks, presentation, career and income) and Game (psychosocial/sexual behaviors and communication).

  2. jlw

    ” By a quirk of psychology, if a man acts in a manner congruent with having a lot of options, enough women will see him (and treat him) as a man with options for him to level up his bargaining position and have a chance at some success.”

    I keep reading about this but I have I’ve never seen it in the bush. In my experience, pretending you have something when you have nothing is not a good way to convince people you have something. At a garage sale, if no one buys my good-as-I-can-possibly-do watercolor for $5, raising the price to $50 doesn’t usually help. What’s been your experience?

  3. Very interesting stuff. And thanks for the plug, I appreciate it.

    I’ve been thinking about the notion of the SMP a lot recently, and questioning it in my mind. I will write about it at some point.

    But what is interesting is that your analysis on the job market and the sexual market is spot on–traditionally, economists look only at “workers” and “job openings” as if all jobs and all workers were fungible. Reality tells us something very different. Thus traditional economics fails on that count, and many others (I was an Econ major in college, so I had a front-row seat to its oddities).

    The SMP is the same way. All men and all women are not fungible. For that matter, more precisely, vaginas, blow jobs, marriages, emotional support systems and romantic nights out are not fungible either. Sex with one woman is quite different than sex with another woman. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. With these complexities, just as traditional economics fails in the job market, an ostensibly “economic” analysis of dating and mating, that tries to impose traditional economic motifs onto this realm, comes up short.

    So I am probably somewhere between the coldest SMP adherents and the “romantics”.

  4. KK

    “I keep reading about this but I have I’ve never seen it in the bush. In my experience, pretending you have something when you have nothing is not a good way to convince people you have something. At a garage sale, if no one buys my good-as-I-can-possibly-do watercolor for $5, raising the price to $50 doesn’t usually help. What’s been your experience?”

    Well, the effect is a bit more subtle than that. Only adjusting the price without any additional information is a pretty crude method and not that successful by itself, as you have noted. You could try convincing the customer that while the watercolor has a $50 price tag, you’ll sell it to him for $20, though.

    At an instinctual level, both men and women react to perceived scarcity in a somewhat similar manner: by desiring the target even more. Instead of a simple price hike, think of the effect that a ‘limited edition’ release can have on music albums, for example (for you music nerds out there, Stereolab made a fortune with this method). Or implied knowledge that every other passer-by in that garage sale already bought one of your works.

    These are all well-known sales tactics: Every item is the last in stock, and the guy who bought the second-to-last 30 minutes ago said he’ll come tomorrow with a friend to see if he’d like one too but there probably won’t be any left by then since business usually perks up around this time in the afternoon. It’s a shame, though. I think that size would look very nice on you, and the importer told me the next shipment won’t be here until next month.

    For the connection to dating market, you’re looking for a way to imply that even if that particular fish doesn’t bite, you have plenty of other options without actually saying out loud “You know, I have plenty of other options”. The easiest way to do this is to, you know, actually have plenty of other options, but some embellishment can go a long way.

  5. This “mindset of abundance” is problematic when it comes to moving in the real world. Everyday I work in a building that has at least 1000 women working there as well. I frequently visit other large workplaces that have ~90% female workforce. I can usually count on one hand the number of women I actually have a strong desire to sleep with at any of these locations.
    My personal experience is that the vast majority of women just aren’t very physically attractive, though they may possess other positive traits, and that is why many men, including myself, have trouble exhibiting a neutral demeanor when they do interact with an attractive woman, as it is a rare privilege.

  6. TSB

    Great post. I’ve been thinking about this idea recently and haven’t been able to define it in such a concise manner. I had a recent field observation to this affect.

    This past weekend I attended a wedding with my cohort of friends, a group of urban, educated professionals. There’s been a lot of inter-dating in this friend group, and the bride and groom were just one of them. With the exception of maybe two, all of the men young men (late 20s, early 30s, greater beta/lesser alphas) were coupled off while there were a large number of single women in attendance. In fact, a few of these men had traded up for a younger model from a few of these single ladies. As this has happened, the group has expanded in size as these new girlfriends/wives have been brought into the fold, and the single ladies have continued to stay single. To some extent it’s the 80/20 rule in action.

    While demographic numbers show that there are more single urban young men than women in the US (, my personal experience is that I seem to know more single women. This is likely because I run with a pack of high quality men. They have their choice in this market and are quickly snatched up. Meanwhile, the single women I know have already found themselves with the music stopped and not a chair in sight as their cohort of men opt for younger women.

    I don’t mean to side with the hand-wringing spinsters out asking “where have all the men gone?” but I just am not seeing that many single men in my age cohort of 29 – 35. I know part of this our ability to date younger, leaving similarly aged women out in the cold, but this couldn’t account for all. Are many of these men just low SMP value men that have opted out of the dating pool? Or are these guys still out there, lurking on internet dating sites and at singles meetups trying to meet women?

  7. The Scolds' Bridle

    I am willing to say to the face of most any 40 something woman that I would rather take the CHANCE of being with an average 25 year old than the guarantee of an average 40 year old.

    Being unattached is fine by me. Every now and then I can pull a woman more than 12 years younger. The enjoyment I get from that far exceeds the tepid experience of an older woman.

  8. LongLostFriend

    Excellent analysis.

    The only angle I would have also addressed is the difference in what lesser women can pull sexually vs. what lesser men can pull sexually. There is an asymmetry there in the sense that, while a “8-9” male may deign to bang a 6 every now and then, the overwhelming number of “8-9” women would not.

    That, as we have seen, leads to a false association on the part of those women between their SMV (i.e. who will bang them if he is drunk/horny/bored enough) and their MMV (who will actually commit to them).

    I would argue that, percentage-wise, fewer women than men are left out of the sexual marketplace. Whether one would argue that these women are more selective than their male counterparts of equal attractiveness, or that they are merely rejected less, would be an interesting discussion.

  9. jlw

    Thank you for the reply to my question, KK.

  10. Pingback: Lightning Round – 2013/07/03 | Free Northerner

  11. Johnycomelately

    Great post. Too much generalization in the manosphere, the analytical approach is much appreciated.

    TSB, that is my observation as well.

    My amateur take on it is that given the flatter growth rates post boomer generation (Xs and Ys), any males that marry down in age (the average is 3 years) means that women in that same age cohort miss out (or similarly have to marry down).

    Marriage demographics is based on sex ratios by age cohort, sudden spikes and declines in birth rates changes the age cohort ratios in the future.

  12. TigerStripes

    TSB – “…a group of urban, educated professionals..”

    There’s your problem right there.

  13. J

    You’re comment about job hunting got me thinking about a job hunting truism: The more narrowly you define yourself in your job hunt, the quicker you will find a job.

    Which of these people will find a job first (they all have the exact same skill set, btw)?

    1) Expert mechanic; can work on any engine.
    2) Expert mechanic; specializing in diesel engines.
    3) Expert mechanic; specializing in diesel engines made between 1995 and 2005.
    4) Expert mechanic; specializing in Ford diesel engines made between 1995 and 2005.

    The answer is #4 (then #3, then #2; #1 may never get hired). While #4 has excluded himself from consideration by many potential employers, the handful of employers that wants to hire someone that matches the #4 description will jump on him in a heartbeat.

    How would that logic apply to dating? Maybe instead of being well rounded, men should focus on ultra-excelling in one or two traits. While it might hurt him with the majority of women, the handful of women that are focused on those traits would…

  14. Pingback: Are Men Really the Primary Gatekeepers of Commitment? | Just Four Guys

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