When fertile, women seek status through prestige, but not dominance: survey

When women are fertile, they are more interested in gaining status in social hierarchies so long as they can do so in a way that makes them appear prestigious and not domineering, a new survey study shows.

In the study published in PNAS, Dr Khandis Blake, a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) Fellow from the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, analysed data collected in the Daily Cycle Diary, a citizen science project run in 16 countries worldwide, pertaining to social climbing, status-seeking, and self-esteem.

The study found women are more interested in status-seeking and prestige and have higher self-esteem during fertility. This effect was not evident among users of hormonal contraceptives, which Dr Blake says suggests that hormonal contraceptives may blunt a natural peak in status-seeking during the fertile phase of the menstrual cycle.

“Fertility appears to reorient female psychology toward prestige-based strategies to success, enhancing women’s desire for social capital through influence and admiration, but not through fear, coercion, or intimidation,” said Dr Blake.

“It helps to remember that people spend more time admiring, watching, listening to, and deferring to the wishes of prestigious individuals. For women to receive this social attention during the fertile window when they feel attractive, competitive, and efficacious likely improves their ability to navigate social hierarchies, compete with others, and advocate for their own interests.”

In the Daily Cycle Diary, participants used a mobile survey platform to collect data on their menstrual cycles, as well as mood, personality, wellbeing, sexual desire, status-seeking and social climbing.

Each user received a free report showing their responses over the month, and how these related to their fertility, and how they compared to other anonymous users’ responses worldwide.

Dr Blake runs a lab that combines insights from evolutionary biology and social psychology, to try and understand sexual politics such as nature and nurture frameworks.

Dr Blake said the Daily Cycle Diary research team and data storage partners undertake all reasonable steps to ensure the security of its system to protect participant information from misuse, interference and loss as well as unauthorised access, modification or disclosure, and that any information held for participants is encrypted and stored on secure servers.

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Annie Rahilly


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