Hypergamy: Your Guide To The Dating Concept

If you were to write down a list of qualities that you're looking for in an ideal partner, would the words "powerful" or "successful" appear on that list? Maybe you'd be interested in someone who is more educated than you are, or mixes with certain echelons of society that you don't have access to. If you said yes to any of the above, you could have a tendency for a dating concept most people are aware of, even if they're not familiar with the official term used to describe it: hypergamy.


You may not be willing to admit that you're looking for a person who is more powerful or connected than you are, and that's understandable. There's a stigma attached to hypergamy, as those who embrace this dating style are often thought of as gold-diggers, users, or social climbers. But is wanting to date and eventually end up with someone who has these attributes really that bad? If not, is it actually something to be encouraged? Grab your oxygen tanks; it's time for a deep-dive into the age-old concept of dating up.

The meaning and history of hypergamy

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines hypergamy as "marriage into an equal or higher caste or social group." In modern times, we'd also use this word to describe dating someone who is more powerful or more successful, and consequently richer, than you are, even if marriage isn't in the cards.


Just dating someone who happens to be well-connected or influential doesn't automatically mean that you're practicing hypergamy. It's only when you actively seek out those attributes in a partner, the way some people would prioritize a partner who is smart, funny, or attractive, that you become hypergamous.

Whether or not you have a negative view of hypergamy, there's no doubt that the concept has been around for centuries. Speaking to Women's Health, founder of The 8-Hour Therapist program Dr. Natasha Sharma explained that women of the past had no choice but to look for partners who could guarantee these forms of social security for them, because they "didn't have the option, access, or legal rights in many (if not most) places in the world to have agency over their own welfare and to create financial independence."


The evolutionary theory behind hypergamy

Because of the way that society has developed over the years, and the lack of opportunities that women have traditionally had to be independent, it's easy to understand how the concept of hypergamy came to be the norm for what Dr. Natasha Sharma describes to Women's Health as "the better part of human history." However, experts believe that this dating style actually has roots in our biological evolution.


"Hundreds of thousands of years ago, you wanted a man who had more resources, land, or his own watering hole," chief science advisor at Match Dr. Helen Fisher told Men's Health. "A man with resources is better suited to help you raise your children."

You're probably entirely capable of paying your own rent, or maybe you even navigate home ownership as a single woman. And very few of us need a man with his own watering hole. But this hard-wired inclination may still manifest itself in your dating preferences thanks to generations of conditioning.

The difference between hypergamy and gold-digging

While many women of the past literally relied on hypergamy to survive, women today are sometimes looked down upon for displaying the same preferences. Being labeled a gold-digger is nearly a universal experience for women who marry partners who are of a higher social class than them. But is hypergamy really gold-digging?


In an interview with Metro, psychotherapist Natalija Rascotina shared that the primary difference between the two is the ultimate agenda. While people who are hypergamous tend to look for partners who can give them "status and power," gold-diggers are more interested in "the financial reward."

"Gold digging is a rather self-centred experience in comparison to hypergamy, where the essential element is to be acknowledged by other people," Rascotina goes on. "Often gold diggers are deeply hurt people who were betrayed very early in life and were unable to come to terms with it." She adds that gold-diggers have "a developed sense of entitlement" and "are often unable to give emotionally," which is not the case with the hypergamous.


Hypergamy can also be separated from social climbing, as with the latter, a person actively tries to improve their social status through their personal actions. These may include dating, but are not limited to simply forming relationships with powerful people.

Is hypergamy problematic?

At first glance, hypergamy sounds problematic. That may have become obvious if you felt a little strange admitting that you would like a partner who is from a higher social class, or powerful and influential. Ultimately, sociology experts maintain that it's not actually a bad thing to seek out a partner with these traits.


"... one of the most important aspects to thrive in society is to feel secure and protected," licensed therapist Dr. Patrice N. Douglas explains to Women's Health. "While society paints [hypergamy] as being money-driven ... being cared for is what allows women to tap the most into their nurturing side."

For both women and men, it's human nature to desire a high-quality life, and that is typically achieved through financial and social security. So wanting those qualities in a partner doesn't make you a bad person.

The concept can become problematic when women completely rely on a partner to provide for them without considering a backup plan. There is always a possibility of divorce, or even being widowed, so putting your welfare absolutely in the hands of someone who may not always be there could land you in trouble.


Additionally, not every woman has hypergamous tendencies, and those qualities are not something you must pursue if you don't feel the need to do so. Although shaming women for hypergamy is uncalled for, we also don't want to reinforce stereotypes that the only way for women to gain power and connections is to marry or sleep into them.

Is hypergamy healthy?

As long as we work to dismantle stereotypes that women can't be successful via their own merits, hypergamy is not an inherently problematic concept. But is it a healthy way to live your life?

It's not unhealthy to seek financial and social security, as these things can often improve your overall wellbeing. But it's important to remember that they aren't the only things that matter. It's okay if "powerful" and "successful" are on your list of ideal partner characteristics, but they shouldn't be the only attributes you listed.


If you prioritize dating a person who is connected and powerful, and don't take the time to assess whether this person is also caring, honest, funny, reliable, or any of the other traits that make a good person, you'll likely end up with a relationship that is lacking, and ultimately, one that doesn't make you happy. Hypergamy is healthy as long as you're considering the whole picture, not just what someone's social status and bank account look like.

The dynamics of hypergamous relationships

One thing to be aware of if you do align with the concept of hypergamy is that is does tend to create an unequal power dynamic. The person with more money, fame, contacts, or resources will often have power, and in some cases, control over the other person.


"Hypogamy [the process of dating "down"] is mostly practiced by men for the purpose of maintaining control," licensed clinical social worker Shamyra Howard told Cosmopolitan, basing the assessment on "The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Family Studies."

That's not to say that all men in these kinds of relationships have sinister intentions. If you are hypergamous, it's important to practice "communication," set "boundaries", and maintain "clear expectations" in order to "keep things healthy and respectful between the partners," Howard explained. Remember that a person having a higher social standing doesn't make them inherently more worthy of respect than you are. 

Another reason why you should be careful of solely relying on another person to look after you is because you'll be more likely to end up in a position where you feel trapped in a controlling situation. It can be difficult to leave toxic relationships if you're in one with "the hand that feeds you."


Can only women date up?

When we discuss hypergamy, women tend to come to mind before men. Though the definition doesn't specify, the physiological and sociological differences between men and women throughout history have led to more women being hard-wired for hypergamy than men. However, it is possible for men to be hypergamous, too. Anybody at all can align with hypergamous tendencies.


Particularly as modern women have more career and educational opportunities than their ancient counterparts, it's becoming more common for men to date up. However, thanks to patriarchal standards that put pressure on men to be the "breadwinners" in heteronormative relationships, we tend to see fewer examples of men dating up than we do women. Society typically measures the worth of men based on their financial or career status, while women's worth is commonly measured by their beauty, so men are more conditioned to achieve their own success and power rather than dating into it.

Some critical thinkers, like Twitter user @meghaverma_art, believe that men date up just as much as women do, except they accept looks as currency rather than money or power. In other words, men date beautiful women to project themselves into higher social circles, gain favor with the right people, and win the approval of their peers. 


Whoever you are, the pillars of trust, respect, and communication are key in healthy relationships; hypergamy alone isn't enough.