Teen Romance and Sex Ruled by Scarcity

Nov 15, 2010 • News, Research

Remember highschool?

Remember high school? Yeah, Neither do we. But researchers recently released a reminder entitled “Terms of Endearment” — a paper studying the Darwinian mating habits of the high school student.

Based on data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (or, “Add Health”) — a huge compilation of data from surveys administered between 1994 and 1995 to students between seventh and twelfth grade, and periodically thereafter — researchers Arcidiacono, McElroy, and Beauchamp zeroed in on data relating to sex and relationships. Specifically, they wanted to know the likelihood and factors surrounding the partnering up of students.

They found that freshman girls and senior guys have the highest chances of partnering up, whereas the pickier senior girls and lowly freshman boys had the least. They also confirmed that teen boys are sex-crazed and teen girls place a higher emphasis on the relationship aspect of romance.

The researchers looked at what teens sought in a partner as well as what they ended up with. What they found in the data was something anyone with a rudimentary understanding of economics knows: that scarcity determines value.

Sex is scarce for boys, so it becomes their main focus to find a girl who will put out. Relationships are scarce for girls, so they put out to have one.

Per Slate, which reported on the findings:

The researchers open the paper by citing a New York Times article on dating at the University of North Carolina, where for every three women there are only two men. One coed argues that the gender imbalance has engendered a culture where men routinely cheat on their female partners. “That’s a thing that girls let slide, because you have to,” the student explains. “If you don’t let it slide, you don’t have a boyfriend.” Dating, in other words, is a market like any other, and market power is determined by the abundance of resources.

The conclusion? Though high-school girls don’t really want to have sex, many more of them end up doing so in order to “match” with a high-school boy. For them, a relationship at some point becomes more important than purity. Because of that phenomenon, in schools with more boys than girls, the girls hold more cards and have less sex. Where there are more girls, the male preference for sex tends to win out.

Somewhat disturbing conclusion, to be sure, though we can finally say we understand our editrix’s parents’ concerns when she was a teen. You see, they didn’t have problems with her being out late. They had problems with her being “overexposed.” The way she tells it, she could be out at 3:00AM, so long as she didn’t leave before midnight. And her mother’s best piece of unsolicited advice from those turbulent years?

It wasn’t “don’t hook up.” It was: “you must be like the Tickle Me Elmo.” Scarcity ensures your value. Even if now and again you delight your curiosity with some undeserving senior boy.

Header image by Clemens V. Vogelsang.