Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Sex in the Economy

Paris Hilton

Only those with sufficient resources can afford to waste them, making conspicuous consumption attractive to a potential mate.

By Jason Collins

The imprint of the competition for mates and status can be seen in the past and present shape of our economy.

Jason Collins is a PhD student in the University of Western Australia’s Business School. He blogs at Evolving Economics (

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Each mating season, the bowerbirds of Australia and New Guinea display and strut in front of their elaborately constructed bowers. Male bowerbirds invest significant time and effort to build these structures out of sticks and decorate them with brightly coloured objects. They then use the bower to attract a mate.

Like bowerbirds, we often expend significant effort and resources in the competition for mates and higher status. Despite the average household size falling from 3.6 to 2.6 people, the floor area of the average new Australian dwelling has increased from less than 150 m2 to more than 200 m2 over the past 40 years. We equip our houses with expensive coffee machines, our clothes reflect the latest trends and, despite its poor handling and petrol-guzzling tendencies, the first release of the Hummer H3 sold out within 3 months.

This competition for mates and status has important economic effects. Buying a more expensive suit, a larger house or a Hummer H3 results in economic activity. First, there is the increased work effort to acquire the resources to make the purchase. Then there is the purchase itself. If we only had the instinct of survival and did not worry about where we sat in the pecking order, our consumption choices and the economic landscape would look very different.

Conspicuous Waste

Whether we are seeking mates, the best car...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.