Sex, money and men

A study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that an abundance of men leads the men to discount the future and desire immediate rewards.

In other words, men are “spending money on stupid things and taking on credit card debt because they sense there’s a scarcity of ladies in the geographic area,” writes Josh Sanburn in Time magazine.

A number of researchers have been examining people’s economic behavior when there is an imbalance of mating opportunities.

“The study’s authors point to other research showing that money decisions are related to mating efforts, including one finding that shows that increased male mating efforts lead to spending on items like designer shoes, fine wines and Porches, and one study even finds that men become more economically impulsive after just touching a woman’s bra.”

It turns out that “conspicuous consumption is a form of economic behavior in which self-presentational concerns override desires to obtain goods at bargain prices,” another group of researchers found in a study published last year in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. That study was titled “Peacocks, Porsches, and Thorstein Veblen: Conspicuous Consumption as a Sexual Signaling System.”

And here’s no surprise: A scarcity of women led people to expect men to spend more money during courtship, the researchers said.

“These seemingly dumb behaviors are consistent with our growing understanding of evolutionary biology,” Sanburn writes. “So the next time you see some dude buying a round of Cosmos for a group of women at a bar, it’s probably because there aren’t that many girls around for him to date. Just let him be. It’s science.”

Shop to Cope

We all know that companies want us to shop as therapy. But because that message seems, well, too direct, they create subliminal advertising that sneaks that urge to shop into your subconscious.

But Lucky magazine, which is about shopping and style, has decided to just get rid of the pretense and has launched a new advertising campaign, called ‘Fill the Void,’ aimed at young adult women. The magazine is encouraging this consumer group to tackle life’s challenges by shopping, reports Brad Tuttle of Time magazine.

“Few ads have had the chutzpah to spread this message as directly and blatantly as the new ‘Fill the Void’ series from the magazine,” Tuttle writes.

Here are some of the advertising slogans:

-- “My boyfriend dumped me via text.”

-- “My longest relationship is with my doorman.”

-- “My intern is the only one following me on Twitter.”

Under each line is a product – a trendy shoe, handbag or dress -- and the tagline that says “Fill The Void,” as a way to encourage women to shop to cope. “Change The Way You Shop This Fall,” the ads say. The ads are part of a new e-commerce platform, www.myluckymag.com, which is scheduled to launch online Friday, Aug. 17, reports an Ad Age blog.

Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is disturbed by the campaign.

“For advertisers, it’s a common strategy to manipulate consumers by tapping into their feelings of loneliness, worthlessness and despondency,” Whitbourne says in the Time article. “But because the items that these depressed shoppers may buy can never really ‘fill the void,’ advertisers set up these shoppers for a further cycle of depression and despair should they drain those designer wallets by overspending.”

Yet another commenter frowns on the campaign: “Clever, right? Except, as anyone who has ever shopped because of stress/hunger/overall ennui knows, you wind up returning half that stuff you bought because you buck up and realize you didn’t really want it,” style reporter Charlotte Cowles writes in New York magazine. “Alternatively, by the time you realize that what you desperately need is therapy, not shoes, you’ll have yet another problem to contend with: debt.”

Here’s this week’s Color of Money Question: Do you find the “Fill the Void” campaign a funny take on shopping as a coping mechanism? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name, city and state. Put “Shop to Cope” in the subject line.

Password Protected

Illinois has now made it illegal for employers to ask job applicants for passwords to their online profiles, reports the Associated Press.

As part of the hiring process, some companies and government agencies have been asking prospective employees to reveal their passwords for logging in to social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. Of course there has been some pushback from critics who argue that such a request is an invasion of privacy.

“We’re dealing with 21st-century issues,” Gov. Pat Quinn said. “Privacy is a fundamental right. I believe that and I think we need to fight for that.”

The law, set to take effect Jan. 1, will fine up to $300 any employer who is caught breaking the law. The law protects both current employees and prospective hires. However, the measure does not prevent employers from looking at online information that isn’t private.

“Research has shown that 75 percent of employers require their human resources departments to look at online profiles before offering an applicant a job, and that a third of employers have turned down applicants based on those searches” Lori Andrews, a professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Chicago-Kent College of Law, says in the article.

Maryland has a similar law, and several other states are considering bans, including Washington, Delaware and New Jersey, AP reported. Two U.S. senators have asked the U.S. Department of Justice to review whether such password requests from employers are legal.

Responses to “Are you better off”

For last week’s Color of Money Question, I asked: “Are you better off financially than you were when Obama became president?”

In a Washington Post special report, “Liberty, Through the Lens,” voters from the campaign battleground state of Virginia were asked if their financial situation had gotten better or worse since the election of President Obama four years ago.

Here’s what some of you had to say:

Dani of Atlanta said: “I would have to say that I am in worse shape financially now then when Barack Obama became president but it’s hardly due to his administration. In the last four years, I left an okay full-time job, married and had two children shortly thereafter. I have not found work in my new location - nothing that would pay enough to put two toddlers in childcare. Thus, my financial standing is not as it was as a low-maintenance single woman with only a cell phone and car maintenance to worry about.”

“Better off, definitely,” wrote Tom Campbell of Plymouth, Minn. “My business has expanded, and my income grew as a result. The stock market is much higher after bottoming out soon after President Obama’s inauguration. So that has helped our net worth.”

Cathy McBreen of Illinois wrote: “My small company continues to struggle each day. I have taken a salary cut so that I don’t have to lay off workers. I have two children in college but because my household makes slightly more than the amount of the cutoff for financial aid, I am paying two full college tuitions. I anticipate my taxes are soon to increase exponentially. Having worked hard, paid off my own student loans and been moderately successful in the U.S., today just sucks. You either need to be really rich or poor.”

“I was lucky enough to have turned 62 years old and thank God Social Security was not privatized so I am receiving that, having had to take early retirement to pay my bills and mortgage,” wrote Larry Ahlgrim of Norfolk. “ Can you imagine how much people would have lost on Social Security had it been taken private before the meltdown? Because of my age I don’t have as much at stake as the younger generations do in this election, but I hope they’re paying close attention, get informed, and vote their economic interests- Obama and all the Democrats would win by a landslide if they do.”

Tia Lewis contributed to this report.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.”
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