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A dearth of women turns men into big spenders, say researchers at the helm of a new study from the University of Minnesota.

Men who were convinced there was a shortage of women in their community grew impulsive, borrowed more and saved less, according to the paper, "The Financial Consequences of Too Many Men," published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

"What we see in other animals is that when females are scarce, males become more competitive. They compete more for access to mates," lead author and marketing professor Vladas Griskevicius said in a release.

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"How do humans compete for access to mates? What you find across cultures is that men often do it through money, through status and through products."

The researchers had men read news articles about their local population. When they were led to believe that women were scant, men said they'd be willing to borrow 84 per cent more on credit cards every month, while at the same time saving 42 per cent less from their monthly paycheck.

"We see that there are more men than women in our environment and it automatically changes our desires, our behaviors, and our entire psychology," said Prof. Griskevicius, who claims participants were ignorant of the effect of gender ratios on their consumption patterns.

When it came to women, it was all about shifted expectations. After reading an article that suggested their towns were man-heavy, women expected courting gentlemen to shell out more on dinner dates, Valentine's Day gifts and engagement rings, feminism be damned.

"When there's a scarcity of women, women felt men should go out of their way to court them," Prof. Griskevicius hazarded.

The researchers also tabulated gender ratios in some 120 American cities and found that communities with loads of single men had higher debt levels and more credit cards. They pointed to China, where men paid heavier "bride prices" in areas where women were in short supply.

Beyond debt, Prof. Griskevicius pointed to prior research suggesting that male-heavy societies also saw an increase in aggressive behaviour: "One of the troubling implications of sex ratios for the world in general is that it's about more than just money. It's about violence and survival."

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What do you make of this gendered economic indicator? Sexist or illuminating?

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