2 Ways That 'Hypergamy' Has Evolved In The 21st Century

Hypergamy—the practice of dating or marrying outside of your economic circle—isn't just for gold-diggers. Here's why, and how it's evolved over time.

Mark Travers, Ph.D.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | June 19, 2024

Picture Tom and Sarah, a pair of '80s kids in their twenties who meet at an upscale Manhattan cocktail party—Tom, a Wall Street maven with the right credentials and connections, and Sarah, who is drawn to the allure of stability and status that Tom represents. It's an example of a match made via "traditional" hypergamy, which is often about seeking partners who are positioned higher in terms of wealth, social status or power.

However, such matches are rare in the 2020s. Today, relationships are more often forged like that of Brandon Wade and Dana Rosewall.

Wade, 54, the shy but undeniably innovative and ambitious founder of—a luxury dating platform where the two met—was drawn not just by Dana's social grace and charisma but by her insightful and impactful ideas for his business. Dana, a well-educated and outgoing socialite, brought a vibrant new perspective and "heart" to the venture that resonated deeply with Wade. They both say this is how their relationship began. It was about connecting based on intellectual and emotional resonance rather than the traditional metrics of a "hypergamous" relationship.

That's how modern hypergamy differs from its traditional version. It used to be a strategy rooted in ensuring financial security and social climbing, often at the expense of personal compatibility. Now, people are focused on the subjective, emotional criteria that make hypergamy "complementary" rather than the material benefits and upward social mobility it used to provide.

The implied getting-to-know-each-other question has changed from "What can you do for me?" to "How can we achieve the 'good life' together?" Here are two specific reasons why hypergamy deserves a modern definition for the modern dating world.

1. Shift Toward Chasing A "Power Couple" Status In Relationships

Personal fulfillment and shared values are becoming paramount in defining a successful romance. The concept of couple identity clarity, which is the degree to which partners share a clear and common understanding of their relationship's identity, is an example of this shift.

A May 2020 study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin shows that when couples have a high degree of identity clarity, they exhibit stronger commitment levels. This clarity means that both partners recognize and value each other's contributions to the relationship, share common goals and align on core values.

This indicates a deeper level of connection where partners are not just in love but are also in sync intellectually and emotionally. Such compatibility fosters resilience in relationships, enabling couples to navigate life's challenges more effectively. This evolution in relationship dynamics marks a significant shift towards more holistic and substantial partnership criteria.

This sentiment is further strengthened when one understands that the other is an accomplished individual in their own right and brings unique strengths into the relationship that one lacks.

Wade explains how this couple identity clarity helps in his own relationship, "Dana and I are a dynamic team; her vision is brought to life through my experience and, together, we offer each other new perspectives, not just on business, but on life as a whole."

2. There's A Celebration Of Doing Away With The Gender Gap

There's no denying that the gender gap has reduced significantly since the traditional definition of hypergamy was a thing. According to a pivotal study published in Population and Development Review in November 2016, the long-standing gender gap in education that favored men has reversed in nearly all high and middle-income countries. By 2010, women aged 25-29 were more likely to have a college education than men in over 139 countries, representing 86% of the world's population. This educational empowerment of women is reshaping their roles within relationships and the broader societal expectations of them.

As a result, the traditional hypergamous model, where women sought partners with superior economic or social status, is becoming outdated.

Emma Hathorn, in-house dating expert at, says, "Both men and women can, in reality, practice hypergamy. Modern hypergamy is no longer so seated on the historical norms of gender stereotypes—it is an individual practice; each partner must see in their significant other the traits that they lack, the traits that will uplift them. These vary so greatly, from couple to couple, that traditional gender stereotypes no longer fit."

This change reflects a broader societal movement toward gender equality, where men and women share responsibilities and support each other's personal and professional growth. So, in many ways, dating up is about achieving a balanced power dynamic within relationships, not a skewed one, like traditional hypergamy tended to do.

As the educational and professional landscapes become equitable, finding a compatible partner who complements one's ambitions to be in a power couple has become somewhat of a nuanced challenge. The modern dating environment requires new strategies for meeting potential partners beyond traditional social settings, which often limit the diversity of interactions.

In this context, specialized dating platforms play a crucial role. They cater to individuals driven by ambition and success, providing a unique space where the like-minded can connect meaningfully. By facilitating these connections, such platforms help people match not just based on personal attraction, but on shared goals and mutual high-life aspirations, redefining what it means to date up for our times.

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