I’ve received some criticism for my recent post The Myth of Plummeting Female Sexual Market Value. Specifically, the quoting of an alleged PhD statistician whose bona fides are not provided angered some commenters. It is a fact of blogging that when people write anonymously, we have no way of knowing the veracity of their credentials (though fortunately we may still test the veracity of their claims). 


Additionally, I was taken to task for publishing her claims without supporting data. This too, is fair enough – I’ve never made an argument I wasn’t willing to back up with hard numbers, and I suppose I shouldn’t start now. You want data? You got it!

There’s a lot to unpack in the discussion of female Sexual Market Value, which will probably take a couple of posts. In this post I will clarify what sexual market value is, as there is considerable misunderstanding and misuse of the term in the blogosphere. I will then provide real data that describes the slope of declining female SMV over time. 

The Market determines the price.

The SMP, or sexual marketplace, is like any other market. It is shaped by the forces of supply and demand, where competitors aim to outperform each other with distinctive product features. The market – in this case all the individuals engaged in mating behavior – determine the price at the macro level, and individual buyers and sellers set the price at the micro level, i.e. in their own lives. When we discuss SMV as it pertains generally to either sex, we are by definition speaking at the macro level, and idiosyncratic personal preferences have no place in the discussion. 

Consider this male blogger’s definition of SMV as it applies to the entire female sex:

I think there are (at least) two ways to think about SMV. One is simply in terms of a 1-10 rating of the woman’s looks [plus some perhaps small contribution from how good in bed she is] and I think this is how the term is often used…The other way is to think of how valuable sex with a given women would be to you…For me, I think that the 8 in looks is probably at least 2x as desirable to have sex with than a 7 in looks, all else being held equal. So that is how I make sense of the graph. 

Sexual market value as a concept makes no sense if we start from “What SMV means to me.” Discussion of the concept would be meaningless and therefore add no value or understanding. 

Of course, we all have our own standards for what we find attractive, and that will be reflected in the way we assign SMV rankings to others. But every time we say, “He’s a 9″  or “A 7 is twice as hot as a 6,” we speak subjectively – our personal preferences say little about the market’s valuation. The market’s judgment trumps ours every time.

Sexual Market Value is the price that someone is willing to pay for what someone else is selling. 

Over the years here at HUS, some men have said that a woman’s SMV is determined by the quality of the males who are willing to commit to her. There is validity to this point – if a woman wants commitment, then her SMV is determined by the quality (or SMV) of the man who is willing to offer that deal. If she wants one-night stands with hot guys, her SMV is determined by the hotness of the guys she has sex with. The market of male “buyers” for a specific female “product” will determine the female’s SMV. 

We see this in real life all the time. Why do good looking college women resent less attractive women who hook up with the hottest guys on campus? Because the female college “10″ wants the hottest guy to be her boyfriend, and he’s having sex with random 6s and 7s instead. In the campus SMP, where hookup culture prevails, the most beautiful girl is a Theoretical 10, but her Effective SMV is reflected by her boyfriend – probably a 7 or an 8 at best. She’s operating below her potential, but that’s the best she can do in the college market. In contrast, the female 7 who wants nothing more than access to the “good genes” of the highest status guys on campus is satisfied if she gets them to have sex with her – in fact, she’s batting 1,000. Her theoretical SMV is a 7, but her effective SMV in college is a 10. She’s the one getting the attention she wants from the highest value males.

You cannot take the market out of Sexual Market Value.

The Sexual Marketplace is highly segmented.

Within the Sexual Marketplace, there are a large number of smaller, or niche markets. An individual may choose to compete in various niches, or focus on one, but no one competes in the whole market. The high school student competes in an under 18 SMP niche, the college student competes in the campus SMP, divorced 50-somethings compete in the seniors division of the SMP, and so on. While exceptions exist, they are relatively rare.

Naturally, the same individual will have different value in different markets. Stacy’s Mom notwithstanding, most high school boys will rate Stacy higher than her 30-something MILF. Conversely, a 40 year-old female may find a divorced 45 year-old sexy, while her 18 year old daughter will likely see him as an older dad type – not the stuff of fantasies. 

Once college ends, graduates move on to new and dramatically different markets in the SMP. The 22 year-old guy’s SMV drops as women gain access to established men throughout their 20s. The disgruntled coed who is a theoretical 10 may well find that handsome and affluent 25 year-old guys are now asking her out on real dates. (This is what has happened to the young women of my acquaintance.)

If you’re a female who took a job in NYC your SMV just went down. If you’re a guy in NYC, you’re enjoying the premium allotted to a scarce resource. Conversely, if you’re a guy who is headed to Portland, Oregon, your SMV just took a hit. The deck has been shuffled, and Effective SMVs change. Theoretical SMV may not change – the beautiful people are still the beautiful people. The only SMV that determines your personal mating outcome is Effective SMV, in the market where you choose to compete.

Why is this so important? Because you need an applied strategy – a way to assess your SMV in the market niche where you are active. That means understanding your particular market and your particular odds. Your personal SMV cannot be dictated by strangers looking at your picture or generalizing about your gender.

Marital Market Value (MMV) is the cousin of Sexual Market Value.

MMV is also set by market conditions, this time in the relationship market, a subset of the SMP as a whole. 

MMV = SMV + Relationship fitness 

Because most women wish to avoid casual relationships and marry, MMV is the most important metric for us to focus on. We benefit from maximizing both our physical appeal, or SMV, and our long-term relationship appeal, determined by what men look for in a wife. MMV also reflects the tradeoff between pure “hotness” and other qualities when mating for life.

Conversely, men, who have a greater interest in uncommitted sex, are more likely to focus more heavily on their SMV. Most men marry, so MMV becomes key for them as well as they approach 30, because that’s what female “buyers” want. Their MMV also reflects the tradeoff that women make between sexiness and fitness for long-term mating.

The distinction between SMV and MMV is a critical one, but the important point is that the proof is in the sale – claims about value are immaterial until the transaction is effected. In other words, pics or it didn’t happen.













Self-Delusion about SMV is common.

Many people are deluded about their market value. A useful analogy is the real estate market. When my husband and I were shopping for our first house, we had one young child. Naturally, many of the sellers we encountered had grown children and were looking to downsize. What we found was very inconsistent pricing in the market, largely reflecting the sellers’ strong opinions about what their house was worth. Despite a broker’s advice on what the sellers might expect given market conditions – number of potential buyers, interest rates, etc. – some sellers stubbornly insisted that their house was worth significantly more than similar houses selling for much less. Most frequently, sellers took those houses off the market after a year or so in which they had no offers. They were simply unwilling to accept the real value of their home, and their wishful thinking prevailed despite the fact that not a single person was willing to pay their price.

This happens frequently with SMV. The 30 year-old woman who was her high school prom queen holds onto the belief that she is the loveliest woman in her environment, even as she copes with competition from women much younger than herself. The physically unattractive 45 year-old man who is successful in his career believes that his fat wallet will grant him access to nubile flesh.

Of course, either may have the last laugh, depending on their results in the market. If the aging prom queen marries a handsome and successful 32 year-old of good character, she has every right to feel vindicated in her pricing strategy – her SMV was, apparently, still very high. Similarly, if the 45 year-old has to fight the college chicks off with a stick, he has earned the right to crow about his SMV.

Obviously, Orszag is far less physically attractive than his wife, but he was director of the OMB for Obama and is now a Vice Chairman at Citigroup. Clearly, his MMV is considerably higher than his SMV – so much so that Golodryga ignored the fact that his girlfriend was pregnant when they met. (He probably has a good personality in addition to smarts, status and wealth.  ) He happily ditched his ex to marry this very smart and pretty woman 10 years his junior. 

Most people marry someone of similar background and physical attractiveness. That’s where the data becomes very important in setting expectations. You may be the exception to the rule, but the odds are low unless you are extraordinary: able to offer considerable inducements to sweeten the deal.

SMV is relative and malleable.

A chart depicting the lifecycle of SMV for either sex is useless if it ignores market conditions. For example, a 21 year old male and a 60 year old male may both think 18 year old women are the hottest, but only one is likely to be able to “afford” her. Her price for the handsome 21 year old may be very low or even zero, while her price for the senior male will be very high or more likely, nonnegotiable. Does that mean the 60 year old male has low SMV? Only in the eyes of an 18 year-old girl. If he is not competing in that market, but in one where he is more likely to be perceived as attractive, then his Effective SMV may be quite high. Similarly, the 30 year-old ex prom queen may be considerably more attractive than a 20 year-old who was not blessed with good looks.

Sexual Market Value is relative and always contextual.

Let’s look at what people select for when they date in the real world. I’ve published this data from OKCupid several times already, but it bears repeating because it is based on real stats, not fallacious anecdotal data. As you can see, the age distribution of men and women on the site is extremely similar, with 24 being the peak age. 

The male’s market value peaks at 26 does not begin a strong decline until age 31. He does not fall to “average” until the age of 36. In contrast, the female peaks at 22, and by 25 her market value on OKC begins to decline. She falls to “average” by age 31. However, the females started out with a higher attractiveness rating than men, so their “decline” is from a higher peak – she has further to fall.

The male enjoys 10 years between his peak and becoming average. The female enjoys 9 years between peak and average, a difference of one year. In addition, the male curve lags the female curve by about five years. 

Note that by age 48 the male still enjoys more interest from the opposite sex than women do, but the odds are low for both sexes by this time. Just 6% of women and 10% of men excite interest at 48. Of course, by that time they represent only 1% each of OKC’s users, so this is hardly surprising. They are competing in a market with very few takers for daters in their late 40s.

Do women get less attractive with age? Of course!

Does their SMV go over a cliff at 30? Nope. 35? No. In fact, for real users of OKC, female attractiveness ratings remain steady between 36 and 40.

Is there a Wile E. Coyote moment? Negative. 

Is there such a thing as “hitting the wall,” where women suddenly receive far less male interest? No, there is not.

Men prefer younger women.

Do the preferred age parameters set by OKC users reflect these attractiveness ratings? Not for men. As men age, their desired age range for women expands dramatically:

Male age

Lowest allowable

female age

Age difference














From the OKC post:

Men tend to focus on the youngest women in their already skewed preference pool, and, what’s more, they spend a significant amount of energy pursuing women even younger than their stated minimum. No matter what he’s telling himself on his setting page, a 30 year-old man spends as much time messaging 18 and 19 year-olds as he does women his own age. 

So how often do men wind up with much younger women? At OKC, the median age of females seeking a male of 30 is also 30.

Men do not pair off with women at their “lowest allowable age” because women strongly prefer men within 2 years of their own age.

According to 2012 Census Bureau data, 85.9 percent of husbands are older than or about the same age as their wives.

Another 33.3 percent, a plurality, are within a year of the same age — meaning the wife could be older or the husband could be older, with that slim one-year margin of age difference. Assortative matching at work, once again.

 In addition, as noted in a prior post and in Marriage Myth Busted: Women Not Looking for Sugar Daddies at Live Science:

“Conventional wisdom and even academic models have suggested financially successful men may wait to get married to relish in their pick of younger, fertile mates who will have their children and maintain a household while they continue their climb in the workplace.

This is because traditional economic models of marriage have argued that men who have high earning potential are more likely to marry at an older age so that they can ‘reveal’ their high potential. 

…Mansour analyzed U.S. Census Bureau data from 1960 to 2000 looking at samples of first marriages for couples ages 25 to 60. He found that unions between older men and younger women are becoming less common, and men who are marrying younger women are on average being negatively selected — meaning these guys tend to have lower levels of education, lower cognitive scores and lower occupational earnings than their peers. 

…The study found that successful men and women alike seem to be gravitating toward partners who are of a similar age, which could be explained by social networks. People who attend four-year colleges tend to mix heavily with people of similar ages, and they are more likely to marry one of their peers.

The availability of potential mates drops sharply after age 30.

CDC report from 2009 provides useful stats re age at first marriage:

Percent married

Age 30

Age 40








Allowing for the small minority of women who have no interest in (heterosexual) marriage, it appears that most women who want to marry by age 40 are very likely to succeed.

However, with 83-88% of 40 year-olds off the market, one may ask about the general caliber of the selection. Given the small size of the never married population at that life stage, it may be that individuals in that market niche find it necessary to adjust their standards. In other words, Effective SMV/MMV decreases in a thinly populated market simply because matches are more difficult to make. In addition, high Effective SMV at older ages tends to correlate to lower MMV, due to sexual and relationship histories.

That brings us back to the claims of the erstwhile “Kelly the PhD Statistician,” which speak directly to the various market conditions that can wreak havoc with Effective SMV throughout the life cycle. I’ll write more about those effects and fluctuations in my next post. 

To summarize the main points of this post:

  1. Your Effective Sexual Market Value determines your personal mating outcome. Generalized claims that ignore market conditions are worthless.
  2. If you are not getting the results you want in the Sexual Marketplace, your Effective SMV is too low. You can either increase your personal attractiveness or compete in a different market. 
  3. Female physical attractiveness declines gradually with age, as does male physical attractiveness. The timing of decline is similar, though women have further to fall, so their slope is slightly steeper.
  4. Your best strategy for attracting a quality life partner is to enhance your MMV with strong relationship skills, keeping in mind what men want.

I want to be very clear about my intent in writing this post – it is not meant as an endorsement to fritter away your 20s and get serious about finding love on your 30th birthday. As the data makes clear, the pickings get pretty slim during that decade. Hooking up smart means identifying a guy with high potential during a time when his Effective MMV is lower – right after college, before he finds career success, etc. Additionally, as men approach 30 they often begin to focus more on MMV and less on SMV alone. That is an excellent time to take a guy off the market. 

In my next post, I’ll summon the ghost of Kelly the PhD Statistician and investigate the effect of market conditions on SMV.