Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version

Spring 4-18-2013


A Dissertation Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Psychology, Under the Supervision of Professor Richard A. Dienstbier. Lincoln, Nebraska: May, 2013

Copyright (c) 2013 Elizabeth A. Boger


This research investigated whether altering perceived sex ratios, defined as the number of men per 100 women, influenced gender role perceptions among college students. The specific area of interest within sex ratios was the effect of high versus low sex ratios. Existing work on the topic of sex ratios focused on demographic data.

The focus of these studies was the impact of changing sex ratios on the individual, specifically participants’ perceptions of romance, dating and women’s gender roles. I hypothesized that for high sex ratios, participants would endorse statements of traditional dating and romance schemes, traditional women’s roles, and socially conservative statements in general. For low sex ratios, I hypothesized that participants would report relaxed notions of dating and romance, egalitarian women’s gender roles, and less social conservatism.

In the pilot study, participants were exposed to a written manipulation presenting a fictional environment with an imbalanced sex ratio. Participants were asked about traditional romantic gestures, women’s roles, and family structure. Results indicated that participants were responsive to the manipulation as hypothesized, although the effect was weak. Subsequent studies used a strengthened audio presentation of the information about sex ratios.

For studies two and three a fictional island society was created that had either an excess of men or women. In study two, the manipulation focused on a fictional female character’s choices regarding marriage, motherhood and career. In the third study, the manipulation focused on romance, dating, and careers without a central character.

The outcome of these studies was as hypothesized; participants in the high sex ratio condition reported greater support for traditional romance and more constrained women’s gender roles while low sex ratio condition participants reported less valuing of romance and formal dating behavior and less restricted gender roles.

The overall results supported a theory of how unbalanced sex ratios affect society that was developed by Guttentag and Secord, but that has never previously been subjected to an experimental test. Implications of the outcome were discussed at the individual, local and global level.

Advisor: Richard Dienstbier