Mayor to Ugly Women: I Was Just Trying to Up Your Market Value

The mayor of Mount Isa — an isolated town in Queensland, Australia — was vilified for making the following statement:

“May I suggest that if there are five blokes to every girl, we should find out where there are beauty-disadvantaged women and ask them to proceed to Mount Isa.”

He is simply recognizing that in the dating/marriage markets, looks are one of the commodities traded; there is substantial evidence suggesting that uglier women marry men with less human capital — men who earn less.

Asking ugly women to come to Mount Isa is just the mayor’s attempt to get them to where their scarcity might allow them to mitigate their “disadvantage” and benefit from the surplus of single men. Gains from trade make sense to this economist, although the mayor’s statement is somewhat crude.

Interestingly, the head of Mount Isa’s Chamber of Commerce noted that, “There’s a lot of anger circulating among the community. … There [are] a lot of women voicing their opinions.”

I wonder whether the women’s anger is a reaction to the mayor’s crudeness or a standard response by monopolists who are threatened with competition.


jz

Women are exposed to tens of thousands of promotional images reminding us how "beauty-disadvantaged" we are. IF I were a Mt. Isa tax-paying voter, I'd tell the mayor (and respondents # 2-6 and 9) to turn off the porn sites and try to meet some real women.

Steve - Calgary AB

Posted by Eric: "Some stats for Mt Isa (2006 census):

Total (aged 15)+: 7651 M, 6819 F

Married: 3130 M, 3071 F

De Facto: 973 M, 1019 F

Not married: 2541 M, 2003 F

so it’s not exactly “five blokes to every girl”."

These stats are not that different from Canada as a whole. Of 10 million singles aged 15 to 50, there are 1 million more single men. Since this doesn't correspond to birth rates and subsequent death statistics, I must assume its due to Canada's high rate of immigration.

When one adds in the regional disparities (the east actually has quite a surplus of single women) there is a significant imbalance over much of the west, especially where resource economies are booming.

What is important to understand is that whenever there is an imbalance, every time there is any sort of pairing, the ratio rapidly increases. So that 500 person discrepancy between the sexes may translate into quite an unfavorable ratio. 5:1 could easily exist among those looking. Also, these stats say nothing about the ages. Older women may come to Mt Isa for opportunities not available elsewhere whereas the male miners are all young.

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T

I think people are way too touchy about everything. It's a long standing joke among grad students about how women in hard sciences and engineering and men in social sciences and humanities have a demand much higher than is warranted by their appearance/personality. And of course I've heard both sides comment on how the odds are good, but the goods are odd.

I don't find anything inherently wrong in being spoken about as a commodity. Doesn't the business world talk about human capital? Don't HR firms talk about personnel count? Don't we all choose careers based on demand and supply? Aren't we looking at ourselves more as a commodity in those cases?

Hell, I remember joking with my friends about how my chances of finding a date increase exponentially if I took the ball-room dancing course although I'm not a good-looking guy (80-90% of those classes are women). All I can say about this entire issue is "Finally, a politician who understands probability!"

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Eric

Some stats for Mt Isa (2006 census):

Total (aged 15)+: 7651 M, 6819 F

Married: 3130 M, 3071 F

De Facto: 973 M, 1019 F

Not married: 2541 M, 2003 F

so it's not exactly "five blokes to every girl".

Glancing at the other stats, only 37% of Mt Isa residents in 2006 were there in 2001.

gp

#12, it is not dehumanizing to discuss the attractiveness of others. It is an inherently human thing to do. People evaluate each other. Women usually value social status in men. That is why wealthy or powerful men have an easy time finding them. Men value appearance. There is no commodification in that. This is a false theory.

Male analysis of female attractiveness is identical to female analysis of of male attractiveness. Women's obsession with male employment or university affiliation is no different than men's obsession with waist and cup size.

It amazes me when I see a woman turn ill when hearing of a friend or collegue dating a waitress, but the same woman will later complain about male views of attractiveness. This is simply the way humans behave. Women denying their own obsession with class-enahncing mates does not make it false.

Brian

Citing Craig's List are we? What's next, gathering data from garbage found on the street?

The point is not whether or not there is accuracy to the "market demands" and "commodities available". It's whether or not it is appropriate to apply these economic principles to human beings and, consequently, make overtly sexist and offensive comments. And the answer is that it is flat out wrong, no matter what way you "freakonomically" cut it...

Sara Lewis

Daniel, next time you might want to do a little context check before you write an opinionated piece on what's happening in Australia.

It has only been two months since Cr Molony made his comment about the "wrong sort of people" moving to Mount Isa- in reference to the itinerant (and largely Indigenous) population of Australians from the Northern Territory who have been attracted to Mt Isa because it is a nearby town that, being in Queensland, has not been affected by the new NT drinking laws.

It seems to me that, however flippant his most recent comments, Molony is in no position to be publicly inviting people (in this case, "beauty-disadvantaged" women) to migrate en masse to Mt Isa. He clearly has enough of a problem addressing the issue of the Indigenous internal migrants already in the town, and is not prepared to accommodate for them. There is a much larger issue at hand (specifically the NT's emergency response plan and its acute effects on the surrounding areas that were highly unplanned for), and I would expect Molony, as the Mayor, to speak with far less flippancy in regard to migration into Mt Isa.

http://thedawnchorus.wordpress.com

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tom

As a Queenslander with slighty less experience than Greg, above, I still have a bit more to add on. For starters, 25% of Mount Isa's population is employed by the mine. I think it is a safe assumption that the vast majority are men, so let's say 50% of men are employed by the mine. Mining employment is often like in Greg's situation, where it is very much a temporary arrangement. From the accounts of mates who work there, hours are rather impractical for having a normal life - you often work for up to 20 days in advance and get long breaks of up to 10 days. Hard to raise a family. Also hard to get breaks to go see kids graduate, friends get married, funerals of family members etc.

Combine all that with the low female to male ratio and I think you'd find that many in the town aren't planning on staying for long, and thus aren't actually on the market for local women. So the demand for women probably isn't as high as you would imagine and the female shortage problem is probably just an illusion due to a large transitory male population.

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Barb

May I suggest that us pretty, single women in our 30's, who are ready to settle down, but can't find an American man to save our lives migrate to Mount Isa?

JZ

to # 35:

I disagree. The mayor is both a PR and a PC idiot. No self-respecting, confident woman will move there now. Perhaps some insulted women will leave. It would be interesting to count the census one year from now.

KT

From a Woman in another of the remote Australian locations

The women here found the comments hysterical.

Just remember that from our view, the quantity and quality of supply are two different aspects.

We also have many more men than women and most of the women I know chose to leave the available quality to others. And yes, we also are better paid than if we lived in a non-remote location.

So we say go for it - after all most metropolitan areas of Australia have more women than men.

http://www.abs.gov.au/websitedbs/D3310114.nsf/Home/Census+Data

Johan

maybe in a macro setting, women simply refuse to acknowledge that there is such a thing as 'product differentiation' in this case.

after all, what the mayor has simply done is explicitly offer women who think themselves ugly a better informed chance at finding a mate. economically speaking, this economist thinks it makes perfect information and economic sense.

but no one wants to be known as a substitute, especially in a relationship where phenomenon like love and feelings remain economically undefined..

science minded

Dear Rural counsel;

I agree- a double standard- truth- we cannot have our cake and each it too-

Dear T-

I wonder? soft sciences- emotion- men who speak in terms of feelings are appealing- why- they convey a side of the world we tend to associate with women true or not-

hard sciences- women who are rational, supposedly fact centered- they convey a side of the world we tend to associate with men- whether true or not- so what is missing from the male-female relations these days- the inference is clear-

hard sciences- rationality-

Emily

Yeah, well, the men of Mount Isla aren't interested. They're disgusted at the notion that simply because there are more of them that they'd have to settle for less-than-attractive women.

Or maybe the women are upset at being treated like a commodity? Gee, I wonder why THAT would be offensive. Frame this all as "every man deserves to have a woman" and the economic angle makes sense. Talk about humans and human nature, and it's de-humanizing women to refer to them this way. Economists do this frequently; you can't really separate out the part where you're talking about PEOPLE.

james

The Mayor of Mt Isa, is quite a bush legend in his home state of Queensland - he has an Akubra Hat named after him-(Akubra is a legend hat company in Australia) its called "The Honest John"- fact-

The protestors as seen on the Today Show in Australia were his openents at the last Mayoral election, that aside, he sure has hit a nerve, these towns enjoy the highest average income in australia,so no disparity on the economic front, perhaps a few hurt egos..i hear he has just appolgised for his choice of words, his intention was well meaning...

Ben Phillipps

The funny thing about these men in Mt Isa is that they are earning over $90K/year.

I would have thought that would help attract the ladies.

science mind

One question- what is the `ugly' standard. My daughter (15) thinks thin, younger than herself, sweet as beautiful.

Are you suggesting that women with more beauty capital seek men of equal or greater looks capital- If I remember correctly , there was a recent blog that suggested the reverse. Perhaps you did not see Paris Hilton's latest film feature demonstrating that her emphasis on beauty is just skin deep---- not what she is really about. Men perhaps like the idea of the "dumb blond" as a way of emphasizing the importance of their intelligence. It sells and she is capitalizing on the fact that it will- but the truth is something else.

Also,Uglier women do better where there is less competition i.e., men have less to chose from.

Sounds so clinical and taking the man as the standard.

Michel

I think there might be a misunderstanding regarding the post. When an economist says that there is a market for marriages, with a supply and demand for mates, surely, he is not turning people into commodities. Supply and demand descriptions are, actually, a theoretical way of understanding interactions between people on different sides of a relationship (be it a market relation or a mating relation). The fact is, though, that "demand", "supply" and "markets" are words commonly used to describe trades in goods/commodities. For that, people get offended when treated in such terms. For this, I think the revolt is for the mayor's crudeness.

An alternative is that, probably, such a huge sex imbalance in the city happens for the city's labor markets. As #25 said, this is a mining city, and mining labor markets, in general, employ much more men than women. So, actually, instead of an unbalance in marriage markets, this men/women ration seems to be a general equilibrium characteristic of the city (between labor and marriage markets). The revolt might have happened for the fact that giving incentives for women to go to the city would reduce economic efficiency for disturbing the general equilibrium in question. The comments, thus, would be characterized as purely elections motivated (to please the men majority in the city), and for that, sexist.

Wow, it's really funny to see this being debated as public policy...Imagine this mayor's campaign: "I'll bring more women to the city, pretty or not". Good job on finding such a case, prof. Hamermesh.

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RZ

This mayor just put his foot in his mouth, and maybe even made a Freudian slip. I don't think the outcry is over his idea that his town needs women to even out the gender balance, but the assumption that single women willing to move there to meet men must be ugly.

Brian

@43

How does nearly every choice involve an economic principle? If you mean in the loosest sense of the word, perhaps. I was speaking the way in which this situation turned people into commodities and assigned value to them based on their looks. Saying "I find person A more attractive than person B" is one thing; saying "Woman are offended by the mayor's plan because they want to maintain their monopoly on availability" is quite another.

And I did not cry "sexism" because a difference between the sexes was pointed out. I stated it because, in this situation, there are clearly sexist ideas being presented. The fact that woman make decisions about where to live based on their likelihood of finding a mate there reinforces the idea that woman are simply waiting to get married. BS.