Conspicuous consumption and economic growth

At this week’s Consilience Conference I am presenting a poster called Conspicuous consumption and female choice: How sexual selection shaped economic growth. The summary:

The evolution by sexual selection of the human propensity to engage in conspicuous consumption contributed to the emergence of modern levels of economic growth.

Males who engaged in conspicuous consumption had higher reproductive success than those who did not, as females responded to the costly and honest signal of their underlying characteristics. The prevalence of males in the population who engaged in conspicuous consumption increased, along with the level of economic activities conducted to fund conspicuous consumption. The increased economic activity associated with rising conspicuous consumption provided a basis for modern levels of economic growth.

A proviso is offered in the concluding comments:

As it is likely that other evolutionary changes to humans are relevant to economic growth, it is not proposed that the desire to engage in conspicuous consumption is the sole “trigger” for modern economic growth. Rather, the model provides a basis for the observation that males engage in work effort and consumption at levels above that required for survival (or at a cost to survival) and proposes that these behaviours have significant economic effect. The need to signal quality to choosy females is an important, but not sufficient, foundation for economic growth.

A copy of the poster can be download from here (it is a pdf that seems more readable when downloaded than when read in the browser), or my updated “My Research” page. The template that formed the basis of the poster came from Colin Purrington, who also offers some sound poster advice. I broke half of his rules.

The working paper that the poster is based on will (hopefully) be released within the next month.

Author: Jason Collins

Economics. Behavioural and data science. PhD economics and evolutionary biology. Blog at

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