[ hahy-pur-guh-mee ]
/ haɪˈpɜr gə mi /
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the practice among Hindu women of marrying into a caste at least as high as their own.
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Origin of hypergamy

First recorded in 1880–85; hyper- + -gamy


hy·per·ga·mous, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does hypergamy mean?

Hypergamy is the practice of marrying above one’s social status or class (i.e., “marrying up”).

What are some other words related to hypergamy?

Where does hypergamy come from?

Hypergamy comes from the Greek prefix hyper, “above,” and gamos, “marriage.” Consider the words monogamy or polygamy, for comparison.

The term emerged in the 1880s from English anthropologists who were describing marriage practices in the caste society of the Indian subcontinent. For the Sanskrit anuloma, they coined hypergamy, used for marrying into a higher caste; pratiloma became hypogamy, or “marrying down.” Traditionally, Indian women were forbidden to marry below their caste, hence hypergamy.

These terms found use for the larger practice outside India. It also broadened to mean an individual who possesses more social capital of some sort, be it education, wealth, or physical attractiveness. The idea hinges on the concept of using marriage to make social gains by associating with a more privileged or powerful person.

Although hypergamy is not an exclusively gendered concept, in the 20th century it was adopted by some masculinist groups who think men are the victims of women who practice hypergamy.

In the early 2010s, hypergamy was co-opted by men’s rights groups, incels, and other anti-feminist groups online that accuse women of purposefully marrying more attractive or wealthier men out of self-interest. According to this interpretation of hypergamy (sometimes called female hypergamy), women have a natural desire to mate with men who can provide them with the most benefits, and will abandon current mates or lie to prospective ones in order to marry up.

While data does suggest that men and women will sexually-select based on different characteristics, perhaps even on deep-seated biological urges of procreation and provision, there is no evidence, scientific or social, that women are innately predisposed to pursue hypergamy. This belief is sexist, plain and simple.

Feminist and racial scholars have speculated that women have historically been forced to practice hypergamy due to patriarchal limits on their agency. One recourse for autonomy and power was marrying up.

How is hypergamy used in real life?

In some corners of the internet, there are men who view hypergamy as an active example of the victimization of men by women. These men use hypergamy to accuse a woman of choosing a man based only on a self-interest, only to later regret it.

In response, many women issue charges of sexism and masculine fragility.

Hypergamy is also still discussed as a social phenomenon in society, though many cultures increasingly privilege individual choice over pressures of status.

More examples of hypergamy:

“A common trope in the manosphere is that the ‘top’ 20% of men (defined by attractiveness and social value) are competing for the “top” 80% of women. This has its roots in the economic Pareto principle, whereby 80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients. Men who aren’t in this top range believe they are ignored and need to be part of that 20% to avoid being seen as “undateable” by the majority 80% of women. Women who only want to date or marry that top 20% despite being in the bottom 80% themselves are described as ‘hypergamy.’”

—Nikhil Sonnad, Tim Squirrell, et al., Quartz, October 2017

How to use hypergamy in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for hypergamy

/ (haɪˈpɜːɡəmɪ) /

anthropol a custom that forbids a woman to marry a man of lower social status
any marriage with a partner of higher social status

Derived forms of hypergamy

hypergamous, adjective

Word Origin for hypergamy

C19: from hyper- + -gamy
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012