01/23/2012 03:27 pm ET

Men Likely To Spend More, Save Less When Women Are Scarce: Study

Men looking to save money should probably head some place where there are a lot of women.

Men are more likely to spend money quickly and go into high levels of debt in regions where the man-to-woman ratio is especially high, a recent study from researchers at MIT and the University of Minnesota found. The study examined the gender ratios, number of credit cards owned and amount of consumer debt in 134 U.S. cities.

"What we see in other animals is that when females are scarce, males become more competitive. They compete more for access to mates," Vladas Griskevicius, an assistant marketing professor at the University of Minnesota and the study's lead author said in a release accompanying the findings. "How do humans compete for access to mates? What you find across cultures is that men often do it through money, through status and through products."

Did male interest in spending to lure women contribute to the overall ramping up of consumer debt before the recession? Americans ratcheted up their credit card use in the two decades leading up to the financial crisis, leading to a nearly five-fold increase in revolving debt.

In the aftermath of the recession, consumers started to de-leverage or pare down their debt leading credit card debt to hit an all-time low in September 2010. Consumer spending has been slow as well -- Americans' spending over the past three years has been the weakest since World War II.

But in areas with few women, that pattern is likely not holding true among men. As part of the study, researchers compared the spending habits and gender ratios of Columbus and Macon, two Georgia towns that are 100 miles away from one another. In Columbus where there are 1.18 single men for every single woman average consumer debt is nearly $3,500 higher than in Macon where there are 0.78 single men for every single woman.

The researchers found that the ramping up of consumer debt was likely not just correlated to, but also caused by the gender imbalance. The researchers showed 205 people a series of pictures on a computer screen and asked them to make 20 financial choices. When the men were shown images with more men than women they were willing to pare back their savings by 42 percent and take on 84 percent more debt.