"Women who judged themselves to be less desirable to men -- those women who are not like Angelina Jolie -- were most likely to take the career path when men became scarce," said researcher Kristina Durante of the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Durante and Vlad Griskevicius of the University of Minnesota examined the ratio of single men to single women in each U.S. state and the District of Columbia. In one study, they found as bachelors became scarce, the percentage of women in high-paying careers increased, women delayed having children and then had fewer children when they decided to start a family.
"Most women don't realize it, but an important factor in a woman's career choice is how easy or difficult it is to find a husband," Durante said in a statement. "When a woman's dating prospects look bleak -- as is the case when there are few available men -- she is much more likely to delay starting a family and instead seek a career."
In another study on college campuses, the researchers led women to believe via news articles about the student population that there were either more men or fewer men on campus. Women were more apt to pursue ambitious careers rather than start a family when they thought there was a lack of men.
"A scarcity of men leads women to invest in their careers because they realize it will be difficult to settle down and start a family," Griskevicius said.
The findings were published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.