"Courtship gifts serve a similar wealth-signaling purpose as charitable giving," he said. A single guy displays his wealth by his generosity, and in the process signals wealth to his sweetheart and to himself, he said.
Could the unmarried man's spending be fueled at least a little by anticipating his partner's joy? Norton can't say because his study was designed to evaluate such intentions.
The study findings come as no surprise to Vladas Griskevicius, associate professor of marketing and psychology at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management.
"If he is finding this kind of thing happens closer to Valentine's Day, that would make a lot of sense," Griskevicius said.
"I find that men, especially single men, tend to signal wealth when they have romance on their mind," he said.
In one of his studies, he asked male college students to look at photos of beautiful women or beautiful architecture. "Later, men indicated how much money they would spend on various products such as a car, watch and vacation. The men who had looked at photos of women spent more money," he said.
The picture is different, Norton and Griskevicius agreed, for married men and their spouses.
"You wouldn't expect having romance on the mind to lead men in committed relationships to want to show off their wealth to others," Griskevicius said.
Norton's study confirms that. "Married men in general are spending less on their partners," he said, maybe because they've sealed the deal, ''which is a little sad."
Norton suggests single women and married spouses who spend a little more this Valentine's Day might feel a little happier. That ties in with his previous research, in which he has found that the feelings of subjective wealth after gift-giving are soon followed by feelings of happiness.
All rights reserved