By DR NICK NEAVE
We live in an age in which women have earned complete independence. So do they need men at all? According to Dr NICK NEAVE, an evolutionary psychologist from Northumbria University, not only do they need men, they are fundamentally programmed to depend on them. Here, Dr Neave, 41, explains his provocative thesis:
You're a successful woman with a job to die for, a fabulous home and a supportive husband, but do you ever get the urge to check his mobile phone for love messages? Or his bank statements for intimate meals a deux that you didn't share? And do you lie awake at night worrying how you'll cope if the worst happens, your fears are proved and your husband walks out?
Don't worry. Your suspicion is only natural. At the risk of sounding extraordinarily sexist, I'm convinced that women, even in the happiest of relationships, are programmed to worry their men are going to abandon them.
And they're terrified - in a way that most men find it frankly impossible to imagine. What's more, if their forebodings come true, women are more inclined to forgive an affair than a man if the shoe is on the other foot. That's not because they're nicer, more easygoing individuals. It's simply because their primeval urge to hang onto a male provider is so strong.
Women in the 21st century may boast that they are truly independent for the first time in our social history. They may tell themselves and each other that they don't need a man. They can even start a family on their own thanks to IVF techniques.
But, while feminists may argue this proves women have finally kicked off the shackles of dependence on men, I'm afraid they're wrong.
In evolutionary terms the huge cultural changes over the past generation amount simply to the merest blink of an eye. It could take another 10,000 years for women to change their thinking.
Quite simply, women are preprogrammed to feel dependent on men. Even today women may be richer and enjoy all the trappings of success but, deep down in their psyche, they fear they can't survive alone.
These women may be shooting up the career ladder and earning more than the men in their lives, but when it comes to relationships men still hold the trump card.
As an evolutionary psychologist, I study patterns of behaviour dating back to the first human societies, and constantly analyse evidence that demonstrates the key differences which have developed between the sexes since men were hunter-gatherers and women were child bearers.
Females are smaller and weaker than males so, in prehistoric times, women and their offspring were prone to being the victims of predators, and violence.
They needed the support and protection of men who didn't just have brute force but also had social status in the group, either through their sheer physicality or the strength of their personality.
That's why women still look for a mate of higher social standing.
If a woman had a relationship with a socially dominant male, she would immediately get greater access to resources because her social standing would be elevated, too.
As we shall see, modern surveys consistently show that women today ape those inherent characteristics by looking for partners who are socially dominant and have the respect of their peers, paying close attention to how men interact with, and are treated by, other men.
Men have a different reason for choosing a mate. The caveman needed to be sure he was raising a child who was genetically his. The best way of doing this was to secure a mate and guard her so she didn't get the chance to stray.
A man's natural instinct may be to have sex with a different woman every day, but to safeguard his relationship (and secure his progeny), he has been forced into a pattern of monogamy. don't even realise what's happening. When couples meet at speed-dating evenings, typically a man will judge a woman on her looks and youth. His priorities are whether she's healthy, interested in sex and can give him children one day. He doesn't care how much she earns or her social status.
Typically, however, a woman's first question will be: 'What job do you do?' It sounds a friendly overture, but what she really wants to know is his social position and earning capacity. Is he an industrious, hard worker, capable of providing for her and their children?
Because of his power, even the ugliest politician on the planet has women lining up to go to bed with him. Were he the local rat catcher, his love life would be a good deal quieter. As American statesman Henry Kissinger put it: 'Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.'
One might argue that it's only natural for today's women in their 30s or 40s to feel dependent on a man. After all, the vast majority were raised by mothers who by and large didn't have careers and were forced to rely financially on their husbands.
Yet study after study proves that today's women in their 20s are just as insecure. In a recent study, two American researchers, John Marshall Townsend from Syracuse University and Gary Levy from the University of Toledo, presented women with photographs of men.
The first group, described as doctors, wore designer ties, smart shirts and sported Rolex watches. The second wore plain shirts and Swatch watches and were described as teachers. The third group wore Burger King uniforms.
Women repeatedly picked doctors as potential boyfriends - even though many of the men in the third category were actually more handsome. Quite simply, to women a man's looks are less important than earning power and social standing.
In another study, male and female medical students were asked to pick their ideal mate from a selection of careers. The majority of men chose nurses. Women, however, picked hospital consultants. This demonstrates that, although every bit as financially successful as their male colleagues, these young women still feel they need men to confer power and social standing to a superior male.
It's no surprise to me that another study this year by sociologists at Virginia University found that couples are happiest in traditional marriages run on old-fashioned gender lines, where the man is the main breadwinner. The report showed conclusively that women who worked were more dissatisfied with their husbands than those who stayed at home.
One of the experts, W Radford Wilcox, said: 'Regardless of what married women say they believe about gender, they tend to have happier marriages when their husband is a good provider.'
Happiest of all were women whose husbands brought in at least two-thirds of the household income, regardless of how much they helped with domestic chores.
In short I suspect women will never feel truly comfortable earning more than their men. The need to rely on a man is driven by such a deep-seated biological urge, I cannot see it ever being eradicated completely.
Only last week, a survey by the Skipton Building Society concluded that many women who are the main breadwinner hold it against their partner for contributing less to the household budget than they do.
While those women might like the material rewards of their high salaries, they also dislike the financial responsibility - perhaps reflectingthe inbuilt genetic imperative to rely on someone else.
It is that instinctive need to rely on a man which makes women so afraid of abandonment. Perhaps that is why women are more attuned to their partner's moods and curious about tiny aspects of his life. And they are much better than men at spotting liars.
Evolutionary psychologists are convinced that these are in part throwbacks to a woman's need to maintain her relationship at all costs.
It's completely irrational for women, who can earn as much as men, to have a terror of being abandoned. Even if she can't work, the welfare state means she's not going to starve. Yet it's a real fear for many women. We have anecdotal evidence of women lying awake at night worrying how they'd cope.
Women are terrified of abandonment. They fear a drop in status or social standing that might come with divorce in a way men - who are driven by very different priorities - simply don't understand.
Even extremely wealthy, successful women have these vestigial anxieties which bear absolutely no relation to the reality of their lives, but are throwbacks to caveman society.
Ironically, although men actually fare less well after divorce and are often less happy, women typically are more frightened of living alone.
Men find it extremely hard to forgive an affair. This dates back to early man's horror of unwittingly raising another man's child. However, women are predisposed to be more tolerant of affairs. It comes down to brutal economics. The thought of your husband having sex with another woman may be devastating. But even worse is the prospect of him pouring all his financial resources her way.
Quite simply, women are so programmed to feel dependent that their subliminal urge to safeguard the home often outweighs the fury of being sexually betrayed.
Terror of being abandoned even drives the beauty industry. Eating clinics report a four-fold rise in the number of middle-aged women seeking help for anorexia and bulimia because they're desperate to look slim and youthful. These problems were once the province of teenage girls.
And while women may claim they are having cosmetic surgery and Botox treatments purely to feel better about themselves, I believe the reason is much more complex. Women are driven by a primeval urge to keep their men by looking youthful and fertile. Sexist? Maybe. True? I fear so.