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Hierarchy of Needs

When I was first presented with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs I was 22 years old living alone in Houston, Texas. I had just entered my Master of Social Work program and at the time, I did not have a good sense of how the world operated. I found Maslow’s theory extremely helpful then because it provided an explanation for human behavior and what we “need” to feel a sense of wholeness. At this time in my life, I was only interested in getting an education to make enough money, live a comfortable life, and be able to have my immediate physiological needs met. Flash forward nearly a decade later, I have a better sense of what needs should be met for me to feel wholeness, safety, security, and belonging. As a social worker for nearly ten years, I experienced a better understanding of what people need in order to live healthy and happy lives. I believe Maslow created a foundation for us to be able to explore human behavior, but now I feel it is an outdated and narrow theory that is far too simple to be able to realistically apply in today’s complex world.


Douglas Kenrick, Vladas Griskevicious, Steven Neuberg, and Mark Schaller proposed a “hierarchy of fundamental human motives” that I believe is more applicable in today’s complex world. I believe it is more applicable because of my career experience in the field of social work, assisting people in so many different ways. If I am honest, I can say the chart is more applicable because of the layers that are included, such as self-protection and affiliation. We as human beings are designed to want, to feel, and to be included in “community”. In a world motivated by social media and technology, it can feel very isolating because although people might feel a sense of belonging and community, it is not the same. Affiliation can also be seen or explored as the religion you identify with. The reason people have denominations in the church is to identify what type of community they are (affiliation) so that people can be enticed to join and to be and feel included. Additionally, we have other social constructs such as culture, racism, socio-economic status, and environment that can impede another person’s ability to go from deficiency needs to growth needs. When people’s physiological needs are not met or when they feel that they are unachievable, it can cause a person to feel and remain stuck and never move upward on any pyramid. This, alongside racist and political constructs, is how I believe a community of people remains in a vicious cycle of abuse and poverty. We can see this clearly if we choose to. For example, there are wealthy neighborhoods, middle-class, and lower-class neighborhoods.


Most of the time, the middle-class and upper-class neighborhoods are going to have people whose fundamental physiological needs are never challenged, therefore they feel safe and secure and are able to ascend up the pyramid. In some middle-class and lower-class neighborhoods, their physiological needs are often challenged and they either remain at the bottom of the pyramid or they fluctuate between deficiency and growth needs. This is also a reason why mate acquisition is challenging because in order to survive in today’s world, both the man and the woman must bring something to the table. In the past, safety, and security relied on the male and women often looked toward marrying up from their current status, class, or affiliation. In today’s world women are often bringing the same if not more to the table for mate acquisition and it is becoming more challenging for people. Women who are at the top of the pyramid might find it challenging to acquire or retain a mate because they aren’t trying to be picked anymore. Additionally, more active parenting is required from fathers because research shows children get different needs met by each parent. Now women are no longer settling for a man that can provide those lower-level needs such as income, food, shelter, etc. because they can provide those things as well.


Women now are motivated by looking for a person that cannot only provide financially but a man that is in their new "Maslow’s hierarchy of needs" This includes a man that is in the "self-actualization" or "transcendence" phase on the top of the pyramid. But because of society’s cultural and social norms, this makes it challenging for most Black men. A man that is used to making the most money or being the provider may or may not do well with a woman who makes three times as much as he does. This is a social and cultural norm that is being challenged every day and would go against the motivation behind mate acquisition. As a result, I see women choosing to have a child without a mate or by choice with a sperm donor. Finding a mate in today’s world I believe, is solely based on the want or desire to reproduce and less on the physiological needs being met, especially for those in a higher socio-economic status. Additionally, this is why I believe we see more Black women with non-Black men. Why? Because we have "achieved" by moving upward on the pyramid, which has consequently isolated Black men from being able to do the same. When Black women are trying to find a male they are compatible with, it is challenging because we tend to see more Black men lower on the pyramid in "deficiency needs" and less at the top in "growth needs" or where we see "transcendence" achieved. Evolutionary psychology and the need to survive tells us that we should aim to achieve higher on the pyramid when acquiring a mate and society tells us to marry higher for safety and security (not lower) in order for our children to survive.


As a 33-year-old Afro-Indigenous millennial woman, I can share that those of us young ladies who went to college and now have a great career, travel, and have our core physiological needs met, most of us are single and not married. I also know that culture, parenting, socio-economic status, and gender roles also have a lot to do with this phenomenon. Most of us women came from low socio-economic homes, absent fathers, and divorced mothers, and played an active role in raising our siblings and becoming another parent in the home. I believe this had an adverse effect on women like myself. We chose to be everything that we were taught that a man was to be and now, don’t completely understand how to be and feel safe in our feminine energy and are unbalanced. As a result, we see women as more masculine, unmarried, and without a male or husband in the home (mate retention). There are so many social and cultural implications that have gotten us here, and I would like to see some social research conducted that includes the complexities of attempting to live a thriving life as an African American person living in the United States of America.


Love & Light, Roicia



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