Ideal Mates Selected Differently by Gender

An online survey was carried out to test the hypothesis that the magnitude of sex differences in preferences for age and “physical attractiveness” over “good financial prospects” of the partner would decrease with increasing status. The hypothesis was accepted only partially, as the gender differentiation disappeared for physical attractiveness over good financial prospects with increasing control of resources. At the same time, females continued to prefer older and wealthier males with increasing resource control, which caused the hypothesis to be rejected.

Numerous reports are available suggesting the existence of sexual asymmetry in human mate preferences. Males prefer youth and physical attractiveness as decisive factors for choosing a female partner; whereas, females have a preference for resource acquisition characteristics. This mating behavior has been widely debated and studies have shown that in societies with greater educational and financial gender equality, women express preferences similar to men. Therefore, the authors investigated the contribution of gender specific status in mate preferences for age and physical attractiveness. It was also hypothesized that the magnitude of these individual differences would be expected to be different among females and males.

•    An online survey was conducted which was completed by approximately 6,000 participants. Of these, 3770 adults (18 to 35 years old, 1,851 females and 1,919 males) who reported a completely heterosexual orientation were included in the analysis. A majority of the participants were from the middle income brackets, and most had been educated up to the university or college level.
•    Partner age preference was evaluated by asking the participants to indicate the ideal partner age and the maximum and minimum ages (in years) that they would prefer in a potential partner.
•    The preference for resource acquisition characteristics and physical attractiveness among the participants was measured using a reference ranking of a series of partner features, with “good financial prospects” and “physical attractiveness” as target characteristics.
•    Status was assessed using the measures of resource control, namely “financial independence, importance of financial independence, control of finances, importance of having a career, maximum level of education, and input in decisions in the home and workplace.”

Key findings
•    There was a significant difference in the magnitude of age preference, ideal age difference between self and partner, and maximum or minimum tolerated age between the genders.
•    Females with high financial independence, power and ambition outnumbered males in the magnitude of response over their preferences not only for ideal age difference between self and partner, but also for maximum or minimum age tolerated for their partner.
•    Females with high financial independence and power were at par with the preferences of a male for physical attractiveness over good financial prospects.

Financial independence and physical attractiveness as a covariate of resource control or mate preferences may have been interpreted differently by individuals and therefore should be controlled in future studies. Females probably could have interpreted “financial independence” as an independence from partner and whereas males could have interpreted it as independence from parents or loans. While females could have interpreted “physical attractiveness” as mates with good genes for creating a family, males could have interpreted it as mates with fertility and good reproductive capacity. Besides, the participants belonged to an undergraduate level and their responses cannot be generalized to the overall population.

The effects of resource control on the magnitude of gender differences in selecting a mate is a complex theory. The sex differences in preferences for “physical attractiveness” over “good financial prospects” disappeared when “financial independence and power” was high. This was in support of the prediction of economic constraints on a female contributing to sex differences in selecting an ideal mate. However, inverse relationship between financially independent women preferring younger mates rejects the hypothesis that women`s preferences would shift in the direction typical of men. Therefore, financially independent women preferring physical attractiveness as well as older mates, suggest a mixed response and a greater complexity in the role of resource control on the mate preferences, which needs a further investigation.

For More Information:
Effects of Control of Resources on Magnitudes of Sex Differences in Human Mate Preferences
Publication Journal: Evolutionary Psychology, 2010
By Fhionna Moore; Clare Cassidy; Division of Psychology, University of Abertay Dundee, Scotland and School of Psychology, University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.