In two of the largest studies to date, researchers discovered men and women often have different perspectives on the qualities they believe are “desirable” and “essential” in a long-term partner.
Researchers at Chapman University in California surveyed nearly 28,000 heterosexual participants ages 18 to 75 years. Their findings confirm the long-held belief that people with desirable traits have a stronger “bargaining hand” and can be more selective when choosing romantic partners.
The studies examined how heterosexual mate preferences differed according to a person’s gender, age, personal income, education, and appearance satisfaction.
“We looked at the extent to which attractiveness and resources are ‘desirable’ versus ‘essential’ to men and women when they are looking for a long-term partner,” said David Frederick, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Chapman University and a co-author on the study.
“We’ve known for a long time that men care more about attractiveness in a long-term partner, and women care more about resources. In two national datasets, we found that gender was by far the strongest predictor of what people want in a long-term mate: it was more important than age, income, education, or confidence in appearance.
“We found that although men have stronger preferences for a ‘good looking’ and ‘slender’ partner, men and women care equally about having a partner who is specifically attractive to them.
“Wealthier men and people who were more confident in their appearance had stronger preferences for a good-looking partner, and older men and women placed less importance on looks and income traits when seeking a long-term partner,” said Frederick.
In the study, researchers used a “mating market” approach, defined as when heterosexual individuals compete with others of the same gender by making “bids” to members of the other gender for the purposes of securing a romantic partner.
People with desirable traits are in a position to be more selective about what they look for in mate.
The mating market metaphor can be extended to include a distinction between partner “necessities” (what people find essential in a partner) and partner “luxuries” (what people would prefer to have in a partner, but could live without).
Here are some of the findings broken down by category:
Gender Differences: Specifically, the study revealed that men and women differed in the percentage indicating:
- it was “desirable/essential” that their potential partner was good-looking (M 92 percent vs. W 84 percent);
- had a slender body (M 80 percent vs. W 58 percent);
- had a steady income (M 74 percent vs. W 97 percent);
- and made/will make a lot of money (M 47 percent vs. W 69 percent).
There were also gender differences in whether it was “very important/a must have” that their partner made at least as much money as they do (M 24 percent vs. W 46 percent) and had a successful career (M 33 percent vs. W 61 percent), but not in whether their partner was physically attractive to them (M 40 percent vs. W 42 percent).
Confidence in Physical Attractiveness: People who reported greater satisfaction with their own appearance did not have stronger preferences for a partner who is physically attractive to them, but they did report stronger preferences for partners who are good-looking and slender — this was true for both men and women.
Income: People with higher incomes had stronger preferences for partners who are good looking — and this was true for both men and women. Men with higher incomes showed stronger preferences for women with slender bodies. Wealthier women had stronger preferences for men who had a steady income or made lots of money.
Education: Men with more education had stronger preferences for female partners who are good looking and slender; however for both men and women, education level was not related to preferences for steady income or making a lot of money.
Age: Older people, both men and women, had weaker preferences for a partner they find physically attractive, who make as much money as they do, and who has a successful career.