There are a lot of stereotypes about how men and women seek out different qualities in a mate. But researchers from the University of Texas say they now have a clearer picture of just how different the preferences of men and women are.
As part of the study, researchers asked people (all of whom identify as heterosexual) what they find desirable in a partner. Judging from their answers, researchers were able to guess with 92 percent accuracy whether the respondent was male or female.
“The patterns in the sexes barely overlap at all,” says Dan Conroy-Beam, a UT grad student and lead author of the study. Conroy-Beam says women tend to prefer a partner who is more financially established and older, while men place a premium on physical attractiveness and youth. That, he says, tells us when the sexes are going out and looking for a mate, they’re looking for something completely different.
Sure, it all plays pretty well into existing stereotypes, and may not seem like a watershed moment for understanding relationships at face value. But Conroy-Beam says it’s striking that many of these preferences held true regardless of the cultural background of the respondent. Theoretically, it demonstrates that the preferences are “cross-culturally universal.”
Men and women held some of the same preferences, whether they’re in Sweden or Iran. He believes that’s because some preferences are the product of evolutionary biology. Men and women tended to place similar value on other qualities like sociability or shared religious affiliation. But the importance of those factors did shift depending on the cultural background of the respondents.
Additionally, the study examined male and female preferences through a single lens – some studies have focused strictly on age, while others focus on the economic factors – Conroy-Beam’s study analyzes how multiple factors fit into the selection of mate.
The study was published in this month’s issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.