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Measuring Mate Preferences: A Replication and Extension

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Mate preferences have a long research history in the social sciences, yet given their evolving nature they must be revisited periodically. We use evolutionary psychology and social role paradigms to frame our study and contribute to this body of work in two important ways. First, we examine preference trends over the past 25 years and find that both men and women increasingly place a higher value on a mate's financial prospects and desire for home and children. Second, we compare results generated from qualitative mate preference data with two popular methods in mate preference literature in terms of substantive findings and methodological utility.
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Journal of Family Issues
2015, Vol. 36(2) 163 –187
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DOI: 10.1177/0192513X13490404
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Article
Measuring Mate
Preferences: A
Replication and
Extension
Christie F. Boxer1, Mary C. Noonan2,
and Christine B. Whelan3
Abstract
Mate preferences have a long research history in the social sciences, yet given
their evolving nature they must be revisited periodically. We use evolutionary
psychology and social role paradigms to frame our study and contribute to
this body of work in two important ways. First, we examine preference
trends over the past 25 years and find that both men and women increasingly
place a higher value on a mate’s financial prospects and desire for home
and children. Second, we compare results generated from qualitative mate
preference data with two popular methods in mate preference literature in
terms of substantive findings and methodological utility.
Keywords
mate preferences, sex differences, evolutionary psychology, social roles
Introduction
For decades, social science research has examined what young adults want in
potential marriage partners (see Feingold, 1990, and Powers, 1971, for
1Adrian College, Adrian, MI, USA
2University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, USA
3University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Christie F. Boxer, 313 Valade Hall, Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, Adrian
College, Adrian, MI 49221, USA.
Email: cboxer@adrian.edu
490404JFI36210.1177/0192513X13490404Journal of Family IssuesBoxer et al.
research-article2013
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164 Journal of Family Issues 36(2)
reviews). This body of research has examined mate preferences using survey
data (e.g., South, 1991; Sprecher, Sullivan, & Hatfield, 1994) and experi-
ments (e.g., Li & Kenrick, 2006), both within the United States and across the
globe (e.g., Buss, 1989). Mate preferences are defined as cognitions, or men-
tal representations, about the characteristics people desire in romantic part-
ners (Campbell & Wilbur, 2009; Shackelford, Schmitt, & Buss, 2005).
Examining mate preferences helps us understand the cognitive schemas indi-
viduals in a given society use to select partners and which aspects of these
preferences are the most important for driving and organizing human mating
and marriage.
The study of mate preferences is fundamental to many branches of the
social sciences. Cultural anthropologists point to pair bonding as a funda-
mental organizing principle of all human societies (Chapais, 2008). Cultural
psychologists argue that the need to belong is a major source of human moti-
vation that drives mate selection (Fiske & Fiske, 2007). Cognitive and per-
sonality psychologists suggest that mate preferences serve important
evaluative functions in interpersonal relationships, especially when one is
considering whether a prospective partner meets the ideal standards one has
for the relationship (Fletcher & Simpson, 2000). Sociologists propose that
changing trends in pair bonding over time in the United States has led to
increased selectivity of marriage entry, which suggests the need to examine
factors that encourage or dissuade individuals to marry. Taken together, it is
clear that the scientific study of mate preferences is at the heart of social sci-
ence inquiry.
Much of mate preferences research focuses on testing for gender differ-
ences based on two predominate paradigms: evolutionary psychology and
social role theory. Data often come from young adults’ responses to the
mate preference survey, a questionnaire that asks respondents to rank 18
individual characteristics potentially desired in a mate (see Appendix A).
Studies find that, on average, men value physical attractiveness more than
women, and women value potential for financial prospects more than men
(Buss, 1989; Li, Bailey, Kenrick, & Linsenmeier, 2002; Powers, 1971;
Shackelford et al., 2005). Studies that have explored changes over the 20th
century in men’s and women’s mate preferences find that, although gender
differences still exist, mate preferences for men and women have become
more similar, with men placing more emphasis on women’s financial pros-
pects and less emphasis on their domestic skills (Buss, Shackelford,
Kirkpatrick, & Larsen, 2001).
Although prior research on mate preferences is quite extensive, important
questions remain unanswered. First, have mate preferences changed since the
most recent data collection performed in the mid-1990s? Have new trends
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Boxer et al. 165
emerged as the “millennial” generation entered marriage markets to seek
partners? Second, when asked to name their top mate preferences, what set of
qualities emerge? Although using the mate preference survey allows for
important historical comparisons and analyses of changing social trends
across generations, the instrument may no longer be meaningful for today’s
young adults.
Our research attempts to answer these questions. Using quantitative and
qualitative data from a 2008 sample of college students, we address the
perennial question of what individuals want in a mate. In the quantitative
component of our analysis, we examine changes over time in men’s and
women’s mate preferences, loosely framed by both evolutionary psychology
and social role perspectives. We accomplish this by comparing our 2008 data
with historical data garnered from similar respondents replying to the same
survey instrument in 1985 and 1996.
In the qualitative component of our analysis, we analyze participants’
write-in responses to a question asking for their top preferences for poten-
tial mates. We explore the ways in which the most commonly volunteered
responses substantively differ from the 18 items provided in the mate pref-
erence survey. We use the qualitative responses to suggest preference
dimensions that are important for understanding the mate selection
process.
Change Over Time in Mate Preferences
Several cultural and structural changes have occurred in the United States
throughout the late 20th century that should affect mate preferences. The
median age at first marriage for men and women has continued to climb from
25 and 23 (respectively) in the mid-1980s, 27 and 25 in the mid-1990s, to 28
and 26 by 2008 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2009). One important reason for the
rise in the typical age at first marriage is the increase in women’s educational
attainment. In the 1980s, young (ages 25-29) men outpaced young women in
terms of college completion. Since then, the percentage of young women
who have completed college has increased such that, in 2010, a record 36%
of young women had attained a bachelor’s degree. This compares with 28%
of young men (Wang & Parker, 2011).
Not only has the gender gap in educational attainment decreased over
time, the gender gap in earnings has also narrowed, from approximately 65%
in the 1980s to 75% in the 1990s, and now close to 80% (Tyson, 2011). The
shrinking of the sex-based pay gap is due in part to a fall-off in men’s earn-
ings. After decades of rising wages and relatively lucrative job prospects
right out of high school, non-college-educated men have experienced wage
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166 Journal of Family Issues 36(2)
stagnation and even wage decreases in industrial sectors since the 1980s
(Leicht & Fitzgerald, 2006).
Married women’s and men’s allocation between paid and unpaid work is
also becoming more similar over time, although wives still do more unpaid
work (i.e., housework and childcare) and husbands do more paid work (Sayer,
2005). For instance, the percentage of married women aged 16 and older in
the labor force increased from 50% in 1980 to 61% in 2008, whereas married
men’s labor force participation decreased slightly during that time from 81%
to 77% (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2010). Married women’s financial
contribution to total family income has also grown over the past several
decades from 28% in 1985 to 36% in 2008 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,
2010; Whelan, 2006).
As young people today consider their marriage prospects in the context of
these demographic changes, they appear to be increasingly defining their pro-
jected marital roles away from the specialized male-breadwinner/female-
homemaker model toward more egalitarian models (Deutsch, Kokot, &
Binder, 2007). It is likely that behavioral changes in men’s and women’s roles
within the family have given young, single people alternative marriage mod-
els to consider when contemplating what they want in a spouse. Compared to
the past, women may be increasingly looking for a mate who is willing to
share domestic duties, and men may increasingly be looking for a mate to
share responsibility for breadwinning (Cunningham, 2008; Whelan, 2006).
This should translate into preferences for partners who have strong long-term
earning potential and inclination toward sharing household responsibilities
(Oppenheimer, Kalmijn, & Lim, 1997; Sweeney, 2002).
In addition to changes in men’s and women’s family roles, changes in
the meaning of marriage and attitudes toward sexuality may also have led
to changes in what individuals want in a mate. A shift toward more “indi-
vidualistic” marriages, where the emphasis is on personal growth and emo-
tional fulfillment within the marriage, may have affected people’s desired
preferences in long-term partners (Cherlin, 2009). Also, an increased
acceptance of sexual promiscuity may have decreased the importance of
chastity in a marriage partner for both men and women (Paik & Woodley,
2009).
Changes in preferences over time are theorized by both the evolutionary
psychology and social role paradigms. The evolutionary basis underlying
human mating strategies suggests that as environmental conditions change,
biologically based preferences for particular characteristics will change as
well. Likewise, social role theory predicts that changes in mate preferences
should parallel social structural changes in opportunities and access to
resources.
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Boxer et al. 167
Empirical Studies
Few previous studies have explored how men’s and women’s mate prefer-
ences have changed over time. One important exception is a study conducted
by Buss et al. (2001), in which the authors analyze data on college students’
mate preferences at six different time points, spanning the 1930s to the 1990s.
Although their data do not come from students at the same colleges, the data
have been collected using the same instrument, the mate selection survey—
an 18-item list of individual characteristics potentially desired in a mate (see
Appendix A). Respondents are asked to assign each of the 18 characteristics
a discrete value ranging from “0” (unimportant/irrelevant in a mate) to “3”
(essential in a mate). Ratings of each characteristic are then averaged for men
and women separately and then rank-ordered in terms of importance. It is
important to note that Buss et al. (2001) do not statistically test whether
men’s and/or women’s preferences have changed across time points but
instead simply indicate whether a characteristic’s ranking is substantively
(not necessarily statistically) different across time.
The authors find that men and women are becoming more similar over
time with respect to mate preferences. In 1996, both sexes place “mutual
attraction and love” at the top of the list of desired characteristics in a mate,
up from 4th for men and 6th for women in the 1930s, supporting the notion
of a trend toward individualistic marriage. While “good cook and house-
keeper” remained consistently 16th for women throughout the 20th century,
this characteristic decreased in importance for men, from 8th in 1939 down
to 14th in 1996. Men increasingly valued “good financial prospect” in a mar-
riageable partner, with the characteristic rising from 17th for men in 1939 up
to 13th by 1996 (compared to 11th for women in 1996). Other interesting
shifts also occurred over time, consistent with the changing social trends we
outlined above. Chastity, for instance, fell from near the middle of the list (10
for both men and women in 1939) down to nearly last place by 1996 (16th for
men, 17th for women).
Current Investigation
In our study, we analyze both quantitative and qualitative data to answer our
research questions. In Part 1 of our analysis, we use quantitative data from the
mate selection survey fielded to a sample of college students in 2008 to test
predictions about change over time in mate preferences within and between
the sexes. We compare our 2008 data with data collected in 1985 and 1996 to
accomplish this goal. Given men’s and women’s changing attitudes, behav-
iors, and roles within the family detailed above, we hypothesize that men’s
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168 Journal of Family Issues 36(2)
average valuation of “good financial prospect” will be higher in 2008 than in
1996 and 1985, continuing the upward trend implied by Buss et al.’s (2001)
analysis of characteristics’ rank-ordering throughout the 20th century.
Hypothesis 1a: Men’s average valuation of “good financial prospect” will
be statistically higher in 2008, relative to men’s average valuation on
this characteristic in 1996; and men’s average valuation of “good finan-
cial prospect” will be statistically higher in 1996 relative to 1985.
We hypothesize that women will be more likely over time to desire a
spouse who intends to engage in housework and childcare. Therefore, we
should see an increase in women’s average valuation of “good cook and
housekeeper” and “desire for home and family” over time.
Hypothesis 1b: Women’s average valuation of “good cook and house-
keeper” and “desire for home and children” will be statistically higher
in 2008 relative to women’s average valuation on these characteristics
in 1996; and women’s average valuation of “good cook and house-
keeper” and “desire for home and children” will be statistically higher
in 1996 than in 1985.
We further hypothesize that, in light of women’s expanding participation
in the labor market and contribution to household income in recent decades,
women should place lower value on men’s financial prospects as their own
ability to fill the breadwinning role increases.
Hypothesis 1c: Women’s average valuation of “good financial prospect”
will be statistically lower in 2008 relative to women’s average value of
“good financial prospect” in 1996; and women’s average valuation of
“good financial prospect” will be statistically lower in 1996 than in 1985.
It should be noted that while social role theory predicts a decrease in wom-
en’s valuation of financial prospects in a partner as their own ability to fill
that role increases, evolutionary psychology does not. This is because,
according to the evolutionary psychology paradigm, resource provision
should be highly valued by both partners regardless of who is responsible for
breadwinning, as more resources help ensure offspring and parental survival
and health.
Part 2 of our analysis examines our survey participants’ write-in responses
to a question asking for their top three most important characteristics in poten-
tial mates. In this part of our analysis, we do not have specific hypotheses.
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Boxer et al. 169
Instead, we inductively explore whether the write-in responses are substan-
tively different than the 18 items provided in the mate preference survey. We
also discuss how these qualitative findings fit within the evolutionary psychol-
ogy and social role paradigms.
Analysis Part 1
Data
In September 2008, we collected data on mate preferences from a sample of
1,108 undergraduate college students (331 males and 777 females). Our data
were collected from students at four universities in the United States: the
University of Iowa (n = 303), the University of Virginia (n = 282),
Pennsylvania State University (n = 243), and the University of Washington
(n = 280). Past mate preference studies using the 18-item ranking list have
relied on convenience samples from universities at which coauthors had
access to the student population; our procedure here is the same.1 We solic-
ited participation from undergraduates enrolled in general education classes,
including introductory sociology, social problems, and psychology courses.
Students’ participation was voluntary and anonymous, and no compensation
was offered for participation in this study. Participants were asked to com-
plete the survey while seated in their classes. Our survey instrument included
the 18-item mate selection items, followed by three open-ended volunteered
preference responses, and then basic demographic questions.
Our sample is not nationally representative of college students in the United
States, nor can we claim that it is representative of the student body at each uni-
versity. Convenience samples of college students are commonly used in mate
selection studies like ours (see Buss et al., 2001; Hudson & Henze, 1969; Hill,
1945; Hoyt & Hudson, 1981, for details about past college student samples). We
decided to survey college students, instead of adults in general, because doing so
allows us to maintain historical consistency with these past studies. Furthermore,
college students represent an ideal group to test theories on mate preferences
because most are never married but are in an active “marriage market.” That is,
the college environment is densely saturated with eligible partners and provides
opportunities for these eligible partners to meet and form relationships.
Data and Measures
Consistent with previous studies, we used the mate selection instrument to
assess mate preferences. The mate selection survey is an 18-item list of vari-
ous mate characteristics (see Appendix A). This instrument was developed
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170 Journal of Family Issues 36(2)
during the late 1930s and early 1940s by Harold Christensen (1947) and
Reuben Hill (1945). The instrument asks respondents to rate each of 18 char-
acteristics using the following scale: 0 = irrelevant or unimportant, 1 = desir-
able, 2 = important, and 3 = essential. Ratings are typically averaged over the
analytic sample and then rank-ordered in terms of collective “importance” or
“desirability.” A full list of the 18 characteristics included in the instrument
can be found in Appendix A. In our survey, no changes were made to the list
of 18 characteristics, their ordering, or the rating scale in order to facilitate
comparison of our results with previous research.
Method
To test whether mate preferences have changed over the past two decades
(Hypotheses 1a, 1b, and 1c), we performed t ests between our 2008 results
and the results from the 1996 and 1985 surveys conducted by Buss et al.
(2001).2 To counter the increased probability of Type I error from repeated
pairwise comparisons, we used the Bonferroni correction, which reduced our
t test significance level from .05 to .025 (.05/2), for two-tailed tests.
Ideally, our data would come from students at the same universities and
from the same types of classes, in order to have relatively comparable sam-
ples over time. Although the students were sampled from similar types of
classes over time (1996 and 1985 students came from introductory psychol-
ogy classes; 2008 students came from introductory sociology, social prob-
lems, and psychology courses), the universities represented in each year are
not the same. In 1985, Buss and colleagues surveyed students from Harvard
University, the University of California–Berkeley, the University of
Michigan–Ann Arbor, and the University of Texas–Austin; in 1996, they sur-
veyed students from the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor, the University
of Texas–Austin, and the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
To determine whether our 2008 sample was comparable to the earlier sam-
ples, we compared them on two demographic variables: age and marital sta-
tus (these were the only demographic data provided for the 1985 and 1996
samples used in the Buss et al., 2001, study). We found no substantive differ-
ences between the samples on these characteristics.3
Results From Quantitative Analysis
Table 1 provides demographic information on our sample. The average age of
participants was approximately 20 years, and the majority of students were
Caucasian/White (71%). Nearly all participants (98.68%) were not married at
the time of the study.
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Boxer et al. 171
Table 2 displays mean scores and standard deviations for each character-
istic listed on the mate preference instrument in our 2008 sample (see
Appendix B for the characteristics’ rank-orderings by gender, from 1939
through 2008). Significant between-sex differences are denoted with an
asterisk. Since our core hypotheses concern change in mate preferences over
the past three decades, we focus our discussion of the 2008 results in context
of the results from the earlier studies.
Table 3 (men) and Table 4 (women) show the means and standard devia-
tions of each characteristic from Buss et al.’s 1985 and 1996 samples (repro-
duced from Buss et al., 2001) and our 2008 sample. Hypothesis 1a—that
men’s valuation of “good financial prospect” in a marriage partner would
increase over time—was partially supported. Mean difference tests revealed
a significant increase in men’s average rating of “good financial prospect”
between the 1985 and the 1996 waves (see Table 2; 1.02 and 1.42, respec-
tively; t = 6.06, p < .001), but no statistical change between the 1996 and
2008 waves (1.42 and 1.47, respectively).
Hypothesis 1b—that women’s valuation of the characteristics “good cook
and housekeeper” and “desire for home and children” would increase over
time—was not supported. Although the mean value for these characteristics
did increase, there was no statistically significant change in women’s valua-
tion of “good cook and housekeeper” from 1985 to 1996 (1.20 to 1.27), nor
from 1996 to 2008 (1.31). The same is true of women’s valuation of “desire
for home and children.” This characteristic had a mean value of 2.37 in 1985,
2.44 in 1996, and 2.52 in 2008 (t = 1.40 and 1.57, respectively).
Table 1. Descriptive Statistics, 2008.
Variable Mean (SD) Percentage
Age 19.89 (2.38)
Years in school 2.38 (1.06)
Gender
Male 30.00
Female 70.00
Race
Caucasian 72.16
Non-Caucasian 27.84
Marital status
Unmarried 98.68
Married 1.32
Note. N = 1,107.
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172 Journal of Family Issues 36(2)
Finally, Hypothesis 1c was not supported. Women’s average valuation of
“good financial prospect” in 2008 (2.04) relative to 1996 (1.99; t = 1.14) is
not statistically different, nor is the change in women’s averages in 1996 and
1985 (1.98; t = 0.02). This finding—that women’s valuation of her partner’s
financial prospects remains stable over the past three decades—seems to sup-
port evolutionary psychology predictions over those from social role theory,
namely, that more resources are better than fewer.
Limitations of Mate Selection Survey
The lack of support for some of our hypotheses may stem from methodologi-
cal issues with the mate selection instrument itself. Although this instrument
Table 2. Descriptive Results on 2008 College Students’ Mate Preferences, by
Gender.
Men Women
Characteristic Mean SD Rank Mean SD Rank
Good cook, housekeeper 1.45** 0.54 13 1.31 0.64 15
Pleasing disposition 2.34 0.69 5 2.37 0.68 7
Sociability 2.21** 0.73 6 2.38 0.66 6
Similar educational background 1.43** 0.87 14 1.81 0.88 11
Refinement, neatness 1.71 0.78 11 1.65 0.69 13
Good financial prospect 1.47** 0.85 12 2.04 0.74 10
Chastity 0.72* 0.90 18 0.59 0.88 18
Dependable character 2.70** 0.57 2 2.81 0.46 2
Emotional stability, maturity 2.66** 0.58 3 2.79 0.42 3
Desire for home and children 2.12** 0.93 9 2.52 0.79 4
Favorable social status 1.15** 0.88 15 1.31 0.85 16
Good looks 2.13** 0.68 8 1.69 0.69 12
Similar religious background 1.14** 1.11 16 1.39 1.07 14
Ambition, industriousness 1.94** 0.76 10 2.32 0.66 8
Similar political background 0.80** 0.89 17 1.03 0.92 17
Mutual attraction, love 2.93 0.31 1 2.95 0.25 1
Good health 2.19 0.71 7 2.13 0.72 9
Education, intelligence 2.34** 0.67 4 2.48 0.62 5
N330 777
Note. Ordering of characteristics in column 1 preserved from original mate selection survey.
Asterisks represent significant mean differences between men and women.
*p < .025. **p < .01 (Bonferroni corrected p value).
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Boxer et al. 173
allows for historical comparisons and analyses of changing social trends
across cohorts, we believe that current research using this instrument has
limited utility. We discuss these issues and concerns in this section.
First, several of the 18 characteristics are conjunctions, such as “good
cook and housekeeper” and “emotional stability and maturity” (italics
added). Buss et al. (2001) noted this issue and proposed separating character-
istics phrased as conjunctions because they may in fact represent two distinct
characteristics. There are seven conjunctions in the list of 18 mate character-
istics, which suggests that nearly 40% of the mate preferences instrument is
in fact double-barreled response options. It may be more desirable for a mate
selection instrument to separate these pairings and use the terms as items in
short scales assessing the underlying construct represented by the conjunc-
tion (i.e., “ambition and industriousness” could be written as individual items
assessing the construct of “power”).
Table 3. Means, Standard Deviations, and t Tests From the 1985, 1996, and 2008
Samples of Men.
1985 1996 2008
Characteristic Mean SD Mean SD Mean SD
1985-1996,
t Test
1996-2008,
t Test
Good cook, housekeeper 1.45 0.74 1.40 0.72 1.45 0.54 −0.88 0.72
Pleasing disposition 2.53 0.60 2.49 0.55 2.34 0.69 −0.88 −2.67*
Sociability 2.10 0.67 2.16 0.69 2.21 0.73 1.15 0.79
Similar educational background 1.67 0.80 1.75 0.86 1.43 0.87 1.27 −4.32**
Refinement, neatness 1.87 0.72 1.76 0.77 1.71 0.78 1.94 −0.74
Good financial prospect 1.02 0.84 1.42 0.89 1.47 0.85 6.06** 0.73
Chastity 0.80 0.91 1.20 1.01 0.72 0.90 5.52** −5.83**
Dependable character 2.57 0.58 2.72 0.51 2.70 0.57 3.45** −0.48
Emotional stability, maturity 2.59 0.54 2.64 0.54 2.66 0.58 1.20 0.36
Desire for home and children 2.08 0.90 2.10 0.94 2.12 0.93 0.28 0.23
Favorable social status 1.15 0.86 1.20 0.92 1.15 0.88 0.74 −0.69
Good looks 2.10 0.70 2.12 0.67 2.13 0.68 0.37 0.12
Similar religious background 1.12 1.04 1.31 1.13 1.14 1.11 2.31 −1.72
Ambition, industriousness 1.83 0.74 1.97 0.76 1.94 0.76 2.43 −0.46
Similar political background 0.81 0.86 0.79 0.84 0.80 0.89 −0.30 0.12
Mutual attraction, love 2.94 0.28 2.93 0.32 2.93 0.31 −0.44 0.12
Good health 2.15 0.68 2.22 0.67 2.19 0.71 1.33 −0.52
Education, intelligence 2.26 0.65 2.40 0.61 2.34 0.67 2.83* −1.01
N642 226 330
Note. Asterisks denote significant t statistics.
*p < .025. **p < .01 (with Bonferroni corrected p value).
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174 Journal of Family Issues 36(2)
Second, some of the items are ambiguous or outdated. In fact, Buss et al.
(2001) suggest that the intended meaning of some of the characteristics used
in the survey may indeed be ambiguous, such as “emotional stability” or
“refinement, neatness.” As we see in the current version of the mate selection
instrument (see Appendix A), there is a parenthetical clarification added to
the term chastity. This clarification was not included in the original 1939
administration of this survey, which implies the lack of conceptual clarity.
Other characteristics, such as “favorable social status or rating,” reflect out-
dated terminology or social norms. In her 1988 book on courtship in the 20th
century, Beth Bailey explains that this “favorable rating” characteristic refers
to a 1930s “system” of rating men and women’s popularity, and therefore
desirability as a mate (Bailey 1988, p. 26). This rating system permeated col-
lege campus throughout the 1930s and 1940s, complete with letter “grades”
to indicate popularity status. Other characteristics, such as “good cook and
Table 4. Means, Standard Deviations, and t Tests From the 1985, 1996, and 2008
Samples of Women.
1985 1996 2008
Characteristic Mean SD Mean SD Mean SD
1985-1996,
t Test
1996-2008,
t Test
Good cook, housekeeper 1.20 0.66 1.27 0.64 1.31 0.64 1.74 1.10
Pleasing disposition 2.68 0.52 2.64 0.53 2.37 0.68 −1.24 −6.70**
Sociability 2.31 0.64 2.29 0.58 2.38 0.66 −0.52 2.18
Similar educational background 2.04 0.78 2.11 0.73 1.81 0.88 1.48 −5.69**
Refinement, neatness 1.82 0.72 1.75 0.70 1.65 0.69 −1.59 −2.20
Good financial prospect 1.98 0.80 1.99 0.73 2.04 0.74 0.21 1.14
Chastity 0.46 0.79 1.01 1.08 0.59 0.88 10.04** −7.10**
Dependable character 2.77 0.53 2.81 0.44 2.81 0.46 1.29 0.06
Emotional stability, maturity 2.86 0.34 2.80 0.40 2.79 0.42 −2.71* −0.43
Desire for home and children 2.37 0.82 2.44 0.81 2.52 0.79 1.39 1.57
Favorable social status 1.47 0.86 1.43 0.83 1.31 0.85 −0.76 −2.30
Good looks 1.64 0.68 1.63 0.67 1.69 0.69 −0.24 1.51
Similar religious background 1.30 1.07 1.44 1.07 1.39 1.07 2.12 −0.78
Ambition, industriousness 2.44 0.61 2.39 0.62 2.32 0.66 −1.32 −1.75
Similar political background 0.96 0.91 0.89 0.87 1.03 0.92 −1.26 2.46*
Mutual attraction, love 2.98 0.15 2.97 0.22 2.95 0.25 −0.93 −1.11
Good health 2.15 0.63 2.18 0.65 2.13 0.72 0.76 −1.24
Education, intelligence 2.57 0.55 2.58 0.53 2.48 0.62 0.30 −2.65*
N854 381 777
Note. Asterisks denote significant t statistics.
*p < .025. **p < .01 (with Bonferroni corrected p value).
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Boxer et al. 175
housekeeper,” reflect more traditional gender role attitudes that are less prev-
alent in the 21st century and are therefore less useful in determining mate
preferences today than in 1939.
Finally, preference studies are limited by the apparent disconnect
between consciously articulated preferences (as we present here) and peo-
ple’s actual dating and marriage choices. Preference studies are generally
plagued by the attitude–behavior link, which remains unsubstantiated in
studies that compare respondents’ stated preferences to their dating deci-
sions (e.g., Eastwick & Finkel, 2008). This limitation does not, however,
negate the value of studying individuals’ preferences for mates. Such pref-
erences highlight those characteristics that are most culturally valued and
provide a “snap shot” of the type of mental representations that accompany
the institution of marriage.
Analysis Part 2
To begin to address the methodological limitations of the mate selection
instrument used in our first analysis, we collected open-ended mate prefer-
ence responses. Allowing respondents to write-in three of their own prefer-
ences rather than evaluate a list of predetermined characteristics provides
insight to what young, marriage-aged people consider the most desirable
aspects of potential mates.
Data and Measures
Data for this analysis were collected as part of the overall study described in
the quantitative analysis sections. After asking participants to assign discrete
numeric values to the 18 items in the original mate selection survey, we asked
respondents to list their “top three characteristics” preferred in their ideal
partner in three open-ended write-in response fields. We collapsed these vol-
unteered responses across all three write-in fields (i.e., we did not assign a
ranking of “1” to the response in the first field, etc.; we treated each of the
three responses as equally important).
Since these volunteered responses followed the 18-item list, there is rea-
son to suspect that respondents were primed by the mate selection survey
characteristics when supplying their volunteered responses. We examined
this potential by recording whether volunteered responses appeared in the
original 18-item list, in whole or in part, or were unique (did not appear in the
18-item list).4 Two thirds of responses were unique responses that did not
appear in the mate selection survey list, with the remaining one third replicat-
ing mate selection items either in full (22%) or in part (11%). This suggests
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176 Journal of Family Issues 36(2)
that the list of 18 mate characteristics may have provided language with
which respondents could voice their preferences, but that most supplied
unique characteristics that were not present in the mate selection survey.
Not all respondents filled in three characteristics; our total sample yielded
a total of 3,435 useable written responses, 978 from males and 2,457 from
females. In this analysis, our unit of analysis is the person-response, not the
person. It was common for respondents to include more than one characteris-
tic or theme in each write-in response. To fully capture the intent of partici-
pants’ responses, we coded up to three distinct characteristics present in each
write-in response. For instance, one participant wrote “loving, caring, consid-
erate” as a response to the first write-in item. This response was coded as
“caring” (i.e., loving, caring) and as “conscientious” (i.e., the characteristic
“considerate” is a descriptor of the “conscientiousness” dimension; we
describe the process of assigning each characteristic to a given dimension in
the section below). This process was repeated for each of the three write-in
responses.
Method
We grouped the volunteered characteristics into themes (or dimensions) indi-
cated by large clusters of identical, similar, or synonymous words or phrases.
Two research assistants assigned category labels to the respondents’ volun-
teered responses based on their interpretation of the respondents’ intention
and underlying meaning of the word or phrase. We computed the percentage
to which two independent coders agreed in their categorization of responses.
Interrater agreement for the volunteered responses was 92%. When the cod-
ers disagreed in their categorization of a response, the discrepancy was iden-
tified and resolved by the research team.
Response categorization was guided by a codebook the research team
developed based on past research studies that use qualitative solicited
response coding (e.g., Fletcher, Simpson, Thomas, & Giles, 1999) and per-
sonality inventories such as the Big Five Inventory (Goldberg et al., 2006), in
addition to language and meaning similarities, dictionary definitions, and
synonym lists for the words or phrases supplied by the students in their write-
in response. We created emergent categories for write-in characteristics that
did not fit into the categories derived using the above-mentioned methods.
The codebook themes act as umbrella terms, or latent constructs, described
by a list of specific characteristics. For instance, the mate preference theme
labeled “caring” is indicated by responses that included the terms affection-
ate, caring, compassionate, empathetic, generous, kind, love/loving, nurtur-
ing, selfless, and supportive. Responses that contained characteristics that
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Boxer et al. 177
appear in the mate selection survey were categorized as indicators for the
most logically fitting theme (i.e., “dependable character” from the original
mate selection survey is categorized as an indicator of the “conscientious-
ness” theme). Several categories had fewer than nine similar or identical
responses (e.g., appreciation appeared only once by one male respondent)
and were therefore labeled according to the particular word or phrase as it
appeared (e.g., “appreciates me” was coded as “appreciate”; “good cook”
was coded as “cook”).
As mentioned earlier, most respondents wrote-in unique responses that did
not appear in the list of 18 mate characteristics, though some respondents
used identical or near-identical characteristics to those appearing in the origi-
nal list of 18. Many respondents listed “mutual attraction and love,” which is
identical to the wording of this characteristic in the original 18-item mate
selection survey. We coded “mutual attraction and love” responses as two
distinct categories—attraction and care—based on our critiques of the mate
selection instrument (articulated in Analysis Part 1).
Results
Our qualitative analysis is inductively driven, and as such, we do not test
specific hypotheses. In this section, we first present the most popular
responses and discuss the level of similarity with the 18 items in the mate
selection survey. We then discuss these response categories in terms of the
evolutionary psychology and social role perspectives, including gender dif-
ferences in the frequency of reporting these characteristics.
Table 5 shows the number of times (frequency) each characteristic theme
appeared for the total sample and separately by sex. Of the 3,435 coded
responses, the theme of caring appeared 600 times and comprised 17% of all
write-in responses. More than 50% of all written responses were represented
by five characteristic themes: care, likeability, conscientiousness, trust, and
intelligence.
In terms of the care theme, respondents reported “love” far more than any
other descriptor within this theme (42% of all responses in this category).
This aligns with the trends found in the first part of our analysis and in past
mate selection studies. The characteristic “mutual attraction and love,” as it
appears in the mate selection survey, reached the rank of #1 in the 1970s for
women and in the 1980s for men, and has remained the top most desired mate
characteristic since (see Buss et al., 2001). Approximately 14% of men’s
responses and 19% of women’s responses indicated some aspect of the care
theme as the most desirable characteristic in a mate, which is a statistically
significant difference by gender (χ2 = 10.05, p < .01).
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178 Journal of Family Issues 36(2)
Table 5. Preference Characteristic Categories, Frequencies, and Percentages,
2008.
Label Description
Total
N
Total
percentage
Cumulative
percentage
Percent
Men
Percent
Women
Care Care, kindness, affection,
compassion, love
600 17.47 17.47 14.21 18.76
Likeability Likeable, humorous, warm,
friendly, nice
353 10.28 27.74 9.00 10.79
Conscientious Conscientious, dependable,
goal-oriented, hardworking
344 10.01 37.76 7.57 10.99
Trust Trust, honesty 324 9.43 47.19 7.06 10.38
Intelligence Intelligent, cultured,
educated, knowledgeable,
refined
257 7.48 54.67 9.61 6.63
Extroversion Extroverted, talkative,
outgoing, fun, exciting
172 5.01 59.68 7.57 3.99
Conformity Agreeable, cooperative, fair,
flexible, patient
163 4.75 64.43 3.78 5.13
Power Ambitious, independent,
dominant
160 4.66 69.08 3.99 4.92
Temperament Mature, relaxed, optimistic,
laid back
152 4.43 73.51 5.21 4.11
Looks Good looks, sexy, attractive 138 4.02 77.53 9.41 1.87
Loyalty Loyalty, faithfulness 121 3.52 81.05 3.07 3.70
Attraction Mutual attraction, chemistry,
good in bed
120 3.49 84.54 3.37 3.54
Similarity Similar beliefs, values,
interests, goals, hobbies
95 2.77 87.31 2.35 2.93
Family Wants children, loves kids,
family-oriented
87 2.53 89.84 1.84 2.81
Stability Emotional stability, secure 63 1.83 91.67 2.35 1.63
Conversation Easy to talk to,
communicates well
58 1.69 93.36 2.35 1.42
Personality Good personality 48 1.40 94.76 1.64 1.30
Openness Uninhibited, perceptive, free,
curious, creative
46 1.34 96.10 1.84 1.14
Faith Faith, spirituality 44 1.28 97.38 1.33 1.26
Finances Financial stability, good
financial prospect
35 1.02 98.40 0.41 1.26
Health Healthy, fit, athletic 33 0.96 99.36 1.23 0.85
Romance Romance, romantic 8 0.23 99.59 0.10 0.28
Cooking Able to cook, “good cook” 5 0.15 99.74 0.41 0.04
Height Specified height 4 0.12 99.85 0.10 0.12
Chastity Chastity, no previous sex 3 0.09 99.94 0.20 0.04
Age Specified age, relative age 1 0.03 99.97 0.00 0.04
Race Specified race 1 0.03 100.00 0.00 0.04
N3,435 100 100 100
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Boxer et al. 179
The second most popular theme to emerge was likeability, at just over
10% of all responses. Under the theme of likeability, we included character-
istics such as “funny” and “sense of humor,” in addition to others such as
“nice” and “friendly.” The humor dimension of likeability had the highest
volume of responses (81% of responses in this category; results not shown)
and is clearly the driving force behind likeability’s high ranking for both
genders. Humor comprised 84% of women’s and 71% of men’s responses
within the likeability theme. There was a significant gender difference in the
frequency of indicating humor within likability (χ2 = 10.59, p < .01). Despite
men’s underreporting of humor relative to women within this dimension,
likeability is among the top five preferences for both genders. This suggests
that a likeable partner, specifically one with a sense of humor, is highly desir-
able; however, this characteristic is conspicuously absent from the mate
selection survey.
The conscientiousness theme comes in as the third most popular prefer-
ence from our volunteered responses, comprising 10% of all responses. It
includes characteristics such as dependable, hardworking, and goal-oriented.
Dependability appears on the mate selection survey and has consistently been
among men’s and women’s top three mate preferences since the 1930s. In the
current study, men indicated this theme significantly less frequently (7.6%)
than did women (11%; χ2 = 9.04, p < .01).
Another well-represented characteristic theme was trust, comprising over
10% of all written responses, yet “trust” does not appear in the original mate
selection survey. This finding suggests that trust is an important factor in
young people’s mate preferences in the 21st century. Trust was indicated in
more women’s (10%) than men’s (7%) top most desired characteristics in a
marriage partner (χ2 = 9.06, p < .01).
We also found that the intelligence theme—indicated by characteristics
such as intelligent, cultured, educated, and knowledgeable—comprised 7%
of all write-in characteristics. The conjoined characteristics of “education
and intelligence” appear in the mate selection survey list and rank highly
among men and women. More men in our sample (9.6%) than women
(6.6%) indicated this theme as important in a potential mate (χ2 = 4.27, p <
.05). It is interesting to note that “similar educational background” also
appears on the mate selection survey but was not indicated by any of our
write-in responses. It seems that an assumption of intelligence accompanies
the term education in the conjoined mate selection terminology and may be
better cast as “educated,” or learned, rather than simply possessing educa-
tion credentials.
Several other themes emerged from the write-in responses that give us
reason to believe that commonly used mate preference measures are at best
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180 Journal of Family Issues 36(2)
incomplete. Themes representing loyalty (3.5%), similarity of interests
and values (2.8%), communication (1.7%), and openness (1.3%) were all
well represented in our data but do not appear in the original mate selec-
tion survey. We conducted chi-square test to determine if gender differ-
ences in frequency of stating any of the above-mentioned themes exist; we
found no significant differences. Another interesting finding from these
data is that other characteristics that do appear in the original 18-item list
are not well represented in our data. Characteristics such as “good cook
and housekeeper” (0.15%) and “chastity” (0.09%) were barely mentioned
by our respondents in the write-in response section of our survey, suggest-
ing these characteristics are not topmost among mate preferences.
From an evolutionary psychology perspective, we would expect men to
indicate the physical attractiveness of a potential mate more frequently than
women, and that is indeed what we find in our qualitative results. The sex
differences in reported frequency for the looks dimension (good looks,
attractive, sexy) are stark—9.4% of men and only 1.9% of women indicated
this theme among their write-in responses (χ2 = 88.95, p < .001). Overall,
this theme ranked as the 10th most frequently indicated, which roughly
aligns with the 18-item mate selection survey findings, which place “good
looks” near the middle of the list. Interestingly, we found evidence of a
relatively popular “attraction” theme, indicated by characteristics such as
mutual attraction, chemistry, and sexual interaction. Men and women were
equally likely to report desiring these characteristics in potential mates
2 = 1.36, n.s.).
Similarly, the power theme—indicated by characteristics such as good
financial prospect, ambition, dominant, and active—appears in the form of
multiple items on the mate selection survey and plays a key role in evolu-
tionary psychology predictions. Women are thought to place greater value
on mates with high resource potential and status compared to men; however,
we find no significant difference in the frequency with which men and
women indicated desiring these qualities in a mate (χ2 = 1.38, n.s.). This
theme was the eighth most popularly indicated theme, with 4.7% of all
write-in responses.
From a social role perspective, we would expect men to indicate desire for
a mate who fulfills traditionally feminine roles within the partnership, such as
tending to domestic and child care duties. The family theme in our qualitative
data was the 14th most frequently indicated and encompassed characteristics
such as desire for home and children (from the original mate selection survey),
loves kids, and family-oriented. As with our quantitative analysis, more women
(2.8%) than men (1.8%) indicated desire for these qualities in a potential mate;
however, this difference was not statistically significant (χ2 = 2.66, n.s.).
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Boxer et al. 181
Discussion
In this article, we examine the value of mate preference characteristics in
light of important social changes throughout the late 20th and early 21st cen-
turies. Data from 2008 college students partially support our sex-differenti-
ated hypotheses. Men place more value on a potential mate’s financial
prospects now than in the past, but this increase was only statistically signifi-
cant between the 1985 and 1996 samples. The increase did not reach statisti-
cal significance between 1996 and 2008. Women do not place more value on
“good cook and housekeeper” and “desire for home and children” over time.
Likewise, women’s valuation of “good financial prospect” remained consis-
tent across time periods, which supports an evolutionary perspective more so
than a social role perspective.
In Analysis 2, we use write-in responses to an open-ended mate prefer-
ences question to identify a series of latent constructs representing various
themes of mate preferences and then compare these themes with those in the
mate selection survey. We find evidence of several important emergent
themes of mate preferences that do not appear in the original 18-item charac-
teristic list (e.g., humor, trust, loyalty).
Conclusion
It is important for mate preference researchers to better understand what
themes underlie mate selection processes because of the potentially far-
reaching outcomes that result. Preferences are fundamental to social and
behavioral organization. They act as structurally defined cognitive schemas
that represent our social, cultural, and personal understanding of interper-
sonal relationships. Mate preferences give us a gauge of what ideal marriage
partners—and ideal marriages—“look” like to members of our culture. The
expectations of the marriage relationship itself can be gauged by examining
the types of qualities people find most desirable in potential mates.
It is important to study preferences with not only cross-sectional data, as
we have done in these analyses, but also with longitudinal data. Long-term
romantic partnerships may affect a person’s parental status, financial situa-
tion or class status, mental and physical health outcomes, work/career out-
comes, and even friendships and other relationships (Smock, 2004; Soons,
Liefbroer, & Kalmijn, 2009), so it is important to understand the structure of
mate preferences before and after individuals embark on these relationships.
Unfortunately, data that include information on individuals’ mate preferences
as well as eventual mate characteristics do not yet exist outside of proprietary
organizations, such as online dating websites.
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182 Journal of Family Issues 36(2)
Mate preference research has not escaped the trend in psychology over
the past few decades of classifying constructs at increasing levels of abstrac-
tion, using as few constructs as possible to explain variation in preferences
(e.g., Shackelford et al., 2005). Reducing a rich and complex process—such
as choosing a romantic partner or parent to one’s children—to a few key
indicators misses the opportunity to uncover new patterns in preference
desirability. This is especially important as gender roles and attitudes change
over time.
It is also essential that the concepts and language by which we measure
mate preferences are clear. For ease of reference, the term mate is used
throughout this literature to presumably stand-in for the more cumbersome,
yet more precise, descriptor of “long-term intimate partner.” Since marriage
is not a prerequisite for mating, the continued use of this term is somewhat
misleading and technically inaccurate. The use of the term mate may derive
from the biological underpinnings of the evolutionary psychology perspec-
tive, since it is primarily concerned with the practical realities of evolved
gene dissemination processes, but the social reality of long-term partnering is
more complex than this term suggests. Also, biological mating is limited to
heterosexual male and female pairings, so the use of this term in preference
research tacitly excludes nonheterosexually identified respondents. Research
suggests that men’s and women’s preferences in a short-term partner (one-
night stand) are less stringent then for long-term relationships (marriage part-
ners), so it seems necessary to specific the type of relationship we are
assessing (Feingold, 1990) and to be mindful of unintended exclusion by our
choice of language.
If scholars can better assess mate preferences, we can further understand
the process of mate selection in several important ways. Knowing what peo-
ple desire in a mate can help describe and predict current and future dating,
marriage, and divorce trends; determine the relative importance of stated
preferences to actual mating behaviors; and inform current theories of mate
selection processes. More comprehensive measures and longitudinal research
designs could address the question of whether people actually “know” their
preferences (Eastwick & Finkel, 2008). Greater precision in preference
assessment may also allow for testing of the nonconscious, automatic pro-
cesses involved in mate selection for comparison with the self-report data
commonly collected in preference studies, and yield data more suitable for
testing a variety of theoretical perspectives. In sum, more work is needed to
examine the role of adults’ preferences before they are married to determine
how, when, and whether preferences act as behavioral guides for initiating
romantic partnerships.
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Boxer et al. 183
Appendix A
Mate Selection Survey
Please evaluate the following factors in choosing a mate. If you consider it
Indispensable, give it 3 points
Important, but not indispensable 2 points
Desirable, but not very important 1 point
Irrelevant or unimportant 0 points
_______ (1) Good cook and housekeeper
_______ (2) Pleasing disposition
_______ (3) Sociability
_______ (4) Similar educational background
_______ (5) Refinement, neatness
_______ (6) Good financial prospect
_______ (7) Chastity (no previous experience in sexual intercourse)
_______ (8) Dependable character
_______ (9) Emotional stability and maturity
_______ (10) Desire for home and children
_______ (11) Favorable social status or rating
_______ (12) Good looks
_______ (13) Similar religious background
_______ (14) Ambition & industriousness
_______ (15) Similar political background
_______ (16) Mutual attraction—love
_______ (17) Good health
_______ (18) Education and intelligence
Appendix B
Ranking of Mate Preferences Over Time by Sex
Characteristic 1939 1956 1967 1977 1985 1996 2008
Men
Dependable character 1 1 1 3 3 2 2
Emotional stability, maturity 2 2 3 1 2 3 3
Pleasing disposition 3 4 4 4 4 4 5
Mutual attraction—love 4 3 2 2 1 1 1
Good health 5 6 9 5 6 6 7
(continued)
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184 Journal of Family Issues 36(2)
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.
Characteristic 1939 1956 1967 1977 1985 1996 2008
Desire for home, children 6 5 5 11 9 9 9
Refinement, neatness 7 8 7 10 10 11 11
Good cook, housekeeper 8 7 6 13 13 14 13
Ambition, industriousness 9 9 8 8 11 10 10
Chastity 10 13 15 17 17 16 18
Education, intelligence 11 11 10 7 5 5 4
Sociability 12 12 12 6 8 7 6
Similar religious background 13 14 13 14 12 12 16
Good looks 14 15 11 9 7 8 8
Similar education background 15 14 13 12 12 12 14
Favorable social status 16 16 16 15 14 17 15
Good financial prospect 17 17 18 16 16 13 12
Similar political background 18 18 17 18 18 18 17
Women
Dependable character 2 1 2 3 3 2 2
Emotional stability, maturity 1 2 1 2 2 3 3
Pleasing disposition 4 5 4 4 4 4 7
Mutual attraction—love 5 6 3 1 1 1 1
Good health 6 9 10 8 9 9 9
Desire for home, children 7 3 5 10 7 6 4
Refinement, neatness 8 7 8 12 12 12 13
Good cook, housekeeper 16 16 16 16 16 16 15
Ambition, industriousness 3 4 6 6 6 7 8
Chastity 10 15 15 18 18 17 18
Education, intelligence 9 14 7 5 5 5 5
Sociability 11 11 13 7 8 8 6
Similar religious background 14 10 11 13 15 14 14
Good looks 17 18 17 15 13 13 12
Similar education background 12 8 9 9 10 10 11
Favorable social status 15 13 14 14 14 15 16
Good financial prospect 13 12 12 11 11 11 10
Similar political background 18 17 18 17 17 18 17
Appendix B (continued)
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Boxer et al. 185
Funding
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publi-
cation of this article.
Notes
1. There are very few differences in the ranking of mate preferences between the
schools/regions from which the 2008 samples were drawn. More specifically,
there are no instances in which students from one school/region ranked a particu-
lar characteristic significantly higher or lower than students from the other three
schools/regions.
2. The ideal way to test for change in mate preferences over time would be to pool
individual-level data from all three samples (1985, 1996, and 2008) and esti-
mate regression models predicting the average value for each characteristic as a
function of year (measured as a set of dummy variables) and other demographic
characteristics, separately for men and women. The statistical significance of
the year coefficients in each model would indicate whether there has been a
significant change over time in the valuation of each characteristic, controlling
for all else. Unfortunately, we cannot take this approach because we do not have
individual-level data from Buss et al.’s (2001) 1985 and 1996 samples; we only
have the average values and standard deviations for each characteristic for each
year, separately for men and women.
3. Buss et al.’s (2001) mean sample age was 19.2 years (SD = 2.6 years) in the
1996 study and 19.9 years (SD = 3.4 years) in the 1985 study, compared to our
mean sample age of 19.9 years (SD = 2.4 years). Ninety-nine percent of the 1996
sample and 97.8% of the 1985 sample were unmarried, compared to 98.7% in
our 2008 sample.
4. We also collected volunteered responses from a separate college student sample
who did not rate the mate selection survey items as part of their participation.
Analysis of their qualitative responses yielded the same general set of categories
of responses as our samples presented here. Based on this, we feel confident that
any priming effects were minimal and do not jeopardize the results of this study.
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... An alternative that could help overcome this limitation would be to ask participants to describe what they think about a given schema (e.g., romantic relationship), thus mapping central and accessible concepts of the investigated schema. Research in this way already have been conducted to investigate schemes (e.g., Boxer et al. 2015;Fletcher et al. 1999). However, reports of studies that have investigated both the actual relationship and the partner scheme are unknown. ...
... Those often associated with the ideal relationship scheme were honest, in love, good communication, caring, and understanding (Fletcher et al. 1999). Yet, in a qualitative exploratory research, more than half of all participants' responses to partner preference questions referred to five characteristic themes: care, likeability, conscientiousness, trust, and intelligence (Boxer et al. 2015). In Brazil, Féres-Carneiro (1997) also observed that for heterosexual men and women, the most valued qualities for romantic partners are the following: loyalty, companionship, uprightness, affection, and passion. ...
... The tendency to cooperate, help, and care for the other seems to be one of the main criteria for selecting a long-term relationship partner for men and women (Buss and Schmitt 2019;Shackelford and Buss 2000). Several studies, have consistently shown the preference for partners with high levels of agreeableness or who show care for the partner (e.g., Boxer et al. 2015;Huang et al. 2017;Shackelford and Buss 2000;Souza et al. 2016b; for a review, see Nettle and Clegg 2008). People with high levels of agreeableness tend to be true, loyal, and cooperative with their romantic partners, willing to invest in their relationship, and to maintain harmonious relationships with others (Nettle and Clegg 2008). ...
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... On socioeconomic status, study participants brought out a number of attributes and these included education, type of profession of a potential marriage partner and financial stability where females emphasized that they needed a man who was financially stable so that such a one would be able to provide for the family, and these findings align with what other scholars found [8,20,21,22]. When it came to education however, female students preferred a man who had a higher education qualification than them while male students preferred a partner who had lower education qualification than them. ...
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... For instance, men come to value reproductive and nurturant ability in a mate to better ensure care for their offspring, whereas women come to value social dominance and status, to better ensure their offspring have financial and genetic advantages to survive for further reproduction (Buss, 1989;Buss & Barnes, 1986;Ickes, 1993;Kenrick et al., 1990;Kenrick & Keefe, 1992;Orlofsky, 1982). More recent evidence has suggested men place higher value on women's caregiving skills (e.g., as a cook and housekeeper), whereas women place higher value on men's financial prospects, dominance, ambition, industriousness, and social status (Boxer et al., 2015;Henry et al., 2013;Schwarz et al., 2020). In other words, in heterosexual mate selection, individuals sought partners with characteristics consistent with stereotypic gender roles (i.e., agentic traits for men and communal traits for women). ...
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... Bech-- Sorensen and Pollet (2016) suggested that social change and societal norms could make a mate choice process flexible. In the study of Boxer et al. (2013), both men and women placed a high value on their mate's financial prospect. In their study Eastwick et al. (2014) showed that both male and female participants chose physical attractiveness and financial prospect for their mates. ...
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... There is some evidence indicating that young men's preference for women's income-earning capacity has increased in the United States, consistent with Oppenheimer's expectation (Boxer, Noonan, and Whelan 2015). At the same time, norms dictating that the husband be the primary breadwinner appear to persist even in relatively gender-equal societies such as the United States (Dernberger and Pepin 2020;Killewald 2016). ...
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... Female participants (raters) rated men (targets) on a range of desirable observable and unobservable traits on a 7-point Likert scale in reference to a stimulus photograph of a man pictured alone, or together with a woman (model). The traits were chosen if they were identified as important to female mate choice ideally across multiple cultural contexts (e.g., see Boxer, Noonan, & Whelan, 2013;Chang et al., 2011;Furnham, 2009;Kamble et al., 2014;Li et al., 2002;Li et al. 2011;Souza et al., 2016). The 16 unobservable traits were: intelligence, trustworthy, good finanical prospect, sociable, humourous, dependable, stable, has an exciting personality, caring, ambitious, understanding, industrious, considerate, kind, easygoing, wants to have children. ...
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Mate copying is a social phenomenon whereby individuals differentially evaluate opposite-sex others based on their relationship history. Here we report two studies that aimed to look at mate copying in closer detail. In Study 1, women (N = 121) saw vignettes of men and women and made romantic evaluations of the pictured men. It was found that when women are evaluating prospective male romantic partners, they are aware of how much they consider the man’s relationship history, suggesting an awareness of mate copying. Study 2 used a similar methodology and found that women (N = 736) do not gain any additional information about a man’s specific traits from seeing him pictured alongside another woman, although the age of the evaluator does significantly affect how they perceive the man. The findings contribute to our understanding of mate copying as a nuanced phenomenon.
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This paper studies the evolution of mate preferences throughout the twentieth century in France. I digitized all the matrimonial ads published in France’s best-selling monthly magazine from 1928 to 1994. Using dictionary-based methods, I show that mate preferences were mostly stable during the Great Depression, WWII, and the ensuing economic boom. These preferences started transforming in the late 1960s when economic criteria were progressively replaced by personality criteria. The timing coincides with profound family and demographic changes in French society. These findings suggest that, in the search for a long-term partner, non-material needs have replaced material ones.
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The author considers the mechanisms by which occupational sex composition (the proportion of women and men in an occupation) might be associated with romantic transitions in the United States. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 to 2014, the author estimates the odds of marriage during a period of 35 years as a function of occupational and personal characteristics. Men's odds of marriage are decreased by working in predominately female occupations (75%–100% female) when compared with working in predominately male occupations (0%–25% female) or integrated (26%–74% female) occupations. Also, working in a predominately female occupation increases the odds that men have never married by ages 30 and 40. Women's odds of marriage are unrelated to occupational sex composition. Although the author focuses on marriage, the results are robust to including cohabitation as a competing risk. The author uses data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health 1994 to 2008 to replicate these findings in a more recent cohort with additional control variables. The romantic penalty for men's occupational gender atypicality demonstrates the continued devaluation of female activities and attributes and the resulting rigidity of expectations for men's gendered behavior, which may reinforce occupational segregation.
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This study was designed to examine and compare campus values in mate selection from 1939 to 1967. A replication of previous research done in 1939 by Hill and in 1956 by McGinnis was undertaken in 1967 by sending a questionnaire concerned with factors in mate selection to a random sample of students on four college campuses. From the findings it was concluded that the current college population has not departed significantly from values in mate selection held a generation ago. In fact, responses indicate a remarkable degree of consistency between the values voiced by the two generations.
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Since 1940, numerous studies have measured college student preferences in mate characteristics. This paper compares the results of this research on ideal mate characteristics. Despite variations in wording, instructions, sampling and the institution at which the studies were conducted, the findings of the studies have been similar. Except for certain expected sex-linked traits, male and female college students prefer similar characteristics in their prospective mates.
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This article describes the Ideals Standards Model, which deals with the content and functions of partner and relationship ideals in intimate relationships. This model proposes that there are three distinct categories of partner ideals (warmth-loyalty, vitality-attractiveness, and status-resources), and that ideals have three distinct functions (evaluation, explanation, and regulation). The model also explains how perceived discrepancies between ideals and perceptions of one's current partner or relationship can have different consequences, depending on which of two motivating forces is active (the need to see the partner or relationship positively or the need to be accurate). Recent empirical studies that support some of the main features of the model are described.
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This study examines how relationship transitions affect subjective well-being (SWB) and how this effect changes over time. We used prospective data containing information about 18 years of young adults’ lives (PSIN,N = 5,514). SWB was measured with the Satisfaction with Life Scale.Within-person multilevel regression analyses showed that dating, unmarried cohabitation, and marriage had additional well-being enhancing effects. After entry into a union, well-being slowly decreased. A large SWB decrease was found after union dissolution, but through adaptation or repartnering well-being increased again. Well-being of never-married and never cohabiting young adults decreased slowly over time. These effects were independent of parenthood and employment. Our results confirm expectations from the resources theory but contradict some assumptions of the set-point theory. Key words: adjustment; cohabitation; dating; fixed effects; models; union formation; well-being
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Has the relationship between economic prospects and marriage formation in the United States changed in recent decades? To answer this question, a discrete-time event-history analysis was conducted using data from multiple cohorts of the National Longitudinal Surveys of Labor Market Experience. Among women, results indicate growth in the importance of earnings for marriage formation between the early baby-boom cohort (born between 1950 and 1954) and late baby-boom cohort (born between 1961 and 1965). Evidence of cohort change in the relationship between men's economic prospects and marriage, however, is limited. Despite important racial differences in the economic and attitudinal context of marriage, key results are generally similar for whites and for African Americans. Taken together, these findings imply that men and women are growing to resemble one another with respect to the relationship between economic prospects and marriage, although this convergence is driven primarily by changing patterns of marriage among women. These results are largely supportive of Oppenheimer's career-entry theory of marriage and suggest that Becker's specialization and trading model of marriage may be outdated.