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What Do People Desire In A Long-Term Partner? New Study Seeks Answers

Last updated Sept. 28, 2015

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD, MPH

"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."

A collaborative study from Chapman University, the University of California at Los Angeles, Indiana University and Rutgers University, all in the USA, examined mate preferences in two large US studies of heterosexual men and women. The study concludes that although there are differences in mating preferences that were dependent on age, good looks, personal income, and education, gender is by far the strongest predictor of what people desire in a mate.

It is generally believed that people with desirable traits, such as attractiveness to the opposite sex, high financial income, and other traits to have a ‘better hand’ at selecting a long-term partner. Another commonly held belief is that men prefer attractive mates, while women opt for someone who could provide for her and their children. The current study examined the roles played by what people considered “essential” versus “desirable,” when on the lookout for a long-term partner.

The results of this investigation, engaging 27,605 heterosexual men and women aged 18-75 from two different surveys, show that when on the lookout for a long-term partner:

  • Gender is the strongest predictor of what people desire in a mate.
  • 92% men desired an attractive partner, compared to 84% women.
  • 80% men desired a slender bodied woman; only 58% women preferred a slender-bodied man.
  • 47% men preferred someone who made/is likely to make a lot of money; 60% women preferred that their partner made/will make a lot of money.
  • More women (46%) than men (24%) thought that the partner “must make” at least as much money as themselves, if not more.
  • Women overwhelmingly wanted their partners (61%) to have a successful career, compared to men (33%).
  • Men (40%) and women (42%) did not differ in whether they thought their partners were ‘physically attractive’ to them.
  • When the respondents were wealthy, they preferred “attractive” mates, with men showing a stronger bias.
  • Attractive men and women desired “slender and good looking” partners though they did not necessarily want them to be physically attractive to them.
  • Highly educated men preferred their partners to be “good looking and slender.”
  • Neither gender showed a correlation between education and ability to make money.
  • Both older men and women placed less importance on an attractive partner, someone who made a lot of money or had a successful career.
  • Men and women sought what they thought were specific traits attractive to them.

Summarizing the findings, Dr. Frederick of Chapman University, says in the Press Release, “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.”

This study has not taken into account the age-old beliefs of people choosing partners from similar backgrounds or the amount of time one would need to spend with an offspring (“Parental Investment”). Nevertheless, in this day and age of “speed-dating,” it gives an important insight into the human psyche.

Written by Mangala Sarkar, Ph.D.


Primary References

Fales, M., Frederick, D., Garcia, J., Gildersleeve, K., Haselton, M., & Fisher, H. (2016). Mating markets and bargaining hands: Mate preferences for attractiveness and resources in two national U.S. studies. Personality and Individual Differences, 88, 78-87.

Chapman University Publishes Research on Attractiveness and Mating In National Study of Americans. (n.d.). Retrieved September 24, 2015, from https://blogs.chapman.edu/press-room/2015/09/16/chapman-university-publishes-research-on-attractiveness-and-mating-in-national-study-of-americans/

Additional References

Todd, P., Penke, L., Fasolo, B., & Lenton, A. (2007). Different cognitive processes underlie human mate choices and mate preferences. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(38), 15011-15016.

Woodward, K., & Richards, M. (2004). The parental investment model and minimum mate choice criteria in humans. Behavioral Ecology, 16(1), 57-61.

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Sept. 28, 2015
Last updated: Sept. 28, 2015