What women, and men, really want in their mate

May 23, 2021

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What women, and men, really want in their mate

Alicia and I have been happily together for 40 years. I know what I want in a mate—it’s her. Yet if you ask me to define exactly why that first date led both of us to a life-long partnership, I would be at a bit of a loss. I could rationalize it in many ways. But really?

Maybe a bit of interesting new research will help. When it comes to sexual attraction, the researchers say, women rate age, education, intelligence, income, trust, and emotional connection higher than men who put a greater priority on attractiveness and physical build.

The importance of such characteristics does change with age though, with both men and women looking for the personality traits of openness and trust as they get older. Their research was published by PLOS ONE.

The lead author says the study explored how male and female sexual attractiveness preference changes across age, using data collected from more than 7,000 people aged between 18 and 65 who participated in the Australian Sex Survey in 2016.

What the researchers say: “Sexual attraction is a key driver of human mate choice and reproduction. Our results indicate distinct variations within sex at key life stages which is consistent with theories of selection pressure,” he said.

“Micro level decision making on sex, reproduction and relationship formation influences a wide variety of macro trends and social norms, including gender roles and equity, labor market dynamics, fertility rates, wider sexual liberalism, politics, religion and the broader institution of marriage.”

Numerous scientific disciplines have long demonstrated the human preference for attractive mates and the ability to quickly identify attractiveness in others reflect a preference to reproduce what are considered good genes. And while both sexes prefer a physically attractive mate or potential partner, males have been shown to report stronger such preferences for attractiveness.

“Females are more selective about other characteristics,” the researchers said, “because their time for reproduction is more limited so they can’t risk choosing poorly.”

“However,” they added, “most studies on sexual attractiveness rely on limited age distribution skewed to the younger population. We have taken data from a much larger age range to judge how the pattern of sexual preferences may differ with age.”

Their analysis was based on participant responses to nine different versions of the same question format about the level of attraction individuals expect in the aesthetic, resource, and personality characteristics of potential mates.

They asked participants to rate the importance of nine characteristics associated with sexual attraction - age, attractiveness, physical build/features, intelligence, education, income, trust, openness and emotional connection.

They found males regard both attractiveness and physical build as more important characteristics for sexual attraction relative to all other traits compared to women.

However, both genders regard income as the least important factor but females do place a higher importance than men on education and intelligence, although men regard openness as slightly more important that the females surveyed.

“As men and women age their preferences come closer together, with both sexes placing greater importance on openness and trust while the relative importance of emotional connection is as important for males and females across all age groups,” the researchers commented.

So, what? This research ties in with previous studies that have shown changes in mate selection with age. What this other research—much of it detailed in previous editions of TR—shows is that these changing relationship needs enable us to find love and companionship at any age.

I have included much of this research in my forthcoming book “Love: The science and how-to of finding it and keeping it at any age.” At least that’s the working title.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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