Monday, February 09, 2009

Mate Preferences

Over at FuturePundit - a site I have to spend more time on - there is an article on an ongoing study by sociologists at U Iowa about mate preference. Researchers have been asking college students since the 1930's what they are looking for in a mate. Unsurprisingly, there have been changes.

The comments there take care of the clear problems with the research pretty quickly: the people who went to college in the 30's are not the same slice of America as they are now; this study is not about who college students prefer as mates, but who they say they prefer (which we will come back to); the words used as descriptors have different connotations now; college students in 1930 were expecting to marry in the next few years, that is no longer true in 2009.

Still, the study is interesting, and revealing. From the study:
For women of the 1930s, emotional stability, dependable character and ambition ranked as the top three characteristics they wanted in a man. Attraction and love didn't come in until No. 5. Today, women, like men, put love at the top of the list, with dependability and emotional stability rounding out the top three characteristics in Mr. Right.

Women rate desire for home and children much higher in importance than men do. In 2008, women rated desire for home and children fourth men ranked it ninth.

Women ranked "pleasing disposition" as significantly less important in 2008 than they have ever before. Pleasing disposition -- presumably interpreted to mean being a nice guy -- fell from a steady ranking of No. 4 throughout the second half of the 20th Century to a significantly lower rank of No. 7 in 2008.
From FuturePundit's commentary:
Strip away tradition. Strip away religious beliefs. What happens? Men and women are looking at each other in ways that seem even more influenced by their evolutionary heritage. The mating market looks like it is becoming more competitive.
1. What young people say they are looking for and who they do eventually marry has a large disconnect. Women are particularly susceptible to this. Not the women who comment here, of course, but those other women, notoriously misunderstand themselves and their attractions. This is one reason why I will never lead marriage and dating discussions with youth groups. I would lose my temper.

2. The word chastity, even more than virginity, carries a connotation of frigidity now that I don't think it did in the 30's. That changes the question. That sex in college is more common now is more than likely, chastity thus suggests an unattractive militancy. I am not sure that the value itself is undervalued as much as the study suggests. If we changed the requirements according to changed norms, then I think "2 or fewer sexual partners" might still score pretty high. "Pleasing disposition"(Nice Guy) may also have changed.

3. FP's idea that we are more like our primitive ancestors in our selection now because tradition and religion are less prominent deciding factors strikes me as suspect. We have in some ways moved toward primitive norms, moved away in others. There is some discussion of this in the comments.

HT: Instapundit.


David Foster said...

It would be interesting to compare the priority given to "pleasing disposition" among those who have actually *lived* with a partner vs those who have dated but not lived with members of the opposite sex. I'd be it would be significantly higher.

Also, there's something archaic about the phrase.

bs king said...

The "pleasing disposition" one makes me laugh. When I described my husband to a high school friend I made mention of his ability to get along with anyone. I was surprised when she heartily praised my wisdom in this...she said that this sort of "pleasing disposition" was the thing she had most undervalued when she was dating, and the one thing she would change about her current husband if she could. She went on quite the rant about how she was always having to deal with certain things (like her kids teachers or utility company screw ups) because if she had her husband do it, he'd get in a fight with them and they'd have to move to solve the problem.

As for chastity, I wonder if you replaced it with "strong sexual morals" if it would be more palatable. I think that in the 30s "chastity" connoted (other than the obvious) a deeper commitment to monogamy than those who weren't. I think people still want that, they just don't always know how to express it.

Donna B. said...

What interests me is that I've watched my 3 daughters make their choice of husbands and wondered if my 2 sons were ever going to 'settle' down.

One daughter and her husband pretty much 'fell in love on first sight' their first year in college and spent the next three years testing that. They've been happily married now for 5 years.

Another daughter dated many, many men and did not marry until her late 30s because she was waiting for the right man. Luckily for her, she found him. They have been married for 6 years and have three lovely (I'm not biased) children. I think she's incredibly lucky to have finally found the 'right' man in her late 30s. This is not the way it normally works.

Yet another daughter thought she was marrying her soul-mate, but found him to be a needy soul. I love him, and will treat him as a son-in-law should he ever need anything.

She divorced him and found a man that truly is her soul-mate but won't let her run over him like a bulldozer (that ability actually made her very unhappy) and he's the father of a lovely granddaughter.

My two sons are reluctant to marry because they've been taken advantage of by calculating and cruel females. Maybe someday...

I think the point I'm trying (so ineloquently) to make is that nothing has changed, but perhaps everything has.

Does that help?

Men and women have so many more choices today than they did in the 30s. Sometimes that works out well, sometimes it doesn't.

I have two wonderful sons-in-law who did not demand virginity from their wives and I think (of course) they made the right choices.

I have two sons who do not demand virginity in a 'significant' other, but would demand loyalty.

As for that other daughter, she and her husband are the fairy tale couple. They even had the fairy tale wedding and honeymoon to go along with it. It can happen at times, enjoy it when it does.

I worry about my sons. My daughters are doing fine.