The Preferred Traits of Mates in a Cross-National Study of Heterosexual and Homosexual Men and Women: An Examination of Biological and Cultural Influences

Abstract

BBC Internet survey participants (119,733 men and 98,462 women) chose from a list of 23 traits those they considered first, second, and third most important in a relationship partner. Across all participants, the traits ranked most important were: intelligence, humor, honesty, kindness, overall good looks, face attractiveness, values, communication skills, and dependability. On average, men ranked good looks and facial attractiveness more important than women did (d = 0.55 and 0.36, respectively), whereas women ranked honesty, humor, kindness, and dependability more important than men did (ds = 0.23, 0.22, 0.18, and 0.15). Sexual orientation differences were smaller than sex differences in trait rankings, but some were meaningful; for example, heterosexual more than homosexual participants assigned importance to religion, fondness for children, and parenting abilities. Multidimensional scaling analyses showed that trait preference profiles clustered by participant sex, not by sexual orientation, and by sex more than by nationality. Sex-by-nation ANOVAs of individuals’ trait rankings showed that sex differences in rankings of attractiveness, but not of character traits, were extremely consistent across 53 nations and that nation main effects and sex-by-nation interactions were stronger for character traits than for physical attractiveness. United Nations indices of gender equality correlated, across nations, with men's and women's rankings of character traits but not with their rankings of physical attractiveness. These results suggest that cultural factors had a relatively greater impact on men's and women's rankings of character traits, whereas biological factors had a relatively greater impact on men's and women's rankings of physical attractiveness.

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Acknowedgements

I am grateful to BBC TV Science for commissioning this research, and to the BBC Science and Nature website for programming and hosting the study.

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Correspondence to Richard A. Lippa.

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Lippa, R.A. The Preferred Traits of Mates in a Cross-National Study of Heterosexual and Homosexual Men and Women: An Examination of Biological and Cultural Influences. Arch Sex Behav 36, 193–208 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-006-9151-2

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Keywords

  • Cross-cultural research
  • Mating psychology
  • Physical attractiveness
  • Sex differences
  • Sexual orientation
  • Evolutionary theory
  • Social structural theory