Breadwinner Seeks Bottle Warmer: How Women’s Future Aspirations and Expectations Predict Their Current Mate Preferences

Abstract

Contemporary women in Western cultures are often trying to juggle careers alongside personal and societal expectations for childrearing in an effort to “have it all.” We examine the effects of this balancing act on heterosexual women’s mate selection motivations. Across three Canadian samples (n = 360), we tested concurrent hypotheses about the desirability of both similar and complementary characteristics in a potential mate. Specifically, women’s aspirations (to prioritize career over family) and their expectations for the roles they will most likely adopt within their future partnerships (primary breadwinner and/or caregiver) were tested as key predictors of mate preferences. Although specific effects varied across samples, a mega-analysis of the combined sample and an internal meta-analysis of effect sizes from the three studies provided support for both complementary and similarity motives (controlling for gender role attitudes). Women’s aspirations to prioritize career (over family) predicted greater similarity in mate preferences, such that they placed less importance on men’s parenting qualities, more importance on their access to financial resources, and preferred a career-oriented over family-oriented exemplar. However, women’s expectations of actually taking on the breadwinner role predicted greater complementarity in mate preferences (greater desirability of parenting qualities and a family-oriented partner; with financial resources rated as less important). Our work expands current understanding of women’s decision-making processes when selecting a mate and has implications for men’s changing traits and roles.

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Funding

This research was supported by the Foundation for Personality and Social Psychology and the Society for the Psychology of Women (APA Division 35).

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Correspondence to Alyssa Croft.

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Croft, A., Schmader, T., Beall, A. et al. Breadwinner Seeks Bottle Warmer: How Women’s Future Aspirations and Expectations Predict Their Current Mate Preferences. Sex Roles 82, 633–643 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-019-01080-6

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Keywords

  • Gender roles
  • Mate preferences
  • Communal
  • Agentic
  • Expectations
  • Aspirations