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Mate choice trade-offs and women’s preference for physically attractive men

Abstract

Researchers studying human sexuality have repeatedly concluded that men place more emphasis on the physical attractiveness of potential mates than women do, particularly in long-term sexual relationships. Evolutionary theorists have suggested that this is the case because male mate value (the total value of the characteristics that an individual possesses in terms of the potential contribution to his or her mate’s reproductive success) is better predicted by social status and economic resources, whereas women’s mate value hinges on signals conveyed by their physical appearance. This pattern may imply that women trade off attractiveness for resources in mate choice. Here I test whether a trade-off between resources and attractiveness seems to be occurring in the mate choice decisions of women in the United States. In addition, the possibility that the risk of mate desertion drives women to choose less attractive men as long-term mates is tested. The results were that women rated physically attractive men as more likely to cheat or desert a long-term relationship, whereas men did not consider attractive women to be more likely to cheat. However, women showed no aversion to the idea of forming long-term relationships with attractive men. Evidence for a trade-off between resources and attractiveness was found for women, who traded off attractiveness, but not other traits, for resources. The potential meaning of these findings, as well as how they relate to broader issues in the study of sex differences in the evolution of human mate choice for physical traits, is discussed.

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Correspondence to David Waynforth.

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David Waynforth studies the evolution of mate choice, parental investment patterns, and mating strategies in humans. He received his Ph.D. in anthropology in 1999 from the Human Evolutionary Ecology Program at the University of New Mexico. He is presently an adjunct assistant professor of anthropology at the University of New Mexico, and a visiting professor for the 2000–2001 academic year at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies in Kyoto, Japan.

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Waynforth, D. Mate choice trade-offs and women’s preference for physically attractive men. Hum Nat 12, 207–219 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-001-1007-9

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Key words

  • Allocation
  • Budget
  • Mate desertion
  • Mate value
  • Physical attractiveness
  • Resources
  • Sexual selection
  • Sex differences
  • Trade-off