Skip to main content

Women Choosing Younger Men: Exploring Evolved Mate Preferences and Mate Choice Copying

Abstract

The present study explored the phenomenon of women choosing younger men—seemingly a violation of evolved mate preferences of males preferring young mates and females preferring resource-laden mates who are usually older. The study explored this issue through two perspectives: evolved preferences and social learning. Study 1 investigated the possibility that couples where the female is older may have been conforming to evolved mate preferences while ignoring the age factor. The results of Study 1 revealed that in particular contexts, there may be some truth to the popular adage, age does not matter. In Study 2, two experiments were designed to investigate a form of social learning, mate choice copying (MCC), particularly the role of models, as a possible explanation for why women choose younger men. In Experiment 1, college-age women participated in an experiment that explored the effects of age of female partner, attractiveness of female partner, and popularity on attractiveness of the male partner and on perceptions about the partnership. Caucasian faces were utilized in this experiment. Experiment 2 replicated Experiment 1 using Asian faces. Study 2 showed that MCC appeared to be facilitated with the Asian models, but not with the Caucasian models. Also, attractiveness of female partner and popularity may have effects that may facilitate positive perceptions of the older female-younger male partnership with Caucasian models. This may, in turn, facilitate mate choice copying.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

References

  1. Auld, H. L., Punzalan, D., Godin, J. J., & Rundle, H. D. (2009). Do female fruit flies (Drosophila serrata) copy the mate choice of others? Behavioural Processes, 82, 78–80.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Bech-Sorensen, J., & Pollet, T. V. (2016). Sex differences in mate preferences: A replication study, 20 years later. Evolutionary Psychological Science, 2, 171–176.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Berscheid, E., & Walster, E. (1974). Physical attractiveness. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 7, 157–215.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Bowers, R. I., Place, S. S., Todd, P. M., Penke, L., & Asendorpf, J. B. (2012). Generalization mate-choice copying in humans. Behavioral Ecology, 23(1), 112–124.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Brennan, B. J., Flaxman, S. M., & Alonzo, S. H. (2008). Female alternative reproductive behaviors: The effect of female group size on mate assessment and copying. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 253(3), 561–569.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Buss, D. M. (1989). Sex differences in human mate preferences: Evolutionary hypotheses testing in 37 cultures. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 12, 1–49.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Buss, D. M. (1994). The strategies of human mating. American Scientist, 82, 238–249.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Buss, D. M. (2004). Evolutionary psychology: The new science of the mind. Pearson.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Buss, D. M. (2006). Strategies of human mating. Psychological Topics, 15, 239–260.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Buss, D. M., & Angleitner, A. (1989). Mate selection preferences in Germany and the United States. Personality and Individual Differences, 10(12), 1269–1280.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Buunk, B. P., Dijkstra, P., Kenrick, D. T., & Warntjes, A. (2001). Age preferences for mates as related to gender, own age, and involvement level. Evolution and Human Behavior, 22, 241–250.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Chu, S. (2012). I like who you like, but only if I like you: Female character affects mate-choice copying. Personality and Individual Differences, 52(6), 691–695.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Cillessen, A. H. N., & Rose, A. J. (2005). Understanding popularity in the peer system. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14, 102–105.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Cohen, G. L., & Prinstein, M. J. (2006). Peer contagion of aggression and health risk behavior among adolescent males: An experimental investigation of effects of public conduct and private attitudes. Child Development, 77, 967–983.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Deng, Y., & Zheng, Y. (2015). Mate choice copying in single and coupled women: The influence of mate acceptance and mate rejection decisions of other women. Evolutionary Psychology, 13(1), 89–105.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Diener, E., Emmons, R. A., Larsen, R. J., & Griffin, S. (1985). The satisfaction with life scale. Journal of Personality Assessment, 49(1), 71–75.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Dugatkin, L. A. (1996). Interface between culturally based preferences and genetic preferences: Female mate choice in Poecilia reticulata. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 93, 2770–2773.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Dugatkin, L. A. (2000). Animals imitate, too. Scientific American, 238(4), 67.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Dugatkin, L. A., & Godin, J. G. J. (1992). Reversal of female mate choice by copying in the guppy (Poecilia reticulata). Proceedings: Biological Sciences, 249(1325), 179–184.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Dugatkin, L. A., & Godin, J. G. J. (1993). Female mate copying in the guppy (Poecilia reticulata): Age-dependent effects. Behavioral Ecology, 4(4), 289–292.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Galef, B. G., Jr., & White, D. J. (1998). Mate-choice copying in Japanese quail, Coturnix coturnix japonica. Animal Behavior, 55, 545–552.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Gomillion, S. C., & Giuliano, T. A. (2011). The influence of media role models on gay, lesbian, and bisexual identity. Journal of Homosexuality, 58, 330–354.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Gosling, S. D., Rentfrow, P. J., & Swann, W. B., Jr. (2003). A very brief measure of the big five personality domains. Journal of Research in Personality, 37, 504–528.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Grusec, J. E. (1992). Social learning theory and developmental psychology: the legacies of robert sears and albert bandura. Developmental Psychology, 28(5), 776–786.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Gutschoven, K., & Van den Bulck, J. (2005). Television viewing and age at smoking initiation: Does a relationship exist between higher levels of television viewing and earlier onset of smoking? Nicotine and Tobacco Research, 7(3), 381–385.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Hayes, A. F. (1995). Age preferences for same- and opposite-sex partners. Journal of Social Psychology, 135(2), 125.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Hitsch, G. J., Hortacsu, A., & Ariely, D. (2010). What makes you click?—Mate preferences in online dating. Quantitative Marketing and Economics, 8, 393–427.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Hoffner, C., & Buchanan, M. (2005). Young adults’ wishful identification with television characters: The role of perceived similarity and character attributes. Media Psychology, 7, 325–351.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Kenrick, D. T., & Keefe, R. C. (1992). Age preferences in mates reflect sex differences in human reproductive strategies. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 15, 75–133.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Li, N. P., Yong, J. C., Tov, W., Fletcher, G. J. O., Sng, O., Valentine, K. A., Jiang, Y. F., & Balliet, D. (2013). Mate preferences do predict attraction and choices in the early stages of mate selection. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 105(5), 757–776.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Lockwood, P. (2006). “Someone like me can be successful”: Do college students need same-gender role models? Psychology of Women Quarterly, 30, 36–46.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Losey, G.S. Jr., Stanton, F.G., Telecky, T.M., Tyler, W.A.III & Zoology 691 Graduate Seminar Class. (1986). Copying others, an evolutionary stable strategy for mate choice: A Model. The American Naturalist, 128(5), 653-664.

  33. McIntyre, R. B., Paulson, R. M., Taylor, C. A., Morin, A. L., & Lord, C. G. (2011). Effects of role model deservingness on overcoming performance deficits induced by stereotype threat. European Journal of Social Psychology, 41, 301–311.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Otta, E., Queiroz, R. D., Campos, L. D., da Silva, M. W. D., & Silveira, M. T. (1999). Age differences between spouses in a Brazilian Marriage Sample. Evolution and Human Behavior, 20, 99–103.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Pervin, L. A., & John, O. P. (1997). Personality: Theory and research (7th ed.). Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Place, S. S., Todd, P. M., Penke, L., & Asendorpf, J. B. (2010). Humans show mate copying after observing real mate choices. Evolution and Human Behavior, 31, 320–325.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Rodeheffer, C.D., Proffitt Leyva, R.P. & Hill, S.E. (2016). Attractive female romantic partners provide a proxy for unobservable male qualities: The when and why behind human female mate choice copying. Evolutionary Psychology, 1–8.

  38. Sandstrom, M. J. (2011). The power of popularity: Influence processes in childhood and adolescence. In A. H. N. Cillesen, D. Schwartz, & L. Mayeux (Eds.), Popularity in the Peer System (pp. 219–244). Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Schlupp, I., & Ryan, M. J. (1997). Male sailfin mollies (Poecilialatipinna) copy the mate choice of other males. Behavioral Ecology, 8(1), 104–107.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Schwarz, S., & Hassebrauck, M. (2012). Sex and age differences in mate-selection preferences. Human Nature, 23, 447–466.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Sprecher, S., Sullivan, Q., & Hatfield, E. (1994). Mate selection preferences: Gender differences examined in a national sample. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66(6), 1074–1080.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Swaddle, J. P., Cathey, M. G., Correll, M., & Hodkinson, B. P. (2005). Socially transmitted mate preferences in a monogamous bird: a non-genetic mechanism of sexual selection. Proceedings: Biological Sciences, 272(1567), 1053–1058.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Trivers, R. L. (1972). Parental investment and sexual selection. In B. Campbell (Ed.), Sexual selection and the descent of man:1871–1971 (pp. 136–179). Aldine.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Vakirtzis, A., & Roberts, S. C. (2010). Mate quality bias: Sex differences in humans. Annales ZoologiciFennici, 47, 149–157.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Wade, M. J., & Pruett-Jones, S. G. (1990). Female copying increases the variance in male mating success. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 87, 5749–5753.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Westneat, D. F., Walters, A., Mc Carthy, T. M., Hatch, M. I., & Hein, W. K. (2000). Alternative mechanisms of nonindependent mate choice. Animal Behavior, 59, 467–476.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. White, D. J., & Galef, B. G. (2000). Culture in quail: Social influences on mate choice in female Coturnix japonica. Animal Behaviour, 59, 975–979.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Witte, K. (2006). Mate choice in fish. In C. Brown, K. Laland& J. Krause (Eds.). Fish Cognition and Behavior, 70–95.

  49. Witte, K. & Nobel, S. (2011). Learning and mate choice. In C. Brown, K. Laland& J. Krause (Eds.). Fish Cognition and Behavior, 81–107.

  50. Witte, K., & Godin, J. G. J. (2010). Mate choice copying and mate quality bias: are they different processes? Behavioral Ecology, 21(1), 193–194.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Witte, K., & Noltemeier, B. (2002). The role of information in mate-choice copying in female sailfin mollies (Poecilialatipinna). Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 52, 194–202.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Funding

Study 1 was funded by the University of the Philippines System Research and Creative Work Grants and Study 2 by the UP Cebu Creative Work and Research Grants.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Rowena V. Mende.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

I have no conflict of interest to disclose.

Availability of Data and Material

The data sets and materials used are available upon request from the author.

Ethical Approval

This study was reviewed and evaluated by the institutional review committee of the University of the Philippines System and the University of the Philippines Cebu review committee before approval.

Consent to Participate

An informed consent was obtained from the participants prior to participation in the interview and in the experiments. The informed consent specified that the participants were free to discontinue participation at any point during the conduct of the studies and that the data collected will remain anonymous and confidential.

Data Protection, Confidentiality, and Privacy

Only the researcher/author has access to the data collected. No names and addresses were obtained, hence there were no identifiers linking the data to the participants.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Mende, R.V. Women Choosing Younger Men: Exploring Evolved Mate Preferences and Mate Choice Copying. Sexuality & Culture (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-021-09914-w

Download citation

Keywords

  • Evolved mate preferences
  • Mate choice copying, women with younger partners
  • Role models in mate selection