The Importance of Physical Attractiveness to the Mate Choices of Women and Their Mothers
Prior research investigating the mate preferences of women and their parents reveals two important findings with regard to physical attractiveness. First, daughters more strongly value mate characteristics connoting genetic quality (such as physical attractiveness) than their parents. Second, both daughters and their parents report valuing characteristics other than physical attractiveness most strongly (e.g., ambition/industriousness, friendliness/kindness). However, the prior research relies solely on self-report to assess daughters’ and parents’ preferences. We assessed mate preferences among 61 daughter-mother pairs using an experimental design varying target men’s physical attractiveness and trait profiles. We tested four hypotheses investigating whether a minimum level of physical attractiveness was a necessity to both women and their mothers and whether physical attractiveness was a more important determinant of dating desirability than trait profiles. These hypotheses were supported. Women and their mothers were strongly influenced by the physical attractiveness of the target men and preferred the attractive and moderately attractive targets. Men with the most desirable personality profiles were rated more favorably than their counterparts only when they were at least moderately attractive. Unattractive men were never rated as more desirable partners for daughters, even when they possessed the most desirable trait profiles. We conclude that a minimum level of physical attractiveness is a necessity for both women and their mothers and that when women and their parents state that other traits are more important than physical attractiveness, they assume potential mates meet a minimally acceptable standard of physical attractiveness.