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.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Apostolou, M. (2008). Parent-offspring conflict over mating: the case of beauty. Evolutionary Psychology, 6(2), 303–315.
Apostolou, M. (2011). Parent-offspring conflict over mating: testing the tradeoffs hypothesis. Evolutionary Psychology, 9, 470–495.
Apostolou, M. (2015). Parent–offspring conflict over mating: domains of agreement and disagreement. Evolutionary Psychology, 13(3), 1–12. doi:10.1177/1474704915604561.
Apostolou, M. (2017). The nature of parent-offspring conflict over mating: from differences in genetic relatedness to disagreement over mate choice. Evolutionary Psychological Science, 3(1), 62–71.
Buunk, A. P., & Solano, A. C. (2010). Conflicting preferences of parents and offspring over criteria for a mate: a study in Argentina. Journal of Family Psychology, 24(4), 391–399. doi:10.1037/a0020252.
Campbell, W. K. (1999). Narcissism and romantic attraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77(6), 1254–1270. doi:10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.1994.
Cousins, A. J. (2003). Male mate guarding, female solicitation, and resistance to male mate guarding in dating couples: scale development and preliminary validation. Dissertation Abstracts International, 64(3-B), 1477.
Dion, K., Berscheid, E., & Walster, E. (1972). What is beautiful is good. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 24(3), 285–290. doi:10.1037/h0033731.
Dubbs, S. L., & Buunk, A. P. (2010). Sex differences in parental preferences over a child’s mate choice: a daughter’s perspective. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 27(8), 1051–1059. doi:10.1177/0265407510378666.
Dubbs, S. L., Buunk, A. P., & Taniguchi, H. (2013). Parent-offspring conflict in Japan and parental influence across six cultures. Japanese Psychological Research, 55(3), 241–253. doi:10.1111/jpr.12003.
Eastwick, P. W., & Finkel, E. J. (2008). Sex differences in mate preferences revisited: do people know what they initially desire in a romantic partner? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94(2), 245–264. doi:10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.52.
Eastwick, P. W., Eagly, A. H., Finkel, E. J., & Johnson, S. E. (2011). Implicit and explicit preferences for physical attractiveness in a romantic partner: a double dissociation in predictive validity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(5), 993–1011. doi:10.1037/a0024061.
Fugère, M. A., Doucette, K., Chabot, C., & Cousins, A. J. (2017). Similarities and differences in mate preferences among parents and their adult children. Personality and Individual Differences, 111, 80–85.
Gangestad, S. W., & Buss, D. M. (1993). Pathogen prevalence and human mate preferences. Ethology and Sociobiology, 14(2), 89–96.
Gangestad, S. W., & Simpson, J. A. (2000). The evolution of human mating: trade-offs and strategic pluralism. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 23(4), 573–644. doi:10.1017/S0140525X0000337X.
Gebauer, J. E., Leary, M. R., & Neberich, W. (2012). Big two personality and big three mate preferences: similarity attracts, but country-level mate preferences crucially matter. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38(12), 1579–1593. doi:10.1177/0146167212456300.
Griffin, A. M., & Langlois, J. H. (2006). Stereotype directionality and attractiveness stereotyping: is beauty good or is ugly bad? Social Cognition, 24(2), 187–206. doi:10.1521/soco.2006.24.2.187.
Kurzban, R., & Weeden, J. (2005). HurryDate: mate preferences in action. Evolution and Human Behavior, 26(3), 227–244. doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2004.08.012.
Levesque, M., Nave, C., & Lowe, C. (2006). Toward an understanding of gender differences in inferring sexual interest. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 30(2), 150–158. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.2006.00278.x.
Li, N. P., Bailey, J. M., Kenrick, D. T., & Linsenmeier, J. W. (2002). The necessities and luxuries of mate preferences: testing the tradeoffs. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82(6), 947–955. doi:10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.2067.
Li, N. P., Valentine, K. A., & Patel, L. (2011). Mate preferences in the US and Singapore: a cross-cultural test of the mate preference priority model. Personality and Individual Differences, 50(2), 291–294. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2010.10.005.
Li, N. P., Yong, J. C., Tov, W., Sng, O., Fletcher, G. J. 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, 757–776. doi:10.1037/a0033777.
Perilloux, H. K., Webster, G. D., & Gaulin, S. C. (2010). Signals of genetic quality and maternal investment capacity: the dynamic effects of fluctuating asymmetry and waist-to-hip ratio on men’s ratings of women’s attractiveness. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 1(1), 34–42. doi:10.1177/1948550609349514.
Perilloux, C., Fleischman, D. S., & Buss, D. M. (2011). Meet the parents: parent-offspring convergence and divergence in mate preferences. Personality and Individual Differences, 50(2), 253–258. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2010.09.039.
Shaffer, D. R., Crepaz, N., & Sun, C. (2000). Physical attractiveness stereotyping in cross-cultural perspective: similarities and differences between Americans and Taiwanese. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 31(5), 557–582. doi:10.1177/0022022100031005002.
Soler, C., Núñez, M., Gutiérrez, R., Núñez, J., Medina, P., Sancho, M., et al. (2003). Facial attractiveness in men provides clues to semen quality. Evolution and Human Behavior, 24(3), 199–207. doi:10.1016/S1090-5138(03)00013-8.
Sprecher, S. (1989). The importance to males and females of physical attractiveness, earning potential, and expressiveness in initial attraction. Sex Roles, 21(9–10), 591–607. doi:10.1007/BF00289173.
Weeden, J., & Sabini, J. (2005). Physical attractiveness and health in western societies: a review. Psychological Bulletin, 131(5), 635–653. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.131.5.635.
Zebrowitz, L. A., Wang, R., Bronstad, P., Eisenberg, D., Undurraga, E., Reyes-García, V., & Godoy, R. (2012). First impressions from faces among U.S. and culturally isolated Tsimane’ people in the Bolivian rainforest. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 43(1), 119–134. doi:10.1177/0022022111411386.
This research was supported by a grant from the Connecticut State University American Association of University Professors.
This experiment was approved by the Committee on Using Human Subjects in Research. Informed consent was obtained from both women and their parents prior to their participation (consent from parents was obtained for daughters under 18 as well).
About this article
Cite this article
Fugère, M.A., Chabot, C., Doucette, K. et al. The Importance of Physical Attractiveness to the Mate Choices of Women and Their Mothers. Evolutionary Psychological Science 3, 243–252 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40806-017-0092-x
- Parent-offspring conflict
- Physical attractiveness
- Necessities versus luxuries
- Mate choice