What makes a ‘perfect’ mate? Men and women disagree

Researchers found they could predict a person's gender with 92.2 percent accuracy based on mate preferences. (Credit: heidiandbrett/Flickr)

The difference in what “perfect” means to men and women searching for a mate is much larger than previously believed—no matter where you live.

“Many want to believe that women and men are identical in their underlying psychology, but the genders differ strikingly in their evolved mate preferences in some domains,” says coauthor David Buss, professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.

“The same holds true in highly sexually egalitarian cultures such as Sweden and Norway as in less egalitarian cultures such as Iran.”

The results are based on responses from 4,764 men and 5,389 women in 33 countries and 37 cultures. Researchers found they could predict a person’s gender with 92.2 percent accuracy based on mate preferences.

“The large overall difference between men’s and women’s mate preferences tells us that the sexes must have experienced dramatically different challenges in the mating domain throughout human evolution,” says Daniel Conroy-Beam, graduate researchers and lead author of the study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

So what are men and women looking for? Men favor mates who are younger and physically attractive. Women seek older mates with good financial prospects, higher status, and ambition.

“Because women bear the cost of pregnancy and lactation, they often faced the adaptive problem of acquiring resources to produce and support offspring, while men faced adaptive problems of identifying fertile partners and sought cues to fertility and future reproductive value,” Conroy-Beam says.


Of the 19 mate preferences that researchers considered, five varied significantly based on gender: good financial prospects, physical attractiveness, chastity, ambition, and age.

Four other preferences—pleasing disposition, sociability, and shared religious and political views—were not sex-differentiated.

“Few decisions impact reproduction more than mate choice,” Conroy-Beam says. “Mate preferences will therefore be a central target and driver of biological evolution. We have found some promising initial results, and we think this holistic approach will help answer a lot of questions in mating research in the future.”

Source: University of Texas-Austin