Education and Money Attract a Mate; Chastity Sinks in Importance

Released: 2/5/2009 2:20 PM EST
Source Newsroom: University of Iowa
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Newswise — This Valentine's Day, researchers at the University of Iowa have some new answers to the perennial question of what men and women want in a partner.

Men are increasingly interested in an educated woman who is a good financial prospect and less interested in chastity. Women are increasingly interested in a man who wants a family and less picky about whether he's always Mr. Nice Guy.

That's according to a study by University of Iowa sociologists Christine Whelan and Christie Boxer. They analyzed results of a 2008 survey of more than 1,100 undergraduates at the UI, the University of Washington, the University of Virginia and Penn State University, comparing the results to past mate-preference studies.

Since the 1930s, researchers have been asking college students to rank a list of 18 characteristics they'd prefer in a mate from "irrelevant" (0) to "essential" (3), allowing for a comparison of mate preferences dating back three generations. And my, how times have changed: Today's young adults rank love and attraction as most important; a few generations ago it didn't even make the top three.

"Marriage used to be a practical arrangement. Getting married for love or attraction was considered foolish and perhaps even dangerous," said Whelan, author of "Marry Smart: The Intelligent Woman's Guide to True Love" and a visiting assistant professor of sociology in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

In the 1930s male respondents were seeking a dependable, kind lady who had skills in the kitchen. Chastity was more important than intelligence.

Now, guys look for love, brains and beauty -- and a sizable salary certainly sweetens the deal. Men ranked "good financial prospect" No. 12 in 2008, a significant climb from No. 17 in 1939 and No. 18 in 1967.

"These results are consistent with the rise in educational and career opportunities for women, and men's increasing desire to share the financial burdens with a future spouse," Whelan said.

Chastity -- which men ranked at No. 10 in 1939 -- fell to dead last in 2008.

"When we administered the survey, several female students snickered at the idea that we even included the chastity item," Whelan said. "This is consistent with the widespread hook-up culture on college campuses."

For women of the 1930s, emotional stability, dependable character and ambition ranked as the top three characteristics they wanted in a man. Attraction and love didn't come in until No. 5. Today, women, like men, put love at the top of the list, with dependability and emotional stability rounding out the top three characteristics in Mr. Right.

Women rate desire for home and children much higher in importance than men do. In 2008, women rated desire for home and children fourth men ranked it ninth.

Women ranked "pleasing disposition" as significantly less important in 2008 than they have ever before. Pleasing disposition -- presumably interpreted to mean being a nice guy -- fell from a steady ranking of No. 4 throughout the second half of the 20th Century to a significantly lower rank of No. 7 in 2008.

"Perhaps this means women will be more forgiving if the guy forgets chocolates and flowers on Saturday, as long as he meets the other requirements," quipped Whelan. "But this might also point to a change in vocabulary. 'Pleasing disposition' is a very old-fashioned phrase that might not be the most accurate measure of the modern preferences."

Whelan and Boxer, a UI graduate student, clustered their findings into rough categories of essential, important, desirable and unimportant characteristics. Groupings were compiled using the natural breakpoints in the value continuum for the statistical means. (For more on Whelan's relationship research, visit http://www.readmarrysmart.com.)

What Men Want

Essential characteristics:
--Mutual attraction and love.
--Dependable character.
--Emotional stability.

Important characteristics:
--Education and intelligence.
--Good looks.
--Ambition.

Desirable characteristics:
--Good financial prospect.
--Good cook and housekeeper.

Unimportant characteristics:
--Similar political background.
--Chastity.

What Women Want

Essential characteristics:
--Mutual attraction and love.
--Dependable character.
--Emotional stability.

Important characteristics:
--Education and intelligence.
--Desire for home and children.
--Ambition.

Desirable characteristics:
--Good looks.
--Refinement.

Unimportant characteristics:
--Similar political background.
--Chastity.


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