Review of research calls into question sex differences in face-to-face mate preferences

Women say they place a priority on a potential partner's earning prospects, and men claim to value a potential partner's physical attractiveness; these sex differences have been widely studied by psychologists for decades.

A recently published meta-analysis conducted by researchers at The University of Texas at Austin indicates that these differences may be more fragile than previously thought. Specifically, men and women do not differ in how much they desire physical attractiveness and earning prospects in real life, opposite-.

The meta-analysis, led by Paul Eastwick, was published recently in Psychological Bulletin.

The researchers examined published studies and, in some cases, unpublished data that measured the association between either physical attractiveness or earning prospects and romantic evaluations. They reviewed more than 12,000 published studies on and , locating 95 relevant studies from 15 countries.

"These data have been out there for many years, but a new approach to the data is looking at whether these emerged in actual relationships. We turned to our fellow researchers who went through their and drawers to rediscover this data," says Eastwick, assistant professor of human development and family sciences.

Analysis of relevant studies indicates that although physical attractiveness does inspire positive romantic evaluations, this effect was just as strong for men as for women. Earning prospects had weaker effects than physical attractiveness, but again, it was just as strong for men and women.

"When people are considering they have never met—online dating profiles, for example— definitely matters more for men than for women," says Eastwick. "Our meta-analysis shows that this sex difference completely evaporates once people have interacted face-to-face."

The meta-analysis covered attraction studies, such as speed-dating, where people think about whether they would want to date another person. It also covered studies in which people report their feelings about their current romantic partners.

There were no sex differences in the effects of attractiveness or earning prospects in either type of study.

These sex differences are foundational concepts in evolutionary psychology. Eastwick suggested that the hypothetical scenarios often used to document sex differences could lead to conclusions that do not apply to the real lives of most people.

"The data do not impugn evolutionary approaches to an understanding of relationship processes. But the data do indicate that sex differences look very different depending on whether you examine what appeals to people in the abstract or what qualities they find appealing in a real partner they have met face-to-face." Eastwick says.

Related Stories

You say you don't care about dating a hottie?

Jan 05, 2012

Stating that you don't care if you land a partner who is "hot" or "sexy" is relatively commonplace. But what people say they want and what they actually want are often two very different things when it comes to romantic attraction.

In dating game, narcissists get the girl

May 31, 2013

(HealthDay News)—Men with high levels of narcissism—an unrealistically positive self-image coupled with feelings of entitlement—have an easier time than others attracting a potential mate, new German research says.

Single women gaze longer

Jun 03, 2009

A study by neuroscientist Heather Rupp and her team found that a woman's partner status influenced her interest in the opposite sex.

Recommended for you

Dyscalculia: Burdened by blunders with numbers

1 hour ago

Between 3 and 6% of schoolchildren suffer from an arithmetic-related learning disability. Researchers at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich now show that these children are also more likely to exhibit deficits ...

Free help for expecting and new mums at risk of depression

3 hours ago

With postnatal depression affecting almost one in seven women giving birth in Australia, QUT and the White Cloud Foundation have launched an innovative model of care to provide early access to treatment for expecting and ...

A blood test for suicide?

7 hours ago

Johns Hopkins researchers say they have discovered a chemical alteration in a single human gene linked to stress reactions that, if confirmed in larger studies, could give doctors a simple blood test to reliably predict a ...

Could summer camp be the key to world peace?

22 hours ago

According to findings from a new study by University of Chicago Booth School of Business Professor Jane Risen, and Chicago Booth doctoral student Juliana Schroeder, it may at least be a start.

User comments