NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Mating Explained

July 15, 2003

According to standard sociology, men tend to prefer beauty in a mate and women tend to prefer wealth. The theory is a special case of "opposites attract," and it has some egalitarian political and social implications.

For example, it implies that women can move up the economic ladder and leave their offspring with more security through beauty alone. And not-so-attractive men can supply their offspring with the genes of a beautiful mother by achieving economic success.

Yet a new study says the theory may not be true:

  • Men most likely to seek beauty in a woman were not rich kids with trust funds, but those who considered themselves handsome; meanwhile, men who rated themselves as wealthy and ambitious were more likely to focus on the wealth and status of a woman than on her attractiveness.
  • Women also placed higher value on the looks of a potential mate when they saw themselves as beautiful, just as women of privileged background wanted a man who knew the way of life in high society.
  • The biggest predictor of whether a person rated a characteristic low or high on a partner-picking scale was how they had rated that characteristic for themselves.

To give a sense of the strength of the likes-attract rule, the authors said that while only 5 percent of the variation in women's mate-preference scores for wealth, status and family commitment (traits assumed to be indicator of a man's mate quality) could be explained by the women's perception of their physical appeal and sexual fidelity (the items correspondingly thought to signify a woman's reproductive value), more than 35 percent of the variation could be attributed to how the women rated themselves for wealth, status and family commitment.

Source: Natalie Angier, "Opposites Attract? Not in Real Life," The New York Times, July 8, 2003.


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