February 06, 2009
Mate Preference Trends

Mate preferences studies show big changes in preferences since the 1930s. Men measure women more by their esthetics and income while women care less about whether a guy is nice.

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.

While the researchers do not capture this in their survey, men are most interested in young and fertile women.

Note that love is not an attribute of the woman who a guy loves. Rather, love is a feeling within the guy's brain. By contrast, brains, beauty, money, and income are all attributes of the woman who the guy loves. These attributes play a big role in making that love feeling happen in the first place.

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.

Chastity was only No. 10 in 1939. I would have expected higher.

The emotional stability that women want is linked to the ambition that they also desire. Gotta be stable to follow through and achieve one's ambitions. Pleasing disposition? Nice guys finish last.

"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.

Strip away tradition. Strip away religious beliefs. What happens? Men and women are looking at each other in ways that seem even more influenced by their evolutionary heritage. The mating market looks like it is becoming more competitive.

Update: See the comments where Jason Malloy thoughtfully takes issue with my analysis. However, Razib's analysis is closer to my own.

If we take these data at face value I think that in some ways evolutionary psychology is becoming more, not less, salient in terms of our life choices. In many "traditional" societies mate choice is highly constrained by the preferences & interests of individuals who are not the principals. Though this is certainly operative in many hunter-gatherer societies (e.g., the bizarre incest taboos among some Australian Aboriginals), I suspect that freedom of choice is more constricted among sedentary agricultural populations because it is in this group that institutionally derived norms loom the largest. As humans subsisted on the Malthusian margins in such relatively complex societies there was little "wiggle" room for lifestyle experimentation. Interesting many Blank Slate theorists who advocate lifestyle experimentation presume that an ideological revolution was necessary for an exploration of the behavior space, but perhaps deviation was always latent which cultural norms strongly constrained.

But Razib makes his point in a much more learned fashion.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 February 06 11:22 PM  Brain Sexuality


Comments
cancer_man said at February 7, 2009 4:21 AM:

Very interesting, but finding partners no longer matters because Peak Oil will doom us all!

Guillaume Theoret said at February 7, 2009 9:11 AM:

This study has a massive bias in it though. It's not about what men and women want (though that's how it's being framed), it's about what college-educated men and women want.

Randall Parker said at February 7, 2009 9:35 AM:

Guillaume Theoret,

You are right. I wonder how the preferences of average and below average intelligence people have changed.

OneEyedMan said at February 7, 2009 9:57 AM:

Not even, this is about what college-educated men and women say that they want.

A useful study would connect the attributes among mates that successfully marry or breed, not what a bunch of teenagers and early 20 somethings say they are looking for.
Those common attributes among the successfully pair-bonded. are probably unchanged since they are in large part governed by genetic urges.

Jason Malloy said at February 7, 2009 10:37 AM:

I wouldn't take the fall in 'chastity' for men or 'pleasant personality' for women all that seriously. I think the semantic/theoretical meaning of these traits have changed over time. At the top for both men and women are 'dependable character' and 'emotional stability', which probably were more psychologically synonymous with traits like 'chastity' or 'pleasantness' in the past.

(And 'chastity' no longer fits current dating market realities; it’s anachronistic. The cohort under study won’t even marry until they are 27-30 years old. But this doesn’t mean men still don’t have an acute Madonna/whore instinct for the woman who will mother their children. Just update the question to something like ‘has under 15 sex partners’ and watch it leap ranks.)

I certainly don't think we are now more influenced by our evolutionary heritage; evolutionary needs are elemental, but how we need to meet them changes over time. If you are implying our behaviors are becoming more "uncivilized" like our Pleistocene ancestors, in contrast to our more culturally "civilized" counterparts in the mid 20th century, I strongly disagree. I think both are highly dissimilar to our early ancestors, and that, if anything, we are becoming increasingly behaviorally dissimilar to our early ancestors.

Since the 20th century, preferences like ‘ambition’ for women and ‘domestic skills’ for men have been replaced by “mutual love” at the top. This is not closer to our evolutionary heritage; companionate marriage is the historical novelty. As is the high importance men are placing on their wives earning power over domestic and reproductive skills/preferences. ‘Companionship’ and ‘Leisure’ have replaced ‘Survival’ and ‘Reproduction’, as the purpose of pair-bonding, like never before.

Another big difference is that we would get a different set of answers here if we broke the list into “short term” and “long term” partner preferences, since moderns increasingly take both kinds of partners. With the scarcity of contraceptive goals before the mid 20th century, extending back into the hunter-gatherer past, a “short-term” partner would be your “long-term” partner.

So modern people are able to choose (temporary) partners on the basis of sexual desire at the expense of all other trait considerations, like never before. This is not a throw-back to ancestral mate choice, it is highly novel as well.

Randall Parker said at February 7, 2009 11:40 AM:

Jason,

We have fewer societal constraints on promiscuity. I think people 50 years ago were more constrained from fulfilling their desires than people are today. Do you disagree?

Short term and long term partners: People who can hook up short term knowing that the hook-up is not permanent will hook up with people they otherwise would not choose to hop in bed with. The number of sexual partners per person per lifetime has risen in the West. Does this change the types of people we end up reproducing with? I suspect so. I suspect there's a lot more sorting thru and a lot more hooking up of best-with-best and least-with-least.

Male desire for financially successful women: That's a shift from desiring a woman productive in a home to desiring a woman productive in the workplace. But there's still a desire for productivity.

Increasingly behaviorally dissimilar to our early ancestors: I would like to know whether the selective pressures that are acting now work for or against personality traits that our more distant ancestors had more of. In the last 100 years have the selective pressures that have been at work for the previous few thousand years lessened to be replaced by different selective pressures? Given that we see evidence that dumber people are getting selected for I'm not sure we are going to become increasingly less like our more distant ancestors.

Jason Malloy said at February 7, 2009 2:17 PM:

"I think people 50 years ago were more constrained from fulfilling their desires than people are today. Do you disagree?"

No, I don't disagree at all. Main point: I don't believe 2009 mate-selection is converging with prehistoric behavior patterns, rather behavior is increasingly diverging from everything known to this point (e.g. like the demographic transition). Mass choosing of (temporary) mates on sexual criteria alone is like a Supernormal stimulus for sex... just like pornography. Both, I think, are unlike any time before.


"Male desire for financially successful women: That's a shift from desiring a woman productive in a home to desiring a woman productive in the workplace. But there's still a desire for productivity."


I think it represents a major motivational shift. The former is disproportionately tied to reproductive concerns (maternal productivity), the latter disproportionately to status and leisure concerns (capitalist productivity). But also the primary traits associated with both are probably different, if not opposite, as well (e.g. income productivity traits for women are probably masculine, while domestic productivity traits are probably feminine).


"I suspect there's a lot more sorting thru and a lot more hooking up of best-with-best and least-with-least"

Whatever the trends here, they appear to have coincided with a decrease in the well-being of the uneducated and women, and increased the well-being of the educated and men.

Perhaps men are happier because they now have more short-term sexual relationships, and women are less happy because they have more short-term sexual relationships. The uneducated are less happy because they now have a lower quality pool of long-term partner options; the educated are more happy because they now have a higher quality pool of long-term partner options.

Patri Friedman said at February 7, 2009 2:30 PM:

I'd just like to chime in on what others have commented - studies of what variables predict success in speed-dating environments give very different results than what people say they want. Not that the latter isn't interesting - but surely it is far more pliable.

Jerry Martinson said at February 7, 2009 3:13 PM:

I wonder what the differences on this are between the UK and the USA. The USA is still a very sexually conservative country but the UK is not. Women have a lot fewer sexual partners in the US than most of the other western countries.

wes george said at February 7, 2009 11:01 PM:

Jerry, pluuuzzeee. The USA is a country the size of Europe plus with as many different social niches. Apparently, the "sexually conservative" part of the country was the part I didn't visit. You're talking in a silly, if widely believed, cliche...

Jason, I too seriously doubt that "2009 mate-selection is converging with prehistoric behavior patterns."... My hunch is that our "environment", being radically discontinuous with the stone age, is producing radically different natural selection criteria. Sure, some archetypal behaviors must persist like a bad lecture in Frazer's comparative mythogenesis, but it's the on-the-ground details that count. Obviously, one's ability to chase down large mammals with a spear have little bearing on one's sexual desirability these days. (although it probably wouldn't hurt!)

Nevertheless, the mechanics of natural selection remain utterly the same today as for the ancients. The idea that a "decrease in the well-being" of the "uneducated" (ie unfit to our highly complex and symbolic environment) is something unique to our modern world is true only in the sense that it is now education that is a major factor in determining your propensity to pass along your genes rather than some other cultural, physical or environmental trait set. There is always an out of favor gene pool of the age.

Nevertheless, the rate of "happiness" is a constant in functional societies. A comparison is impossible and only reveals the cultural bias of those who attempt as much.

For instance were ancient Polynesians less happy than us today because they were under constant (and randomly applied) pressure to provide human sacrifices to their gods by a dominant priesthood? It's a meaningless question.

The idea that women are less happy today because they have more short-term sexual relationship strikes me as the same cultural bias as the old fellers that highly valued chastity in their women...such "observations" reveal volumes about the observer and nothing of the observed.

Yet, human genetic evolution is very, very much alive today! This is something of a taboo topic, Frazer and EO Wilson notwithstanding, Although some stunning research is sneaking out... See "A farewell to Alms:A brief economic history of the world" by Gregory Clark. Princeton press.


Jason Malloy said at February 8, 2009 3:03 AM:

"Nevertheless, the rate of "happiness" is a constant in functional societies. A comparison is impossible and only reveals the cultural bias of those who attempt as much."

Not only is this empirically false, it is utterly nonsensical. Cultural bias wouldn't apply to within-culture comparisons where there is considerable diversity in reported well-being, life satisfaction, depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, optimism/pessimism, stress, negative/positive affect, hopelessness, feelings of efficacy/worthlessness, etc. There are hormonal and biological and environmental pathways well linked to these emotions. And these hormonal, biological, and environmental factors differ through time and across nations. The claim that happiness is "a constant" is irresponsibly false.

"The idea that women are less happy today because they have more short-term sexual relationship strikes me as the same cultural bias as the old fellers that highly valued chastity in their women...such "observations" reveal volumes about the observer and nothing of the observed."

A value is not the same as an observation. An observation is falsifiable while a value is not. Check out the two links I provided above that demonstrate the effect I describe. One shows that additional hook-ups for college age women are associated with poorer mental health and more depressive symptoms, while additional hook-ups for college age men are associated with better mental health and less depressive symptoms.

The other link shows something similar for older men and women. Women who had only one long-term sexual relationship had the least depression and best mental health, while men who had a number of long-term sexual relationships had the least depression and best mental health.

I could link a number of similar studies.

The take-away message is that men and women have conflicting mental health requirements. Men reap psychological benefits from additional partners, while women reap psychological harm from additional partners. This is totally consistent with the larger social trends documented in my link to the Freakonomics website: as the average number of sex partners has increased over time, men have become happier and women have become less happy.

Randall Parker said at February 8, 2009 10:20 AM:

wes george says:

The idea that a "decrease in the well-being" of the "uneducated" (ie unfit to our highly complex and symbolic environment) is something unique to our modern world is true only in the sense that it is now education that is a major factor in determining your propensity to pass along your genes rather than some other cultural, physical or environmental trait set.

Do you think that education increases or decreases reproductive fitness? All the evidence I see indicates that education decreases reproductive fitness of females. More years in school means fewer babies. An Australian twins study found the same result.

wes george said at February 8, 2009 2:39 PM:

It isn't necessarily true that societies with less material wealth are less happy than rich societies. Freakonomic's research isn't "empirical" because too many assumptions are made. And the conclusion that perhaps more foreign aid would increase happiness is unbelievably spurious. The rational validity you intuit in this study comes from your own sense of how unhappy you'd be without your material wealth, Freako' simply reinforces your unexamined assumption that wealth equals happiness.

Societies that are NOT functional (ie civil unrest, hungry, disease-ridden or whatever) are obviously less content with their lot, since they are suffering great hardships. So people in Somalia or the slums of Mexico City are less happy than us? duh.

How about those Polynesians in 1000 AD, they didn't have much material wealth? Or the indigenous peoples of Australia before settlement, a truly materially "impoverished" culture if there ever was one. To imagine that these cultures were less happy than us today is ridiculous. It's been a while since I backpacked through Sumatra and central Java, but my personal observation of these non-Western societies indicated that the Indonesian rural villagers and farmers were if anything MORE happy than, say, New Yorkers, yet they didn't have two Rupiah to rub together. How is that?

Now if you want to argue that life in the poverty stricken fringes of our emerging global civilization, where people gather in the shanty of the one slum dweller who has managed to hook up a sat dish to watch western life styles of the rich and famous...then ask these fringe dwellers if they are content with their lot...you got freakonomics! But it's still not empirical proof that being rich makes you happy. Only that being made consciously aware of how poor and unprivileged you are makes one very discontent.

Likewise, one should be very careful in drawing conclusions from statistics especially when the issue involved is so deeply encrusted with cultural assumptions. The human condition is too complex to be reduced to a one-dimensional survey, then conclude that young women that have more sex partners are associated with poor mental health as if a cause and effect have been clearly identified. I'm not saying the data sets are invalid... I'm saying that drawing linear conclusions that tend to reinforce ones native prejudice is flippant and difficult to avoid, since one's native sociological assumptions are almost impossible to identify and compensate against, because one imagines they are universal human conditions... I.e. chastity is good and multiple partners is bad. I doubt this assumption was held in ancient polynesia.

Randall, having a higher education equals higher income potential and those are highly desirable traits to possess if searching for a date. Ironically, as you point out, at the level of populations, higher education and increased standard of living always lower fertility rates of a society. This could be the great cure for global over-population or it could be senile western civilization committing demographic suicide (A. Toynbee's ideas about how civilization destroy themselves from the inside first before being conquered once weakened) ... or it could be a natural evolutionary response to an unprecedented state of technological detachment from the past where massive fertility rates once increased survival chances. I wonder if, due to our latest techno-cultural phase shift, the actual number of children is still the appropriate measure of the so-called "reproductive fitness of females?"

Reality said at February 9, 2009 8:26 AM:

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

Women being the sexual selectors don't give men a choice however. They determine what men can look for in a partner, in the normal run of events.

Thus if they decide that they are not interesting in being chaste, men have no choice but to adapt and not look for that in a woman.

Needless to say, women have decided they don't care about being chaste and it is thus futile for men to seek chastity.

"as the average number of sex partners has increased over time, men have become happier and women have become less happy."

Guess that explains why the male suicide rate has gone up so much in the last few decades...

Or not.

Peter said at February 9, 2009 9:08 AM:

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.

"Nice Guy" has become a term of shame in the dating and relationships world. It means a needy, passive man who thinks that women do him favors by deigning to date him and makes inappropriate attempts to curry favor with women, for example taking a woman out to an extremely expensive dinner on the second date. Perhaps the lower ranking for "pleasing disposition" reflects women's scorn for Nice Guys.

toad said at February 9, 2009 12:29 PM:

I wonder just how intelligent the current crop of college students are in comparison to those in college during the '30s or '50s?
There are complaints that current graduates just aren't all that sharp. They've learned absorb information quickly, barf it back, then forget it. They don't seem to be all that good at actually thinking and learning. Of course that is just anecdotal reports that I've heard from trainers and supervisors.

J.Sollow said at February 9, 2009 12:36 PM:

Having had the opportunity to observe this selection process in action among college students, for approaching 30yrs now, I tend to agree with the commentors who warn against extrapolating these preferences to marriage-age populations. Campus environments both insulate students from the consequences of their choices, and isolate them from the larger culture in which marriages are typically formed and experienced. Penn State's main campus, for instance, is like a city of adolescents governed by a mix of paternalism and therapeutic indulgence.

I think that this environment tends to skew preferences for both young men and women. What I've noticed is that, for women especially, preferences seem to change markedly once they leave school and gain some experience in the world - and the desire to marry and settle down becomes more pronounced.

SClanding said at February 9, 2009 12:44 PM:

"Nice Guy" has always been a term of shame. Young women particularly work under the illusion that their characteristics are of such overpowering magnificence that they can charm the wildest, meanest beast. It is only through years of experience and hard knocks does this characteristic change.

I agree with the commentator who rightly expressed that this is what young people CLAIMED they are looking for which is very, very different than what they are actually seeking.

What I find particular noteworthy from the comments who automatically assume that society has IMPROVED from the 30s, i.e. advanced in our attitudes on chastity, etc. If this were necessary true then we would not have had the dramatic increase of divorce rates which has occurred since the "sexual revolution" nor would our current society be faltering under the weight of single parent households, which multiple studies have shown is a sure fire method of ensuring poverty for the particular individuals.

plutosdad said at February 9, 2009 12:49 PM:

Actually I think we are getting FARTHER from evolutionary traits. As someone said, the fact that "love" ranks so high is a brand new idea. Animals don't pick partners for love, they use the same ideas as the interviews from the 30s say: women want men to be ambitions, dependable and stable, that's still very true today, and is the same way female animals will consent to breed with males. The female is the picky and serial monagamist among the animal kingdom due to her greater investment in children, the same is still very true today among human females - except now they can choose love over a few other traits. Women simply couldn't afford to make love that important before. And indeed, in many more "traditional" and "religious" societies where they still have arranged marriage, the loves comes after the marriage - not before.

And as someone else pointed out, "nice guy" is not a guy who is nice, but a wimp who tries to buy affection. Remember all of these trait rankings are relative to each other. When love was rated low, and the traditional "provider" type attributes were rated more highly, being nicer was more valuable. A provider who treated you well was someone you could live with and grow to love. But now if you love someone, pleasing disposition can probably be assumed - after all you already love them.

The men's choices have changed much more, but I think that is far less important. Women are still the ones that get asked out and refuse suitors, so it's their perceptions that are the most imporant and since they are the ones that have the most power over the choice.

sparky said at February 9, 2009 12:56 PM:

This study is HUGELY flawed.

First: Only about 25% of the population goes to college, so this study discounts about 3/4 of the population.

Second: College kids are very immature. They think they're mature but, in reality, college is totally removed from real world stresses and strains.

Geoff said at February 9, 2009 12:57 PM:

Could we please abandon evolutionary psychology? The field seems to make no falsifiable predictions and just comes down to post-hoc explanations of any given phenomenon.

Gramma Cosby said at February 9, 2009 1:20 PM:

"I think people 50 years ago were more constrained from fulfilling their desires than people are today. Do you disagree?"

I disagree, based on my own knowledge of women born in the 1900 - 1930 time frame. Women did then what women do now, they just hid it better. This was called "being discreet." And if they got pregnant? *Most* of the time, the guy and gal did "the honorable thing." So maybe what's different is not that they were constrained from fulfilling their desires, but that they had different attitudes about their roles and responsibilities in facing the consequences. Didn't you youngsters ever hear of the fruitcake lady? If you ever watched any of her videos, how could you have any doubt that what I say is true?

comatus said at February 9, 2009 1:35 PM:

"I wonder how the preferences of average and below average intelligence people have changed."
"Such observations reveal volumes about the observer and nothing of the observed."

Watching The Anthropologists Project has been my favorite spectator sport for decades now. You get two stars for the culturally-constructed Great Truth that all the smart ones go to college, everyone there is smart (by [presumably]measurable "intelligence," too!) and if not, then not. You presume a very great deal about evolutionary heritage, then and now. And that's what anthropology is all about.

Here's a word of advice: Prove your superior intellect by keeping a close eye on your plumber, builder, mechanic, and electrician. Oh, and the Little Woman, too. One never knows what the little people are up to, below stairs. Does one.

Justin98 said at February 9, 2009 1:39 PM:

Can't the Black Messiah just wave his magic presidential wand and make every couple happy? Really, that's what we selected him to do.

comatus said at February 9, 2009 1:47 PM:

One more cultural imponderable we don't think we need to know, because We Smart Now: the great driver of chastity, from Shakespeare's day through WWII, had little to do with evolutionary heritage or schoolgirls' hotness. It was syphilis, pure and simple, and incurable. Funny that societal cogitators forty years ago remembered that there had been such a thing, and that its threat affected people's behavior.

We've evolved! Let's pray our bacteria don't.

Eric Ivers said at February 9, 2009 1:58 PM:

I'm intrigued that Mr. Parker automatically classes those without college as being "average and below average intelligence". I have a degree (big whoop), but am not of the attitude that I'm more intelligent than everyone without. The world is full of over educated morons, and also with extremely bright people who never attended (or dropped out of) college.

JoanS said at February 9, 2009 2:05 PM:

Doesn't good lookin'and a great kisser count for anything? Without that spark,it's a pretty boring life!

Rich Rostrom said at February 9, 2009 2:13 PM:

Comatus: Ah. That's why chastity was of no concern whatever to Romans, or to Moslems in the age of the Caliphs, or to medieval Europeans, or to Han, Tang, or Sung Dynasty Chinese... NOT!

One might also note that if fear of STDs was the issue, then male virginity would be prized as much female virginity - which it never was.

Oh, and early age of first intercourse correlates with infertility in women who were never exposed to syphilis. Early sex often leads to low-level pelvic inflammatory disorder, which damages fertility.

1charlie2 said at February 9, 2009 2:21 PM:

Eric,

Have to concur. As the son of a greenhouse worker, and the grandson of an immigrant farmer, I went all the way thru graduate school. My wife did, too.

And I have known high-school dropouts who are far more "intelligent" (by any common parlance) than about 10% of the university faculty she works with.

And more intelligent than about 60% of the full-time, "traditional" she teaches (I specifically exclude foreign nationals and older returning students),

Not saying they're ALL butt-stupid, you understand. . . but any classification as automatically more "intelligent" makes me want to laugh.

Even if you operationally define "intelligent" as "the ability to do well on an IQ test, which is how my wife defines it, that's still a spurious assumption.

kroston said at February 9, 2009 2:28 PM:

mmm, am i really the only one to take in consideration the fact that people get married a lot later than what they used to ?

At 23 in the 1930s women in colleges where soon to be married while the ones getting out of college these days while probably not marry for another 10 years. Their perceptions and expectations on the matter are very likely to change.

Bill said at February 9, 2009 3:39 PM:

I think it's also a reach to say that those who go to college are somehow "smarter" than those who do not. Many smart people do not have the opportunity to go to college for personal, financial, or other reasons. Likewise, there are a great many less intelligent people who are being convinced to attempt college even though they're nowhere close to being ready for it. I suppose another way to do the analysis would be to look at IQs, but I'm sure that would be flawed in a way as well.

Still, an interesting discussion. I'm glad I stumbled across it via Instapundit.

comatus said at February 9, 2009 3:52 PM:

Bill, you left one out: There are some pretty good jobs--interesting, productive, rewarding, good-paying--(according to Mrs. Clinton anyway)that require forms of learning other than a university education. There are actually people who choose not to take Pell's farthing.

So, Mr. Rostrom, are you agreeing, or what? Cultures that didn't realize diseases were ST would suffer losses of ten to thirty-five per cent. Once the connection was made, a set of mores was set up around it. Male chastity, a laughably unattainable ideal to the excessively enlightened, was indeed a virtue, to Egyptians, Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, Chinese and my first two-parented girlfriend's father. I won't even ask where you grew up; where'd you study anthropology? (!)

Fred said at February 9, 2009 4:27 PM:

One item I didn't see was how the "good financial prospect" attribute moved in the women's calculations from the 1930's to 2008. One assumes that it probably went down (as other prospective mate attributes went up) but the presented results don't indicate one way or the other. Was the question even asked of the female subjects?

Considering that marriage was considered as much a business/economic relationship as well as a romantic/sexual relationship through much of history, I'm much less surprised that men consider the financial prospects of a mate, than the indication that women don't seem to consider it at all. While there is a background feeling of American "rugged independence" that supposes that a real man makes his own way in the world and provides completely for his wife and family, in the larger European tradition it was quite acceptable, and no shame, to "marry well" to a woman who would bring a large dowery or inheritance. And as any reader of Jane Austen can tell, the financial prospects of a potential groom were very legitimately a concern for any woman looking for a spouse. If "financial prospects" rank so low in selecting a mate, for both genders, then this is a major attidudinal shift from historical norms.

Jennifer said at February 9, 2009 4:59 PM:

While the researchers may have studied college students in every era, the population of college students has changed radically. In the 1930s, very few men, and even fewer women, attended college. Today, it seems everyone with a pulse goes to college. The study in 1939 might have been of a very elite population, but the current study surely takes in a lot of people of average intelligence. Nevertheless, it would be fascinating to compare the preferences of college students to those of young adults in the workforce.

Chester White said at February 9, 2009 5:25 PM:

There is another factor. College students were a hell of a lot smarter in the 1930s or 1950s than they are now. A much smaller percentage of the population and definitely more advanced intellectually.

Control for that, dude.

tsotha said at February 9, 2009 5:50 PM:

The men's choices have changed much more, but I think that is far less important. Women are still the ones that get asked out and refuse suitors, so it's their perceptions that are the most imporant and since they are the ones that have the most power over the choice.

I don't know about that. Men who feel they're getting shortchanged in the dating market are more likely to skip marriage altogether. In the 1930s, before washing machines and fast food, not having a wife who was willing to keep house was a big quality of life issue. Not so much in today's times. So women who overvalue the "power over the choice" are more likely to end up permanently single than their grandmothers.

Andy J said at February 9, 2009 7:04 PM:

Every generation thinks that -they- invented sex. We are no more promiscuous now than 50 years ago. we just like to talk about it more and think we're better at it... We have no shame for unwanted children or STDs. We have medicine and readily available abortions. Should one choose to keep the child the govt will pick-up much of the financial burden.. Those are the items that have changed.

Most people have no real clue as to what they seek in another. For most it boils down to "One who thinks I am wonderful" and we're happy to run off and spend forever with them...

Parings have always been about equals. A 9 does not marry a 4. A 9 may marry an 8 but really was looking for a 10... All rankings are subjective and in the eye of the beholder. There's no accounting for taste.

What is different is the economic consequences for mistakes are lower now than before. The stay-at-home spouse has gone away. Killed off by the necessity to make-a-buck and pay bills. The myth of workplace confidence and community holding a stronger pull than the infant-is just that... For the majority of people.

We are no so clever that we can swap our genetic programming within 100-200 years... or even 1,000 years...

We dislike the idea that humans are bound by genetic determinants. BUT what else explains habits and traits that run in families and geographic origins-?

WE AIN'T THAT SPECIAL

but we sure do like to think so

Randall Parker said at February 12, 2009 6:13 PM:

Eric Ivers, Comatus,

The average person who goes to college is smarter than the average person who doesn't.

You can point out exceptions. Sure, so can I. But I'm talking averages.

Naomi said at February 14, 2009 7:17 AM:

Jason,

Your posts and links are excellent.

Speaking as one woman I'd like to relay why I think promiscuous women are unhappier than promiscuous men.

Psychologically, emotionally and spiritually, being the one pierced is much different than being the piercer. Being pierced by many men is something of a sapping of self, if you will.

There is some overlap between the sexes here, but that occurs mostly when a man is smitten beyond his ability to control. I don't know how often this occurs, but when it does the overlap is evident in post-coital expression and bonding.

Also, I doubt very much that chastity would cease to be unimportant if past sexual encounters lost the taboo that forbids open recall.

An Examined Life by Robert Nozick offers a wonderful piece on human mating.

The one wife, one mistress is probably the best of both worlds for man and woman. The mistress can remain a constant and unchanging source of sexual and emotional freedom for a man, and it can take the man off the wife's hands as she is forced to concentrate on myriad roles as wife and mother.

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