How has what we look for in a mate changed over the years?

The qualities people believe are important in selecting a marriage partner afford one domain for assessing human values. We examined the cultural evolution of these values over more than half a century. Building on existing data on mate preferences collected in 1939 (N= 628), 1956 (N= 120), 1967 (N= 566), and 1977 (N= 316), we collected data using the same instrument in 1984/1985 (N= 1,496) and in 1996 (N= 607) at geographically diverse locations. Several changes in values were documented across the 57-year span. Both sexes increased the importance they attach to physical attractiveness in a mate. Both sexes, but especially men, increased the importance they attach to mates with good financial prospects. Domestic skills in a partner plummeted in importance for men. Mutual attraction and love climbed in importance for both sexes. The sexes converged in the ordering of the importance of different mate qualities, showing maximum similarity in 1996. Discussion speculates about causes of the cultural evolution of values.

Source: “A Half Century of Mate Preferences: The Cultural Evolution of Values” from Journal of Marriage and Family, Volume 63, Issue 2, pages 491–503, May 2001


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