Sex Differences in Mate Choice Criteria

In addition to seeking kindness, availability, commitment, and moderate similarity in a mate, the sexes exhibit some differences in their respective mate choice criteria. Worldwide, men seek signs of youth and fertility in a bride—traits that obviously would enhance their lifetime reproductive success (Buss, 1994). They also seek a sexually faithful wife, in order not to be deceived into caring for a rival's children, and a skilled and industrious one.

Women likewise exhibit definite mate preferences. They tend to desire a man who is older than they—but not necessarily an old man. Because of menopause and other factors, a man retains his fertility longer than a woman, and so youth is less advantageous in a groom than in a bride. Most women also prefer a man who is taller and wealthier.

These preferences suggest that many women seek a man who is somewhat dominant over them—taller, richer, older, and higher ranking. In traditional societies, high-status men tend to have more children than low-ranking ones (Barkow, 1989; Buss, 1999). Even in monogamous societies, high-status men have more sexual partners (Perusse, 1993). In many other species too, males compete among themselves and the females mate with the successful dominant competitors (L. Ellis, 1995). Additional data confirm that male dominance in nonverbal behavior and bodily features attracts females in various cultures (reviewed by G. E. Weisfeld, Russell, Weisfeld, & Wells, 1992). Moderate male dominance in decision-making—but not extreme dominance—was correlated with marital satisfaction, especially for wives, in a British study (G. E. Weisfeld et al., 1992). However, male dominance in decision-making may be merely a matter of perception, not reality—a clever concession to the male ego, if you will. An observational study suggested that men often appeared to be making decisions but the outcome actually favored the wife in each of 15 cases (Schell & Weisfeld, 1999).

These criteria for mate choice for the sexes, then, show some consistency. But they also show some cultural variability, as in the subsistence skills that are prized in each sex.

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