Traits Sought by Both Sexes

Both sexes seek kindness in a mate, which makes sense given the strains of marriage and child rearing (Buss, 1994). They also seek a mate whom they are likely to be able to retain, that is, one of similar mate value. Likewise, they seek someone who appears to be committed to them emotionally. And of course, like other species (Andersson, 1994), people tend to prefer a sexually mature and physically attractive mate, who is likely to be healthy and fertile, and to carry high-quality genes (e.g., Shackelford & Larsen, 1999). Valid cues to genetic quality include normality and bilateral symmetry of features, and healthy skin; these features are admired worldwide (Ford & Beach, 1951; Thornhill & Gangestad, 1994). Naturally, not everyone can attract someone who is above average in desirability, and so people usually wind up with mates who lack some ideal features, but the preferences that most people express are often clear and specific, and generally hold even across cultural and racial lines (Cunningham, 1986).

Human mates, including courting adolescents, tend to be similar in many traits, a finding that is difficult to explain solely in terms of spousal social and ideological compatibility because it also occurs in insects, birds, and simians (Thiessen & Gregg, 1980). Why would genetic similarity (or homogamy) be advantageous in mate choice? One possibility is that it conserves locally adaptive gene combinations that would be fragmented if the mates were genetically dissimilar. Consistent with this idea, homogamy reduces the likelihood of miscarriage (Rushton, 1988; Thomas, Harger, Wagener, Rabin, & Gill, 1985) and low birth weight (Ober et al., 1987). In any case, people tend to choose similar mates, and similar mates stay together longer (Hill, Rubin, & Peplau, 1976). Of course, extreme consanguinity risks the deleterious effects of inbreeding depression.

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