Reuters Health

Women's Sense Of Freedom Influences Choice Of Mate

Friday, July 23, 1999

NEW YORK -- Women's attraction to power and wealth in their mates is governed by their ability to control their own destiny, according to results of a new cross-cultural study.

The less access to education and reproductive freedom a woman has, the more likely it is that she will want a mate with money and power, report researchers at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois.

Data for this study came from research conducted in 1990, involving more than 5,000 women and 4,000 men in 37 different cultures spanning six continents. The study participants were asked to rank 18 traits of a mate in order of importance. Traits included wealth, ambition and status -- the three traits that researcher Tim Kasser, an assistant professor of psychology, says are central to the debate over gender differences in mate preferences.

Kasser's team correlated the survey data with information from the United Nations on five variables of female reproductive freedom: maternal mortality rate, percentage of births attended by a trained healthcare professional, percentage of women using contraceptives, domestic violence laws in that country, and the fertility rate.

"The standard finding from almost every country was men wanted good looking, young women, and women wanted... wealthy, high-status men," said Kasser in an interview with Reuters Health. "The difference was compelling."

The correlations between the desirability of these characteristics and women's control of their own destiny varied, however, with some countries -- particularly developing nations -- having a much stronger correlation between low reproductive rights and resource-acquisition characteristics than others.

Previous studies had suggested that wealth and status were desirable traits in males because these factors were assumed to increase survival of offspring. Kasser's findings suggest that culture also plays a role in a woman's choice of mate. Where cultures support women's self-direction, women are less likely to focus on these characteristics in a mate.

For example, in Scandinavian countries, where the observed differences between sexes on mate preference were the smallest, and educational opportunities and reproductive rights the highest, there was little evidence of a widespread preference for men that can "provide for" their families.

"The extent to which an environment supports or impedes a woman's attempts to direct her own destiny affects what she values in a man," Kasser explained in a statement. "When a female is provided with more opportunities to fend for herself, she will become less concerned with finding a mate who can provide resources for her."

SOURCE: Psychological Science 1999;10:374-377.