Do Attractive Men Want Everything?

It’s not male attractiveness that determines what they want, it’s this.

Posted Dec 21, 2018

Online dating is a medium through which people can advertise themselves to potential partners. Typically users upload photographs as well as writing descriptions of their personality traits, interests and other characteristics.  Online dating profiles also allow individuals to specify what they might desire in a potential partner.  

The way in which a person advertises themselves on a dating site may be a good indication of how they value themselves as a potential date, with those thinking they have high value perhaps being more choosy.  Female mate value is indicated quite clearly by physical attractiveness ratings (Li, Kenrick, Bailey, & Linsenmeier, 2002).  But is male mate value conveyed in the same way, or might we have to look more closely at their profile description also?

One study which goes some way to providing some answer to this question was performed by Steven Arnocky from Nipissing University, Ontario.  Arnocky asked male participants (roughly half of whom were currently in a relationship), questions about the age at which they would you prefer to marry, what age difference they would you prefer between them and their spouse and whether they would prefer them or their spouse to be older.  The participants were also asked to rate eighteen female partner traits on a scale from unimportant to indispensable.  Example partner traits were ambition, political background, chastity, desire to have a home, desire to have children. 

The males then completed a series of questions designed to assess their self-perceived mate value.  For example:
•    ‘I run into friends whenever I go out’
•    ‘Members of the opposite sex are attracted to me’
•    ‘I would make a good parent’
•    ‘After I date someone they often want to date me again’

Quite obviously, more agreement to these questions indicated higher mate value.  In addition to this, photographs of the male participants were rated by five undergraduate women from very unattractive to very attractive.

Relationship Status

Arnocky found that males currently in relationships reported that they preferred:

•    To get married about 2 years younger than those men not currently in a relationship.  
•    A smaller age difference between them and their partner.
•    A preference for chastity in a partner.
•    A partner who shared a desire for a home and family.  
•    A partner high in social status.

Female Attractiveness Ratings

The next thing Arnocky assessed was female ratings of male attractiveness and what males reported they desired in a partner.  Rather surprisingly, he found that female judgements of male facial attractiveness, was not related to male ratings of how good looking they believed themselves to be, or to their reports of their perceived mate value.  In other words, judgements by females about how facially attractive men are, seems totally unrelated to male judgements of their own attractiveness levels.  

Males rated as attractive by females did state that they preferred partners with similar religious backgrounds and partners who were in good health.  They also expressed a preference for partners who were ambitious.

Perceived Mate Value

When Arnocky examined the reports of male participants’ perceived mate value, he found that those who scored high on this measure had a preference for the following:

•    Females who want children and a home.  
•    Choosing to marry at an earlier age.  Those who marry at an earlier age, are more likely to have children and thereby be reproductively successful.  
•    A larger age difference between them and their partner.
•    Choosing to marry a partner younger than themselves.  Age is a good indication of fertility in females, and therefore marrying a younger female would be reproductively advantageous.  
•    A healthy partner.  In evolutionary terms it is important to have a partner who is healthy in order to be able to rear offspring and to produce healthy offspring.  
•    A partner who is sociable and of good social status.  
•    A partner who has good financial prospects with ambition.  It is financially advantageous for families to have two incomes rather than one.  
•    A partner who is good looking and one who is attracted to them.


This study also found that male facial attractiveness as rated by women was unrelated to male self-perceived mate value.  What this seems to mean is that the males who females find attractive do not necessarily rate themselves as having high mate value. Two questions therefore remain.  Firstly, how do males assess their mate value, and secondly, why are female attractiveness ratings unrelated to male mate value?

How do males assess their mate value?

Various factors would seem to influence male mate value for example social context and direct comparisons with other males present at the time.  There may also be individual differences in male ability to judge their own mate value.  For example, Beck, Penke, Schmukle and Asendorpf (2011) found that males who were less sociosexually restricted (those having a lower requirement for intimacy prior to a relationship) reported higher mate value than those who were more restricted.  

Why are female facial attractiveness ratings unrelated to mate value?

One possibility is that male facial attractiveness is a much less important indicator of male mate value than female facial attractiveness is for female mate value.  In males, other characteristics such as wealth and status are often more important indicators of male mate value.  Furthermore, Arnocky also speculates that making judgements on male facial attractiveness may be a complex process, because of the number of factors which contribute to this.


What do these findings mean?

In summary, this study found that males who reported greater mate value, were more choosy about the characteristics they desired in female partners over a diverse array of characteristics, although female rated male facial attractiveness was not strongly associated with male mate preferences.  In other words, it is male self perceived mate value that determines what men want and not their facial attractiveness.

Applied to online dating this could mean that it is not necessarily the men who look most attractive who will be the most choosy about what they want.

References

Arnocky, S. (2018) ‘Self-Perceived Mate Value, Facial Attractiveness, and Mate Preferences: Do Desirable Men Want it All?’ Evolutionary Psychology, 8, 1-8.

Back, M. D., Penke, L., Schmukle, S. C., & Asendorpf, J. B. (2011) ‘Knowing Your own Mate Value: Sex-Specific Personality Effects on the Accuracy of Expected Mate Choices’, Psychological Science, 22, 984-989.

Li, N. P., Kenrick, D. T., Bailey, M., & Linsenmeier, J. A. W. (2002) ‘The Necessities and Luxuries of Mate Prefrences: Testing the Tradeoffs’ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 947-955.