Are Women Always More Selective in Mate Choice?: Misleading Research Conclusions

Gender Differences in Dating Choices Revisited

Posted Aug 14, 2009

Satoshi Kanazawa's latest blog post (Are Women Always More Selective In Mate Choice Than Men?) caught my attention. I love controversial and provocative studies and reporting, but I also know that in these kinds of studies, spinning the findings to fit one's belief system is common and media then create attention-getting sound bites that cause the masses to draw distorted conclusions. Sometimes misleading or bogus interpretations of gender differences reach the status of urban myths so let's set the record straight on this one.

Kanazawa's post is a commentary on Finkel & Eastwick's new speed-dating research1, which is in press for publication in Psychological Science. The study manipulates the gender of who approaches whom in a speed-dating setting, to find out if the one who does the approaching during partner rotation will affect level of attraction and interest in seeing the prospective partner again.

In his summary of the study's results, Kanazawa calls the findings "truly astonishing" and says:

"In the traditional "men rotate, women sit" arrangement, men were significantly less selective in their mate choice; they checked "yes" for a larger number of women than women did for men, and they experienced greater sexual attraction and romantic chemistry with the women than women did with men. This is not at all surprising, as it is what evolutionary psychology would predict and it is what we normally observe in real life (less selective, more aggressive men {italics mine}, and choosier and more coy {italics mine} women). In sharp contrast, in the novel "women rotate, men sit" arrangement, women were just as aggressive and, as a result, less selective, as men were in their mate choice; they checked as many "yeses" for men as men did for women."

This is totally misleading. I read the full yet-to-be-published study to see what I could glean from the original source. A look at the data shows that women did not become less selective (measured by percentage of yeses) when they were approaching instead of sitting! They stayed equally selective as approachers (45% yeses) or sitters (43% yeses). Statistically, that 2% is an insignificant difference. The notable difference was that the men became more selective if they sat while women approached (43% yeses) than if they approached seated women (50% yeses). Statistically, that's a significant difference.

Kanazawa's use of the words "more aggressive" and "more coy" add misattribution to already-distorted conclusions. I have no idea how the act of walking from one table to the next to meet a seated prospective date becomes a representation of aggression versus coyness.  That's quite a leap of interpretation.

I do have a hypothesis about why the men were less picky when the women were seated, which neither the original study or Kanazawa's commentary mentioned as a possibility. When women are walking towards and away from seated men, the men get to see their entire bodies, including shape and approximate weight. In the U.S., men (especially Caucasians) show a preference for women who are thin and firm when choosing a date. Women are typically less picky about men's bodies and men's clothing tends to cover more skin. Maybe the men said yes to fewer dates when women were the approachers simply because they got a clearer view of the shape and size of hips and thighs than when the women stayed seated! The sexual double standard around body size bugs me as much as distorted data, but that's a blog post for another day.

1. Arbitrary Social Norms Influence Sex Differences in Romantic Selectivity, by Eli J. Finkel and Paul W. Eastwick, Northwestern University. See "selected publications" at to download a copy of the article