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The One Trait People Desire Most in a Partner

... and the qualities that are now valued less.

A new study reports that men and women around the globe put kindness at the top of the list when ranking characteristics they would value most in a hypothetical "ideal long-term partner." These findings (Thomas et al., 2019) were published on September 8 in the Journal of Personality.

From a humanist perspective, this "kindness prevails" news is a refreshing outlier in an era that seems to be dominated by reports of incivility and random acts of unkindness. Maybe this new research will inspire even the most Machiavellian among us to start making an effort to be a little kinder—if only to increase his or her odds of getting hitched.

The cohort for this UK-based study consisted of an international sample of 2,477 young adults from "Western" cultures that included Australia, Norway, and the UK, juxtaposed with age-matched study participants from "Eastern" cultures such as Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore.

For this cross-cultural investigation of mate preference priorities, the researchers created a "mate preference model" token economy. Each person in the study was given a fixed budget and then asked to "buy" specific characteristics and traits to design a hypothetical long-term partner.

In this token economy, the eight attributes that participants allotted a percentage of their budgeted "mate dollars" towards included:

  1. Physical attractiveness
  2. Good financial prospects
  3. Kindness
  4. Humor
  5. Chastity
  6. Religiosity
  7. Desire for children
  8. Creativity

How would you prioritize the importance of the eight traits mentioned above from top to bottom if asked to design an ideal long-term partner?

As mentioned, of these eight characteristics, men and women from different countries around the globe were willing, on average, to spend the biggest percentage (22 to 26 percent) of their budget on kindness. Second on the list was physical attractiveness, followed by good financial prospects. Creativity and chastity ranked lowest; both received less than 10 percent of people's budgeted mate dollars.

"Looking at different culture groups allows us to test the idea that some behaviours are human universals," first author, Andrew G. Thomas, a senior lecturer in Psychology at Swansea University (UK), said in a statement. "If men and women act in a similar way across the globe, then this adds weight to the idea that some behaviours develop in spite of culture rather than because of it."

In general, humor was the fourth most desired trait for men and women from Western cultures (after kindness, attractiveness, and finances). But, humor tended to be less valued by study participants from Eastern cultures.

"We found cultural differences for almost every trait. However, in most cases, these were simply a matter of degree," Thomas said in a recent interview with Time magazine. "For example, for men and women from both cultures, the most important trait, hands down, was kindness. This far outweighed traits like creativity, religiosity, and humor. Sure, there were small cultural differences in the importance of kindness, but the real finding is that [kindness] was consistently a top trait."

Facebook image: Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock


Andrew G. Thomas, Peter K. Jonason, Jesse D. Blackburn, Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair, Rob Lowe, John Malouff, Steve Stewart‐Williams, Danielle Sulikowski, Norman P. Li “Mate Preference Priorities in the East and West: A Cross‐Cultural Test of the Mate Preference Priority Model." Journal of Personality (First published: September 8, 2019). DOI: 10.1111/jopy.12514

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