We all know the eternal cliches regarding what men want in a partner versus what women want: Men are shallow slobs who only care about good looks and think with their "other" brain, while women want a stable, honest, devoted partner who is a good provider and who (most of all!) makes them laugh. Now it appears the laugh may be on us. Two studies surveying more than 12,100 people in 31 countries shows that woman have closed the superficiality gap! Results of the research conducted at the University of York in the United Kingdom appear in this month's issue of Psychological Science. They show that as cultures become more "gender equal" -- particularly, as women's salaries and financial independence approach that of men's -- the traditional criteria for selecting a mate become less important for both sexes. That traditional criteria, shaped over thousands of years of human experience, is based on the reality that sperm is easy to come by, but eggs are parceled out judiciously. As a result, women historically have had to be much more careful about choosing a partner because they want someone who will be a good provider for them and their offspring. (Given the importance of this decision, you'd think they'd have a higher overall batting average. Or maybe the candidate pool, relatively speaking, is a puddle.) Men, who historically haven't had to rely as much on women for basic survival, have tended to focus on the attractiveness of females and their perceived fertility. From the research abstract:
Using recent data and a novel measure of gender equality, we revisited the role of gender parity in gender differentiation for mate preferences. In the first study, 3,177 participants from 10 nations with a gradually decreasing Global Gender Gap Index (GGI) provided online ratings of the desirability of mate attributes with reportedly evolutionary origins. In the second study, GGI scores were related to gender differences in mate preferences previously reported for 8,953 participants from 31 nations (Buss, 1989). Both studies show that gender differences in mate preferences with presumed evolutionary roots decline proportionally to increases in nations' gender parity.
Translating the researcher geek talk, women who live in societies with smaller gender disparity are better able to take care of themselves, so they are free to focus less on finding a good "provider" and more on superficial things such as physical attractiveness (for which they're constantly criticizing men, one might point out). Meanwhile, men in more gender-equal societies tend to increasingly value traits such as intelligence and strong personal character over youth and beauty. (Hey, at least men are evolving in the right direction.) It's not likely that gender equality can ever totally wipe away many thousands of years of biological programming, but the research clearly shows that prosperity can affect the criteria both sexes use to find a partner. So get used to the leering, guys.
Now read this: