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Evolutionary Account of Female Mating Preferences Research Paper

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Updated: Nov 15th, 2018


Evolutionary psychology has long been a dominant approach for describing and explaining the mating preferences of females. It places emphasis on the idea that women pay more attention to a male’s status, his ability to provide resources to the family, the income of this person or his education.

More importantly, evolutionary psychology implies that women’s mating strategies and preferences are not strongly affected by culture. In my opinion, this theory does not fully account for the behavior of women. In particular, it does not explain why women choose to end their relationship with a partner. Furthermore, evolutionary framework does not account for the existing of cross-sex friendships.

In this literature review, I would like to discuss empirical studies that examine attraction, changing preferences of women, and their values. These studies are primarily based on the use of interviews and surveys. These are the main themes that should be explored. Overall, many researchers believe that women’s mating strategies cannot be fully attributed only to the forces of evolution.


Overview of the theme

One of the issues that should be discussed is the values of women. Special attention should be paid to the way in which these values can change with time passing. Secondly, it is important to remember that values can be dependent on cultural background of a person. The thing is that they are closely related to mating decisions of women. Evolutionary account of female mating strategies cannot account why females can leave their partners, even if their socio-economic status has not changed.

Subtheme: the change of values and the end of relationship

In their article, Nasrin Abedinia et al (2012) examine the factors that contribute to divorce. One of the goals is to understand the circumstances that prompt a person to end a relationship with his/her spouse (Abedinia et al, 2012, p. 65).

Their study involved the use of the structured interview, and researchers and the sample included 300 participants who were both males and females (Abedinia et al, 2012, p. 65). According to the findings of these researchers, women are more likely to consider divorce when their partners cannot meet their psychological needs (Abedinia et al, 2012, p. 69). For instance, one can mention the need for self-esteem. This is they may leave their mating partner.

Similar findings have been derived by Oluyemi Stephens (2012) who also examines the perceived causes of divorce. This research was based on the interview of family counselors who worked with couples or divorced individuals (Stephens, 2012, p. 115). The sample of the study included 150 counselors (Stephens, 2012, p. 115). The results of this research indicate that the change of socio-economic status is not the only reason why women want to divorce.

For example, they refer to the difference in perception of gender roles and lack of communication between partners (Stephens, 2012, p. 115). Overall, the results of these studies suggest that income or financial stability do not always play the most important role of women. The data, provided by Oluyemi Stephens (2012) and Nasrin Abedinia et al show that there are exceptions to evolutionally account of female mating preferences.

Nevertheless, one should not suppose that resources and status of the male partner is of no importance to women. One can refer to the research article written by Hendrix Lewellyn and Willie Pearson (1995) who explore such a concept as spousal interdependence.

These authors carried out a meta-analysis of empirical studies that examined the cause of divorce (Lewellyn & Pearson, 1995, p. 118). They have found out that women, who were financially dependent on their husbands, were less likely to divorce. Thus, the availability of resources is of great importance to women.

Gender roles and power

It should be noted that the values of women can greatly depend on their perception of gender roles and power of women within the family. This perception is shaped primarily by social forces. Again, one can refer to the study by Hendrix Lewellyn and Willie Pearson (1995). The findings of these authors suggest that mating preferences of women greatly depend on their social status.

For example, they can value the economic prosperity of their partner more provided that they cannot maximize their wealth independently (Lewellyn & Pearson, 1995, p. 225). The study carried out by David Schmitt (2005) can also throw light on the values of women. This researcher surveyed 14,059 participants from 48 countries (Schmitt, 2005, p. 247). In particular, the scholar looked at self-reports of both male and female participants.

To a great extent, this research confirms the premises of evolutionary theories, because it suggests that women, who may belong to different cultures or societies, place more value on the economic status of their partners and their ability to care about children (Schmitt, 2005, p. 279).

Still, the role of cultural differences should not be disregarded. In her study, Devendra Singh (2004) examines the mating preferences of American men and women whose age ranged between 19-60 (Singh 2004, p. 52). According to this scholar, women are set higher standards for their physical appearance of their partners, if they consider themselves to be attractive (Singh 2004, p. 46). These examples indicate that evolutionary biology cannot fully explain the mating preferences of women.

Theme B: Attraction

Overview of the theme

The discussion of female mating preferences should include such a concept as attraction. Evolutionary approach implies that women attach more importance to physical condition of the partner at the beginning of their relationship, but later they attach more importance to such factors as socioeconomic status, education, or stability. In this section, I will try to examine how women regard attraction and what factors influence their views.

Sub-theme: Various aspects of attraction

There are several studies suggesting that mating preferences of women cannot be reduced to the paradigms of evolutionary theory. For example, the study carried out by Andrew Lehr and Glenn Geher (2006) who interviewed 32 female students (p. 423).

One of the issues that these researchers have identified is that women consistently pay attention similarity in attitudes and tastes (Lehr & Geher, 2006, p. 438). If there are no common interests or attitudes, they are not likely to start a relationship with a male. These preferences cannot be attributed only to evolutionary forces.

Additionally, I would to discuss the study done by Devendra Singh whose findings have been discussed in this paper. (2004). This researcher points out that women tend to value the physical appearance of a partner, even if one is speaking about long-term relations (Singh 2004, p. 52). Finally, one can refer to the research article written by Nasrin Abedinia et al whose findings have been mentioned before (2012).

These researchers point out that women value communication, emotional attachment, and ability of their partners to meet their psychological needs (Abedinia et al, 2012, p. 65). These choices and preferences contradict the principles of evolutionary psychology that emphasizes on security and availability of resources.

Sub-theme: Physical health

Another aspect of attraction is physical health of the mating partner. One has to admit that women can be attracted by a partner, he leads a healthy lifestyle. Nevertheless, there are some notable exceptions to this rule. In his study, Christiaan Monden (2007) examines the health habits of married couples (p. 392). The researcher used such a method as unstructured interview in order to examine the impact of health preferences on people’s mating choices (Monden, 2007, p. 392).

His findings suggest that women may prefer males who have the same health problems as they do (Monden, 2007, p. 407). For instance, the scholar points out that many cohabiting partners can have similar diseases like diabetes or asthma (Monden, 2007, p. 403). These findings do not support the premises of evolutionary psychology. They suggest that mating preferences can be very complex.

Certainly, there are opposite examples. In particular, the study done by David Schmitt (2005) suggests that women are usually very concerned about the lifestyles of their male partners (p. 286). Furthermore, according to Devendra Singh (2004) for many women, physical attractiveness can be an indicator of health (p. 43). Therefore, some premises of evolutionary psychology cannot be disregarded. Yet, one should not suppose that this theory tells us everything the behavior of women.

Theme C. Education

Overview of the theme

The education level of a mating partner is also believed an important factor for women. The general premise is women usually seek a male who have high levels of educational attainment. However, one should understand how females regard education. This discussion of these issues is important for understanding the mating preferences. Additionally, one should take into consideration that education greatly affects a person’s perception of gender roles. In this section, I would like to determine whether males’ perception of gender roles affects women’s mating preferences.

Equality of education level

The supporters of evolutionary psychology argue that irrespective of cultural background, women choose males who are intelligent and educated. For instance, David Schmitt’s study (2005) indicates that such a pattern exists in countries that may have different cultures, political systems, or religions (p. 256).

Nevertheless, this rule should be specified. Such a researcher as Christiaan Monden (2007) says that females also want their partners to have similar education (p. 392). In other words, they value equality of conditions. To a great extent, this phenomenon can be explained by the fact that women value the similarity in attitudes and beliefs (Lehr & Geher, 2006, p. 438). This is why they value the equality of education.

Perception of gender roles

Finally, researchers note that women also pay attention to perception of gender roles. For instance, Abedinia et al (2012) point out that women usually prefer mating partners who share their views on gender roles (p. 67). Moreover, such a conflict can be observed in many countries. In his research article, Oluyemi Stephens (2012) argues that many Nigerian families can be broken because partners have a different understanding of gender roles (p. 116).

Nevertheless, one should take into account that not every scholar supports this point of view. In particular, David Schmitt’s study (2005) believes that the perception of gender roles does not produce a significant effect on the mating preferences of women. Thus, some of the choices that women make can be affected by social environment, rather than evolutionary forces.


Overall, this literature review indicates that the mating preferences of women cannot be described only by the terms of evolutionary theory. In particular, one can speak about the following behaviors and values: 1) the ability of a partner to meet women’s psychological needs; 2) their willingness to live with men who have similar educational level or even similar health problems; and 3) the importance of common attitudes and beliefs for them.

The studies that have been reviewed have certain strengths. Each of them is based on empirical evidence that has been accurately codified and analyzed. Secondly, these sources show the complexity of women’s behavior. Nevertheless, one should remember about the limitations of these studies. Most of them do not take into account cultural aspects of marriage. Furthermore, they do not fully explain how the change of social norms affect women’s mating preferences. There are several questions that psychologists may consider:

  1. How are mating preferences of women affected by their age?
  2. What are the cultural aspects of mating and marriage?
  3. How do the attitudes of women change their mating preferences?
  4. What are the advantages and disadvantages of evolutionary theory as an explanation for the mating preferences of women?

Reference List

Abedinia, N., Bolhari, J., Ramezanzadeh, F., & Naghizadeh, M. (2012). Comparison of Predisposing and Effective Factors on Divorce Application between Men and Women. Journal Of Family & Reproductive Health, 6(2), 65-72.

Hendrix, L., & Pearson Jr., W. (1995). Spousal Interdependence, Female Power and Divorce: A Cross-Cultural Examination. Journal Of Comparative Family Studies, 26(2), 217-232.

Lehr, A. & Geher, G. (2006). Differential Effects of Reciprocity and Attitude Similarity Across Long- Versus Short-Term Mating Contexts. Journal Of Social Psychology, 146(4), 423-439.

Monden, C. (2007). Partners in health? Exploring resemblance in health between partners in married and cohabiting couples. Sociology Of Health & Illness, 29(3), 391-411.

Schmitt, D. (2005). Sociosexuality from Argentina to Zimbabwe: A 48-nation study of sex, culture, and strategies of human mating. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 29 (120), 247-311.

Singh, D. (2004). Mating Strategies of Young Women: Role of Physical Attractiveness. Journal Of Sex Research, 41(1), 43-54.

Stephens, O. (2012). Student Counsellors’ Perceived Causes of Divorce among Couples in Lagos Metropolis. IFE Psychologia, 20(2), 113-118.

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