9 February 2009

Goodbye Mr Nice Guy

by Kate Melville

Just in time for Valentine's Day, researchers have turned up some new answers to the age-old question of what we want in our partners. It turns out that "chastity" is unimportant and men are more interested in an educated woman who is a good financial prospect; and women are more interested in a man who wants a family and less picky about whether he's a "nice guy."

Sociologists Christine Whelan and Christie Boxer, from the University of Iowa (UI), arrived at their findings by analyzing a 2008 survey of more than 1,100 undergraduates from four different universities and comparing the results to past mate-preference research.

Since the 1930s, researchers have been asking college students to rank a list of 18 characteristics they'd prefer in a mate from "irrelevant" (0) to "essential" (3), allowing for a comparison of mate preferences dating back three generations. Interestingly, young adults today rank love and attraction as most important; a few generations ago it didn't even make the top three. "Marriage used to be a practical arrangement. Getting married for love or attraction was considered foolish and perhaps even dangerous," noted Whelan.

Back in the 1930s, male respondents were seeking a dependable, kind lady who had skills in the kitchen. And chastity was more important than intelligence. Now, guys look for love, brains and beauty - and a sizable salary certainly sweetens the deal. Men ranked "good financial prospect" No. 12 in 2008, a significant climb from No. 17 in 1939 and No. 18 in 1967. "These results are consistent with the rise in educational and career opportunities for women, and men's increasing desire to share the financial burdens with a future spouse," Whelan noted.

Chastity - which men ranked at No. 10 in 1939 - fell to dead last in 2008. "When we administered the survey, several female students snickered at the idea that we even included the chastity item," Whelan said. "This is consistent with the widespread hook-up culture on college campuses."

For women in the 1930s, emotional stability, dependable character and ambition ranked as the top three characteristics they wanted in a man. Attraction and love didn't come in until No. 5. Today, women, like men, put love at the top of the list, with dependability and emotional stability rounding out the top three characteristics in Mr. Right. Women rate desire for home and children much higher in importance than men do. In 2008, women rated desire for home and children fourth men ranked it ninth.

Interestingly, women ranked "pleasing disposition" as significantly less important in 2008 than they have ever before. Pleasing disposition - presumably interpreted to mean being a nice guy - fell from a steady ranking of No. 4 throughout the second half of the 20th Century to a significantly lower rank of No. 7 in 2008.

"Perhaps this means women will be more forgiving if the guy forgets chocolates and flowers on Saturday, as long as he meets the other requirements," suggested Whelan. "But this might also point to a change in vocabulary. 'Pleasing disposition' is a very old-fashioned phrase that might not be the most accurate measure of the modern preferences."

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Source: University of Iowa Health Sciences