Gentlemen Prefer Brains

For generations, it has been an accepted — if annoying — part of the human experience that men tend to choose mates based more on physical attractiveness than intelligence. But, a new study finds that the gender roles have shifted and, now, women are guilty of looking at skin-deep characteristics when choosing a partner.

Over the last few decades in Western cultures, gender disparity, in terms of educational attainment, career advancement, and wealth accumulation, has narrowed. Women are more self-sufficient than ever and are no longer worried about choosing a husband with a high earning potential. (Women can earn their own money, thank you very much!) Women, it seems, have also earned the right to choose a partner based on looks. Men, on the other hand, who have traditionally looked for an attractive housewife who can cook and clean and raise children, are more interested in a woman with some intelligence and strong character.

The new study, published in Psychological Science, surveyed more than 12,000 people in 30 countries to assess the factors affecting mate selection. Even as recently as 20 years ago, women preferred mates who were wealthy and would provide well for a family. According to the authors, women now place a higher priority on a man’s looks than on his wallet. Men, though, who used to favor physical attractiveness and cooking skills, place brains before beauty on the must-have list. In all countries, the more equal the genders were in society, the more these findings held true.

Multiple factors affect mate selection, and there are many evolutionary consequences of the cues humans use to choose a partner. But, gender equality in society has led to changes in mate-selection preferences. After generations of fighting for equality, women might have evolved more in the other direction, but maybe this is just Mother Nature’s way of teaching men what it’s like to be judged on physical attractiveness alone. Men who want to find a wife should heed the advice of the study’s authors and step off the corporate ladder and into the gym.


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Image via Dima Sobko / Shutterstock.

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD, is a practicing clinical pharmacist and medical writer/editor with experience in researching and preparing scientific publications, developing public relations materials, creating educational resources and presentations, and editing technical manuscripts. She is the owner of Excalibur Scientific, LLC.
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