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1 October 2014
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Sex ID

What traits do men and women seek in a mate?

An image from the Sex ID survey
Sex ID participants were asked what characteristics they seek in a mate.

Gender researcher Richard A Lippa summarises his analysis of data from the BBC web experiment Sex ID, for which he was a scientific consultant. Lippa's findings were published in the April 2007 issue of the Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Do men and women seek out different traits in a mate? The answer is yes, at least to some degree.

As part of the Sex ID survey we asked people about their mate preferences.

Some of our major findings:

  • When asked to rank the importance of 23 traits, men and women agreed on the top nine traits to seek in a mate: intelligence, humour, honesty, kindness, good looks, facial attractiveness, values, communication skills, and dependability. However, men ranked good looks and facial attractiveness higher than women did, whereas women ranked honesty, humour, kindness, and dependability higher than men did.
  • Differences between men and women were stronger than differences between heterosexual and homosexual individuals. Heterosexuals assigned more importance to a mate's religion, fondness for children, and parenting abilities than gay men and lesbian women did. However, in many ways heterosexual men and gay men were similar in their preferences—both ranked a mate's looks to be quite important. Similarly, in many ways heterosexual women and lesbian women were similar in their preferences—both ranked character traits to be more important than men did.
  • Differences in the importance men and women assigned to a mate's looks were extremely consistent across 53 nations, suggesting an evolved, biological component to this difference. In contrast, differences in men's and women's rankings of a mate's honesty, humour, and kindness varied across nations, suggesting that these differences depended more on cultural factors.
  • Residents of economically developed nations assigned more importance to a mate's niceness than residents of economically undeveloped nations did. Thus, seeking a 'nice' mate with pleasant personal qualities may be a luxury available to people in affluent countries more than to people in poorer nations.
  • In richer nations, men tended to value a mate's intelligence more than women did, but the reverse was true in poorer nations. I speculate that in societies where women 'bring home the bacon' as well as men, men come to value an intelligent mate, but in societies where women tend to stay sequestered at home, men don't place as high a premium on a mate's intelligence.

Lippa is a professor of psychology at California State University, Fullerton. Further information about his research and his analysis of the BBC data can be found at:

Read more aricles about the Sex ID results

Take the Sex ID test

Read about the Sex ID experiment

Sex ID frequently asked questions

Other Sex ID articles:

Brain sex
Spatial tests
Facial attractiveness
Empathising and systemising

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