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What Women Want in a Man (According to Science)

Posted on March 2, 2021

What Women Want in a Man (According to Science)

You can read all the websites, advice columns, and forum posts in the world. You can even sneak a peek at those issues of Cosmo, Elle, and Vogue lying around your girlfriend’s apartment. In the end, you’ll likely be no closer to figuring out just what traits and features women want in a man.

Fortunately, men have been asking questions about female dating preferences for so long that the research community has started providing more and more answers. Indeed, studies on everything from compatibility and mate selection to attraction psychology are giving us new insight into what women truly want in the men they pursue. In this article, we’ll discuss what’s been learned so far.

Asking the Right Question

Before we dive into this topic, it’s worth noting that a big reason why the ‘what women want’ answer seems so elusive is that it’s not a very good question. In fact, by lumping all women together and assuming they all have the same drives, needs, and motivations, the question is actually a bit insulting. Obviously, some women like slim men more than muscular men. Simultaneously, there are women who could care less about social status or wealth, while others might never consider dating someone underemployed. In short: there will always be differences.

Ultimately, a more appropriate question might be, ‘how do I find out what a woman wants?’ In posing the query this way, you acknowledge the individuality of the women you’ll encounter and avoid ‘stereotyping.’ You also encourage yourself to take a more personalized approach when evaluating women who may (or may not) be into you. Rather than apply generalities to her, you can investigate which drives, needs, and motivations lie at the core of what she values in a mate.

Hot or Not? Physical Features and Female Attraction

Though women might be known for spending more time in front of the mirror, it’s actually men who are more judgemental when it comes to looks. According to a 2007 study performed in Germany, men placed far greater importance on the attractiveness of their mates than females. And while women were still drawn to attractive men, they were more likely to consider dating less attractive individuals if they possessed other qualities they prized. [1]Greitemeyer, T. (2007). What do men and women want in a partner? Are educated partners always more desirable? Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 43(2), 180–194. … Continue reading

Another study, this time in 2013, demonstrated that mate selection among women is highly contextual. In the experiment, men and women were told to evaluate one another’s attractiveness during a speed dating event. The results showed that women with higher BMIs (body mass index) or lower facial attractiveness were less selective than their thinner, more attractive counterparts. Furthermore, these women became even less selective when there were more attractive females in the room.[2]Overbeek, G., Nelemans, S.A., Karremans, J., & Engels, R. C. M. (2013). The Malleability of Mate Selection in Speed-Dating Events. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 1163–1171. … Continue reading  It this case, it was her attractiveness (not his) that influenced her selection.

It also seems that some attraction-related stereotypes might be rooted in truth. For instance, research shows that women overwhelmingly prefer men who are taller than them. In fact, according to a 2012 study from the Netherlands, women are more satisfied with a man who is roughly 21 cm taller than her. Conversely, men are far most comfortable when they are at least 8 cm taller than their partner. [3]Stulp, G., Buunk, A., & Pollet, T. (2013). Women want taller men more than men want shorter women. Personality and Individual Differences, 54(8), 877–883. … Continue reading.

So, what does all this data tell us? For one thing, it tells us that men are concerned about being considered physically attractive because they are more likely to judge women on this same standard. And while looks are indeed important to women, they typically base their mate selection on more contextual factors. Surprising examples include the availability of competition and their estimates of their own attractiveness.

Money, Status, and Myths

Women are frequently stereotyped as only going for ‘rich guys’ or guys who have a lot of social cache. Though not explicitly true, there is actually quite a bit of scientific evidence to support this assertion. For instance, the 2007 study noted above also found that women are far more likely to judge a man based on his perceived status and income. [4]Greitemeyer, T. (2007). What do men and women want in a partner? Are educated partners always more desirable? Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 43(2), 180–194. … Continue reading

This is supported by another speed dating study from 2013, which found that women were more inclined to focus on social status than looks during mate selection. Women were most likely to rely on these criteria when asked to consider mates for long-term relationships. And while status stayed important in short term romances, women became much more focused on looks when marriage was off the table. [5]Li, N. P., Yong, J. C., Tov, W., Sng, O., Fletcher, G. J. O., Valentine, K. A., Jiang, Y. F., & Balliet, D. (2013). Mate preferences do predict attraction and choices in the early stages of mate … Continue reading

For most people, these results won’t be entirely surprising. After all, a male’s access to resources has always been directly tied to his ability to provide for a woman and her offspring. This thinking is likely so old that it’s become ingrained in our very DNA. Either way, it concludes that women pay close attention to financial and social status when evaluating a potential mate. However, the ‘minimum’ amount of status and resources required will likely vary drastically from woman to woman.

Alphas and Betas. Which Personality Wins?

Humans don’t actually have ‘alphas’ and ‘betas’ in our various social groupings. However, since these terms are frequently to describe two major male personality types, they are ideal for categorizing specific types of men. To see whether alpha or beta traits are more prized by women, we can refer to a New Zealand study of 100 men and 100 women attending the University of Canterbury.

When asked to select between a long-term partner who was either warm and homely or cold and attractive, women overwhelmingly preferred ‘beta’ characteristics like warmth and trustworthiness. However, as with other studies, the reverse became true when the women were asked about short-term mates, with attractiveness taking precedence over a man’s lack of personality. [6]Fletcher, G. J. O., Tither, J. M., O’Loughlin, C., Friesen, M., & Overall, N. (2004). Warm and Homely or Cold and Beautiful? Sex Differences in Trading Off Traits in Mate … Continue reading Again, it seems that female mate selection is highly contextual. I fact, what they look for in a fling will often be the complete opposite of what they seek in a life-long romance.

Perhaps the most well-known research into female personality preferences comes from a 2007 study by Richard A. Lippa. It involves a survey put out on BBC internet, ultimately reaching some 119,733 men and 98,462 women. The task was simple: pick the top three traits you look for in a mate. This was out of a list of 23 traits running the gamut from intelligence and industriousness to parenting abilities and attractiveness. [7]Lippa, R. A. (2007). The preferred traits of mates in a cross-national study of heterosexual and homosexual men and women: An examination of biological and cultural influences. Archives of Sexual … Continue reading

The top picks for women? Humour, intelligence, honesty, kindness, and values. Though not ‘exclusively’ beta, these are indeed traits largely associated with less assertive men. However, it’s worth noting that ‘good looks,’ ‘facial attractiveness,’ and ‘fitness’ were all rather high up on the women’s’ list as well. Curiously, ‘money,’ social status,’ and ‘prosperity’ were all at the bottom of the list, which seems to run counter to what other studies have concluded. [8]Lippa, R. A. (2007). The preferred traits of mates in a cross-national study of heterosexual and homosexual men and women: An examination of biological and cultural influences. Archives of Sexual … Continue reading Were women fibbing due to the anonymity of the test? It’s likely we’ll never know.

Conclusion

There’s never been more research into ‘what women want’ than there has been over the past 20 years. Using some of the data presented in this article, we can come to some conclusions, but not many. For instance, we can state with confidence that women will select mates based on their evaluation of themselves and their potential competition as well as the mate himself.

We can also state that women nearly always consider social status when evaluating mates, including the man’s ability to provide for her. And while attractiveness does play a role, it is far more important to her satisfaction during a short-term fling than in a long-term committed relationship.

Lastly, we can assume that men who are kind, honest, and can make a woman laugh are likely to have the most success. In the end, such traditional qualities might have been the key to what women want after all. Of course, it never hurts to be tall.

Before you leave, check out my relationship coaching page here. My name is Giulia Fiore, and I am a certified counsellor and life coach working face-to-face in Sydney and Online. I help men to get clarity on their desires in relationships. Dating requires an investment of both time and energy, two incredibly valuable resources. I can support you through the process of dating and help you get the results you want faster. Click here to learn more.

References

References

References
1, 4 Greitemeyer, T. (2007). What do men and women want in a partner? Are educated partners always more desirable? Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 43(2), 180–194. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2006.02.006
2 Overbeek, G., Nelemans, S.A., Karremans, J., & Engels, R. C. M. (2013). The Malleability of Mate Selection in Speed-Dating Events. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42, 1163–1171. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-012-0067-8
3 Stulp, G., Buunk, A., & Pollet, T. (2013). Women want taller men more than men want shorter women. Personality and Individual Differences, 54(8), 877–883. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2012.12.019
5 Li, N. P., Yong, J. C., Tov, W., Sng, O., Fletcher, G. J. O., Valentine, K. A., Jiang, Y. F., & Balliet, D. (2013). Mate preferences do predict attraction and choices in the early stages of mate selection. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 105(5), 757–776. https://doi.apa.org/doi/10.1037/a0033777
6 Fletcher, G. J. O., Tither, J. M., O’Loughlin, C., Friesen, M., & Overall, N. (2004). Warm and Homely or Cold and Beautiful? Sex Differences in Trading Off Traits in Mate Selection. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30(6), 659–672. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167203262847
7, 8 Lippa, R. A. (2007). The preferred traits of mates in a cross-national study of heterosexual and homosexual men and women: An examination of biological and cultural influences. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 36(2), 193-208. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-006-9151-2

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