Women want, more than men want, a partner who can provide resources for them and their children.
When it comes down to it, we are pretty traditional in our preferences, even among modern egalitarian couples!
A study in the US, repeated six times between 1939 and 1996, found women want most a “dependable character”, “emotional stability, maturity”, “pleasing disposition” and “mutual attraction/love”. The study asked men too about what they look for, and their top preferences were very similar.
But there were significant differences between women and men in this study. Women, more than men, wanted a partner who can provide resources for them and their children. The same researchers did a study of over 10,000 people in 37 countries and that found the same in 36 of the 37 countries.
In all 37 countries, women prefer men who are slightly older than they are, we believe because such men have had longer to acquire more money, social skills and connections that are associated with being a good provider. These preferences were even found among non-married couples in USA who have more liberal and egalitarian views about gender roles.
Several studies in different countries have shown that marriage is more likely if men earn more. There is not a similar link between women’s earnings and marriage.
Men, in contrast, place greater emphasis than women on attractiveness and on traits that signal youth and health – characteristics that are proxies for reproductive capacity. This was found in 34 of the 37 countries covered in the international study.
A study of one subsistence-level community, the Amazonian Shuar, who live from horticulture and foraging, found a similar picture. Women valued provider qualities in a partner, while both men and women valued personality and physical attractiveness.