Female mate preference varies with age and environmental conditions

in Behaviour
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Sexual selection and mate choice are dynamic processes that can be influenced by a variety of environmental and social factors, which have been well studied in a range of taxa. However, in humans, the environmental factors that influence regional variation in preference for mate attributes remain poorly understood. In addition, underlying variation based on individual age may strongly influence mate preferences. In this study, we examined written descriptions of preferred mates from the online dating profiles of 1111 women from 26 cities across Canada. We grouped the words describing preferred mates into four categories: resource holding potential, physical attractiveness, activities and interests, and emotional appeal. We then asked whether variation in environmental (sex ratio, population size and population density), economic (population income) and individual factors (age) predicted variation in the relative importance of these four categories of female mate preference. Sex ratio was the best predictor of preference for the physical attractiveness and the activities and interests of potential mates, with women in male-biased cities placing more emphasis on physical attractiveness and less emphasis on activities and interests. Age was the best predictor of preference for resource holding potential, with younger individuals placing more emphasis on this trait. No factors were strong predictors of variation in preference for emotional appeal, perhaps because this trait was highly valued in all populations. This work supports a growing body of literature demonstrating that mate choice and mate preferences are often dynamic and can be influenced by individual and environmental variation.



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  • Map of Canada showing the locations of the 26 cities included in the study. Point sizes are scaled to the population size of each city.

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  • Mean proportion of descriptive words ± SE used to describe traits of preferred partners from 1111 online advertisements in 26 Canadian cities.

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  • Significant interaction effects from top models explaining variation in preference for physical attractiveness and activities/interests (see Table 2). With increasing population density, (a) older women showed greater preference for physical attractiveness relative to younger women and (b) women from male-biased populations showed greater preference for physical attractiveness relative to women from female-biased populations. With increasing population size, (c) younger women showed lower preference for personal activities/interests relative to older women. For visualization purposes, population density, size, and sex ratio were ranked as high or male-biased if above the median and low or female-biased if below the median, and age was divided by women over and under 40 years.

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