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Title: Sex differences in human mate preferences vary across sex ratios
A wide range of literature connects sex ratio and mating behaviours in non-human animals. However, research examining sex ratio and human mating is limited in scope. Prior work has examined the relationship between sex ratio and desire for short-term, uncommitted mating as well as outcomes such as marriage and divorce rates. Less empirical attention has been directed towards the relationship between sex ratio and mate preferences, despite the importance of mate preferences in the human mating literature. To address this gap, we examined sex ratio's relationship to the variation in preferences for attractiveness, resources, kindness, intelligence and health in a long-term mate across 45 countries ( n = 14 487). We predicted that mate preferences would vary according to relative power of choice on the mating market, with increased power derived from having relatively few competitors and numerous potential mates. We found that each sex tended to report more demanding preferences for attractiveness and resources where the opposite sex was abundant, compared to where the opposite sex was scarce. This pattern dovetails with those found for mating strategies in humans and mate preferences across species, highlighting the importance of sex ratio for understanding variation in human mate preferences.
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Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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  1. Considerable research has examined human mate preferences across cultures, finding universal sex differences in preferences for attractiveness and resources as well as sources of systematic cultural variation. Two competing perspectives—an evolutionary psychological perspective and a biosocial role perspective—offer alternative explanations for these findings. However, the original data on which each perspective relies are decades old, and the literature is fraught with conflicting methods, analyses, results, and conclusions. Using a new 45-country sample ( N = 14,399), we attempted to replicate classic studies and test both the evolutionary and biosocial role perspectives. Support for universal sex differences in preferences remains robust: Men, more than women, prefer attractive, young mates, and women, more than men, prefer older mates with financial prospects. Cross-culturally, both sexes have mates closer to their own ages as gender equality increases. Beyond age of partner, neither pathogen prevalence nor gender equality robustly predicted sex differences or preferences across countries.
  2. BACKGROUND Charles Darwin’s  Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex  tackled the two main controversies arising from the Origin of Species:  the evolution of humans from animal ancestors and the evolution of sexual ornaments. Most of the book focuses on the latter, Darwin’s theory of sexual selection. Research since supports his conjecture that songs, perfumes, and intricate dances evolve because they help secure mating partners. Evidence is overwhelming for a primary role of both male and female mate choice in sexual selection—not only through premating courtship but also through intimate interactions during and long after mating. But what makes one prospective mate more enticing than another? Darwin, shaped by misogyny and sexual prudery, invoked a “taste for the beautiful” without speculating on the origin of the “taste.” How to explain when the “final marriage ceremony” is between two rams? 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  3. Abstract

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