David C. Geary; Male, Female - The Evolution of Human Sex Differences; 2010:
Because preferences cannot always put into practice, a woman's preferred marriage partner and her actual marriage partner are not typically the same. Social psychological studies of explicit and implicit preferences - for instance, preference for an attractive face without conscious awareness of why it is attractive - are thus an important adjunct to research on actual marriage choices. These preferences are less constrained by the competing interests of other people and capture the processes associated with the social and psychological mechanisms that can influence reproductive decisions and behaviors (Kenrick, Sadalla, Groth, & Trost, 1990). Preferences can nevertheless be influenced by social and sexual dynamics in the local community (Kenrick, N. P. Li, & Butner, 2003), by wider economic and social conditions, and by the individual woman's attractiveness as a mate; attractive women demand more from their mates (Pawlowski & Jasienska, 2008). To complicate matters further, not all preferences are equal; some are necessities and others are luxuries (N. P. Li, Bailey, Kenrick, & Linsenmeier, 2002). To examine this further, I begin with a discussion of the sex difference in preference for a culturally successful mate and then turn to mate-choice trade-offs and wider influences.
Culturally Successful Men. Women throughout the world indicate that men's cultural success or attributes that are likely to lead to success (e.g. ambition) are necessities when it comes to their preferred marriage partners (D. M. Buss, 1989; N. P. Li et al., 2002). One of the largest studies ever conducted on women's and men's preferences included more than 10,000 people in 37 cultures across six continents and five islands (D. M. Buss, 1989). Women rated "good financial prospect" higher than did men in all cultures. ... The magnitude of the sex difference was smallest in Eastern Europe, but even here two out of three women rated good financial prospect as more important in a prospective marriage partner than did the average man. For the remaining regions of the world, from three out of four to five out of six women rated good financial prospect more highly than did the average man. In 29 samples, the "ambition and industriousness" of a prospective mate were more important for women than for men , presumably because these traits are indicators of his ability to eventually achieve cultural success. In only one sample were men's ratings significantly higher than those of women, the Zulu of South Africa; this may reflect the high level of physical labor (e.g., house building) expected of Zulu women.
Hatfield and Sprecher (1995) found the same pattern for college students in the United States, Japan, and Russia. In each of this nations, women valued a prospective mate's potential for success, earnings, status, and social position more highly than did men. A meta-analysis of research published from 1965 to 1986 revealed the same sex difference (Feingold, 1992). Across studies, three out of four women rated socioeconomic status as more important in a prospective marriage partner than did the average man. Studies conducted prior to 1965 showed the same pattern (e.g., Hill, 1945), as did a survey of a nationally representative sample of unmarried adults in the United States (Sprecher, Sullivan, & Hatfield, 1994). Across age, ethnic status, and socioeconomic status, women preferred husbands who were better educated than they were and who earned more money than they did. Buunk, Dijkstra, Fetchenhauer, and Kenrick (2002) found the same pattern for women ranging in age from 20s to 60s.
Women's preference for culturally successful men is also found in studies of singles ads and popular fiction novels. In a study of 1,000 "lonely hearts" ads, Greenlees and McGrew (1994) found that British women were 3 times more likely than British men to seek financial security in a prospective marriage partner. Oda (2001) found that Japanese women were 31 times more likely than Japanese men to seek financial security and social status in a long-term partner. Muslim women sought educated and financially secure partners who were tall, emotionally sincere, and socially skilled (Badahdah & Tiemann, 2005). Young women (younger than 40 years) in Spain wanted both financial success and physical attractiveness in a prospective mate (Gil-Burmann, Pelaez, & Sanchez, 2002); older women retained their desire for financial success but valued physical attractiveness less highly than did younger women. Whissell (1996) found the same themes across 25 contemporary romance novels and 6 classic novels that have traditionally appealed to women more than men, including two stories of the Old Testament written about 3,000 years ago. In these stories, the male protagonist is almost always an older, socially dominant, and wealthy man who ultimately marries the woman.
As in traditional societies, marriage to a culturally successful man can have reproductive consequences for a woman in modern societies. Bereczkei and Csanaky (1996) studied more than 1,800 Hungarian men and women who were 35 years of age or older and thus not likely to have more children. They found that women who had married men who were older and better educated than themselves had, on average, more children, were less likely to get divorced, and reported higher levels of marital satisfaction than did women who married younger and / or less educated men.
Trade-Offs. Women's preference for culturally successful partner is highlighted when they must make cost-benefit trade-offs between a partner's cultural success versus other important traits, such as physical attractiveness (N. P. Li, 2007; N. P. Li et al., 2002). When their "mate dollars", so to speak, are limited, women spend more of them on the social status and resources of a long-term partner than on other traits. When they have additional mate dollars, they spend proportionally less on status and resources and more on the peronality traits of this mate (e.g., his friendliness). ... Unmarried women on a tight budget allocate more mate dollars to the resources or social standing of a prospective mate than do men, but the magnitude of the sex difference declines as budgets becomes flush. In yet another study, college women reported the minimally acceptable earning potential of a prospective husband was the 70th percentile; on the basis of earning potential alone, 70% of men were eliminated from the pool of potential marriage partners. The corresponding figure for college men was the 40th percentile (Kenrick et al., 1990).
Once a prospective mate has achieved the minimal social standing, additional resources and status yield dimishing results. Kenrick, Sundie, Nicastle, and Stone (2001) found that desirability of man as marriage partner increased sharply as his income rose from low- to an upper-middle-class level (about 100,000$) and then leveled off. An increase in a man's income from $ 25,000 to $ 75,000 per year resulted in a substantial increase in his desirability, but increasing his income from $ 100,000 per year to $ 300,000 per year had little effect.