Why are some people strongly pursued by members of the opposite sex while others ignored? Are there differences in the qualities that make men appealing to women from the qualities that make women appealing to men? These questions about gender differences in mate selection have been considered by sociologists who have developed two main theories to explain gender differences in mate selection. According to Sprecher, Sullivan & Hatfield (1994), men focus more on the physical attractiveness while women put more weight on the non-physical factors, such as socioeconomic status.
Evolutionary theories have asserted that mate selection preferences for both men and women are affected by biology of reproduction. The implication of this is that sex differences in mate preferences are a reflection of biological gender differences in production. For instance, women have limited number of offspring while men can have children with large number of women. This is because men do not invest as much time as women in fetal development and the overall growth of the child. This is a concept that is central to the parental investment model and the proposal in this theory is that the ideal mate of a man is a fertile woman. Since women have short reproductive life span than men, men are more attracted to women primarily due to visual cues which include physical attractiveness, youthfulness and body shape.
On the other hand since a woman’s investment is high, her ideal mate will be a partner who will contribute to child rearing and the mate who will be able to acquire the resources that are needed to ensure the overall growth and development of the child. The woman’s investments may be wasted if the man is not likely to stick around after sexual activity and this explains why women are more attracted to men who are older than them. There are other factors that are considered by women including career and educational level of men. The parental investment model does not rule out the fact that women are also interested in the physical attractiveness of their partners. The theory recognizes that high socioeconomic status can compensate for low physical attractiveness.
The other theory that can be used to explain gender differences in mate selection is sociocultural theory. This is based on the socialization of the society. The preferences of men and women are influenced by the poorer economic opportunities available to women and which have made women prefer men who can provide material wealth to the families. Such men who are able to provide for their families are considered to be powerful since they are free to do as they please. In addition, men may prefer young and attractive women while women may prefer old and wealthy men because of the messages that have been transmitted to the society which have led to a socialization process (Sprecher, Sullivan & Hatfield, 1994).
An observation was made of 15 heterosexual couples. The question that was considered in the study is which theory best explains mate selection among young people? The couples who were observed were young couples, no older than 40 years old. It was not directly established if the couples were married or they were just dating. From the observed behavior it was seen that physical attraction was displayed by touch, holding hands, kissing, looking at each other while talking in 12 of the 15 couples. The remaining 3 couples did not consistently display these signs. The conclusion from this observation is that mate selection in the couples was based on sociocultural theories and not on paternal investment.
The differences in mate preferences between males and females are associated with the different social roles that are assumed by the different sexes. The criteria chosen by the mates in this observation are a reflection of the divergent responsibilities and obligations that are inherent in current and anticipated social roles (Eagly, Wood & Johannesen-Schmidt, 2004). There are different factors that the mates could be looking at in order for them to exhibit the behaviors. Some of the factors include the search for identity and the need to fit within the cultural norms of the society. This is because there is a way in which men and women are taught to relate right from the time they are children. For instance, within the society, men and women have been taught through observation and mass media that attraction and affection are displayed through different mechanisms including touch, holding hands, kissing, looking at each other while talking. It was expected that women would be more touchy and that there would be no difference in the desire for kiss or to be kissed. However, from the observation, it is seen that the situations are unique reflecting the fact that relationships are unique just like the parties within the relationship. While the couples practiced these strategies of attraction and affection, they were unique in their frequency and duration.
In conclusion there are gender differences in mate selection which can be explained using either evolutionary theories or sociocultural theories. These theories attempt to explain why men are more interested in physical attractiveness while women are more interested in power and socioeconomic status. The conclusion in the observation that was conducted is that mate selection in the couples was based on sociocultural theories and not on paternal investment. This is because the mates have been taught through observation and mass media that attraction and affection are displayed through different mechanisms including touch, holding hands, kissing, looking at each other while talking.