Mate Selection: Show Me Your Peacock Feathers

Written by on June 4, 2012 in Relationships - No comments | Print this page


My previous blogs give lists of what a man wants and also of what a woman wants.  Is it really individual preferences or does evolution play a role in how we select a partner?

In 1989, a team of researchers surveyed over 10,000 men and women in thirty-seven cultures and countries.  In the majority of countries, “good looks” and “no previous experience with sexual intercourse” were valued more by men, whereas “good financial prospect” and “ambitious and industrious” were more important for women (Brehm, 2002).  Robert Hinde said, “Men seek to propagate widely whereas women seek to propagate wisely.”  A woman has to be selective because she is biologically limited in the number of children she can bear and raise in a lifetime.  The most prolific mother was a Russian peasant in the 18th century with 69 children.  That is a high number, but it still can’t compete with a male’s ability to spread his seed.  Fast forward to present-day and you hear about the sperm donor who fathered 150 kids.  Imagine all those kids knocking on your door and wanting you to be a part of their lives as their biological daddy.

Essentially, because women are born with all her eggs that will last a lifetime while men continuously produce new sperm, women have the limiting factor in the mating process and therefore are the ones who picks the mate….at least from an evolutionary perspective.  That can be seen even in lower-functioning animals.  The male peacock has a majestic, colorful array of feathers to the dull-colored female peacock.  Those feathers are on full display when it is trying to lure the female to procreate with him.  The male Manakin does a whole dancing ritual just to impress the female.  Google manakin mating dance.  It would give MJ a run for his money.

In the Evolutionary of Desire, David Buss describes how our motives for a mate spring from the evolutionary past.  Men seek women who are young and physically attractive (signaling health and reproductive fertility) and they also favor chastity to minimize the paternal uncertainty.  He said women are attracted to men who are older and financially secure or have ambition, intelligence, and stability.  Those are indicative of future success and provide the resources to take care of their young.

Interestingly, male physical attractiveness is more important in countries where women have more economic power than in countries where women don’t have any.  This result suggests it may generally be low social and economic status of women relative to men that leads them to care less about the physical attributes of a male.  However, women with more economic power do NOT reduce their desire for men with good financial prospects (Gangestad 1993).  As mentioned in a previous blog, women know how to take care and provide for ourselves, but we still like a man who has the ABILITY to take care of us.  Show us your peacock feathers.  Is it a coincidence that seemingly successful women have a harder time finding a mate and are still single?  Why is it there even a term called the “Oscar curse” where female actresses like Sandra Bullock and Reese Witherspoon win Oscars and then soon after end up in divorce?  Share your thoughts below in the comment box.



About the Author

M. Yu

M. Yu is a single, working professional who lives in New York City. She has eclectic interests, ranging from cancer research (her day job) to traveling to writing for the Relationship Category on QLR. She has an active dating life and views every life experience as a learning lesson. View all posts about healthy relationships.