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According to a review of research on mate preferences published in the European Review of Social Psychology, when it comes to picking a long-term partner, men are increasingly showing a preference for brains over beauty.
For the research, scientists studied several cultures and found that the more gender-equal a country, the less likely men are to pick a long-term mate who is beautiful rather than smart. They also analyzed individual couples and found that the more progressive a man’s views on gender equality, the less likely he was to pick a wife based on looks alone.
What’s behind the shift? Researchers say it’s probably due to the fact that, while men are programmed to be attracted to women with physical attributes that suggest they’re fertile, that attraction can also be influenced by societal norms.
Since stay-at-home moms are now more the exception than the norm (70 percent of U.S. moms with children under 18 work outside the house, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), scientists say men are more likely to be attracted to a smart woman who can also contribute financially.
In a nutshell, we all want a partner who will make our future easier, not harder.
“For marriage, most men realize that a two-income situation is very likely in a marriage. So why not prefer a wife who could bring in a good income?” study co-author Alice Eagly, PhD, a professor of psychology and faculty fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, tells Yahoo Health.
Interestingly, Eagly’s data also found that women are putting more stock in a man’s appearance than they did in the past, although intelligence is still an important factor.
Clinical psychologist John Mayer, PhD, author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life, tells Yahoo Health that he’s not shocked by that finding. Why? Now that more women have high earning potential due to increasing education rates and more women in the workforce(research has found that in 38 percent of heterosexual marriages where the wife is employed, she makes more than her husband), they’re less likely to subconsciously weigh a future mate’s earning potential as high as they might have in the past. “Women have gained so much in the areas of self-esteem and confidence, and these attributes and accomplishments also come into play strongly here,” Mayer says.
Of course, heterosexual men are still attracted to beautiful women — and likely always will be. But Eagly says her findings are only for long-term partners, not brief hookups. “For short-term relationships and one-night stands, no doubt looks still win out,” she says. “It’s for the long term that people think more carefully about the implications of a potential mate’s attributes.”
Of course, if a woman is smart and beautiful, she’s considered the total package. And it also doesn’t hurt if she’s a good person. Says Eagly: “Everyone prefers a long-term partner who is nice, considerate, and trustworthy.”