Environmental predictors of geographic variation in human mating preferences

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Sexual selection theory classically posits consistent and directional mate-preferences for male traits that provide benefits to females. However, flexible mate-choice tactics may persist within a species when males display multiple desirable features that confer different benefits to females under variable environmental conditions. Ecological factors such as population density, resource demand, and sex ratio can influence the value that female animals place on certain male characteristics across mating environments. In this study, I used human mate-preference data from 'lonely hearts' advertisements in the newspapers of 23 cities in the USA to assess geographic differences in female preferences for male traits (e.g. physical attributes, resource-holding potential, emotional characteristics, personal interests) in relation to these ecological parameters. I found that females placed more emphasis on the resource-accruing ability of prospective mates in densely populated cities and cities having greater resource demands (higher cost of living). In contrast, women from densely populated or resource-demanding cities placed less emphasis on the emotional aspects or personal interests of males. Preferences for physical features were not environmentally linked, but instead were a function of the degree to which females advertised their own physical attractiveness. Collectively, these results suggest that certain mate-choice criteria employed by women are sensitive to variation in local environmental conditions and that variable levels of resource or mate availability may favor different mating tactics across human populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)303-317
Number of pages15
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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