Are Women Picky?

In almost all speed-dating events, women sit in stationary positions and men rotate to talk with each of them. When Finkel and Eastwick set up a dating event like that, the standard result bore out — women were more selective.  But when they reversed the roles and had women rotate, that was no longer the case. Suddenly, the men became more selective and the women less so.

So it seems women are pickier because our institutions make them pickier.  If speed dating was organized to instead make men pickier, I’m guessing men would like it more, but women would soon just not show up to such events.  So yes there is a sense in which women are pickier, but it is more in wanting institutions that make them picky, rather that in being pickier given neutral institutions.

More tidbits from the same source:

In a 2005 study, they looked at whether the characteristics singles say they want in a partner match what they actually pursue. On paper, women reported a greater desire for earning potential and status; men were more interested in physical attractiveness. In person at speed-dating events, that discrepancy went away — “women want really good-looking men every bit as much as men want really good-looking women,” Finkel says. And financial prospects were no less important to men than women.

… Another of Finkel and Eastwick’s studies found that when it comes to platonic relationships, if a person tends to like everyone, that goodwill is more likely to be reciprocated. But in romantic relationships, that wasn’t the case. If a single guy digs all the women in the room, Finkel explains, “the women don’t like him back.”  The turn-on, he continues, comes when a person feels “uniquely desired.”

In the far view of what we want, men want looks while women want money, but in the near view, men and women want pretty much the same thing.  Is this far view of what we want more what we want others to think we want, or is something else going on?

Added:  As Andy suggests, these seem explainable by far view looking more to long term relations, while near view looks to short term relations.  In far view women want to be pickier, and want men with money, even if they aren’t naturally inclined in these directions in near view.

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  • http://amckenz.googlepages.com Andy McKenzie

    It seems more likely that the far view represents what women want in the longer term (i.e., for marriage), and that the near view represents what women want in the shorter term (i.e., for a fling).

    • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

      That makes sense.

    • JOHNLEEDS

      Yep, a wealthy provider and a sexy lover (to make sexy sons).

      It would be optimal to have the two qualities together, but if impossible, there’s always cuckoldry.

  • Pwno

    Approaching someone is a status lowering behavior and being approached makes you appear higher status. Since status is so ingrained into our attraction heuristic, the results from the speed dating experiment aren’t as surprising.

  • Brad

    There’s a cognitive bias where people will answer a survey one way, but make actual decisions another way. They will SAY one thing, but DO another. I wonder if that’s what’s going on?

  • http://akinokure.blogspot.com agnostic

    I’m still surprised that most adults swallow that “women want money, not looks” claim hook, line, & sinker — don’t they remember middle school, high school, and college? It’s looks, not money or financial prospect or even having a job, that matters.

    Just look at who they plaster their room walls with: good looks are a necessary and sufficient condition. All are good-looking — no plain or ugly guys who are famous, high-status, rich, etc. Yet there are good-looking guys who are low-status, unknown, and far below rich — Abercrombie models, for instance.

    Women have evidence that the claim is false through personal experience — the involuntary shaking they feel when a male model walks by, which they never feel when an ugly rich guy walks by. And men have evidence that the claim is false because they get extremely jealous when a male model flirts with their woman, rather than believing “meh, women don’t go for looks anyway.”

    “Women want money not looks” is one of those lies we have to believe in to preserve confidence in the larger institutions. If you work hard and support her and any kids she bears, you’ll do all right. Admitting the truth — that the best strategy, and thus the one women really pursue, is to get the genes of a good-looker and have a hardworker raise a cuckoo’s egg — would make both parties too paranoid to get together in the first place.

    The man would spend too much in monitoring, and the woman would have to spend too much to pass the monitor’s inspections.

    • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

      Yes it is puzzling how our far view ideals often seem so oblivious to our near view evidence.

    • Pwno

      Disagree,

      It’s the high status behaviors that women are evolutionarily designed to be attracted to. Knowing a man has money is not a high status behavior, let alone a behavior at all. It just happens that affluence and good looks highly correlates with high status behaviors.

      In the ancestral environment, good looks weren’t a guarantee of high status. But displaying high status behaviors was a very good indicator of high status. Considering the dangerous consequences of acting a higher status or the fact that humans are bad deceivers.

      • http://manwhoisthursday.blogspot.com Thursday

        It’s the high status behaviors that women are evolutionarily designed to be attracted to. Knowing a man has money is not a high status behavior, let alone a behavior at all.

        Exactly right. Hunter-gatherers can’t accumulate possessions, so being “rich” wouldn’t have offered much survival benefit. Status and confidence, on the other hand, would have.

        Looks matter more than money, but aren’t a huge factor. Only the very best looking guys (top 5%, it’s called the superstar effect) can dispense with game.

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  • Shae

    “So it seems women are pickier because our institutions make them pickier.”

    But don’t certain biological imperatives simulate those institutions? Women who, historically, were chained to the home because of babies and children, occupy that stationery position where the choosing is done.

    Other sociological studies show that among married partners, women worry more about money and men worry more about sex. Not surprising since women are in the subordinate position regarding money, and men (like many other male animals) have to fight for and be chosen by potential sex partners. So I don’t buy that the distinction is artificial and set by the style of the speed dating experiment.

    As some have pointed out, speed dating probably doesn’t reflect long-term goals. Dating services have a harder time attracting women than men, so those women may be atypical to start with, and may additionally have different (or lowered) expectations from a dating service than from more organic pairing-up situations.

  • http://www.nancybuttons.com Nancy Lebovitz

    Could women be saying that they want men to primarily be rich because of a cultural lag from when women were much more financially dependent on men?

  • http://manwhoisthursday.blogspot.com Thursday
  • spriteless

    As long as people are throwing out just-so theories on why, I feel I might as well offer a link that goes over several of them, and how they interact..

  • michael vassar

    It seems to be generally accepted in the US that attraction to money is an extremely undesirable characteristic in a mate, and not very admirable at all, while attraction to appearance is mildly negative at best. I wonder why women would claim to be attracted to money falsely, if that is what is going on. My guess is that

    • Doug S.

      Your guess is what?

  • http://FeministX.blogspot.com FeministX.blogspot.com

    I am 27. I am looking for a guy with decent financial prospects because I want a family someday. I am not very concerned with how he looks. I am able to get used to men that don’t look attractive at first glance. Over time they can become physically attractive to me if I am attracted to our interaction.

    I would not go to a speed dating event to find the partner I am looking for. Perhaps people that attend such events are those prone to acting on near term impulses or perhaps something in the structure of speed dating events brings out those impulses. Perhaps it makes us regress to our adolescence when we value people on immediate attraction/charisma rather than their potential for long term success ourside the sexual marketplace.

    As for the looks vs money issue in general, look around and you will see any number of plain looking men with girlfriends. Some of them have girlfriends who are more attractive than they are. Most people have significant others with very similar educations and intelligence levels. A wealthy unattractive man with a gorgeous wife is not at all as common as a pair of good looking people or a pair of demographically similar people where one person happens to be better looking.

    It seems to me that men want to believe that they are more concerned with looks because in the abstract, they are more focused on looks. They prefer to fantasize about very good looing women. They like to look at pictures of very good looking women. Men also want to believe that women are less concerned with looks than men because they don’t want their own sex appeal to be merely a facet of their physical appearance. They want to be liked for their overall success or prowess at something. On the other hand, women don’t seem to want to admit to any hard rules about what they are attracted to. I hear a lot of vague comments from women like, “it’s about the chemistry”, “it’s about the way he carries himself”, “you need someone who is a good compliment.” It’s hard to assign measurable variables to what women say they want. It’s hard to determine if the variables men claim they want are actually accurate.

    • Grant

      I think speed dating is just a easy way to meet a lot of people in a short time, and decide if you want to date one.

      At first glance it seems like men admit more of what they want than women. I’m young, rich, and (according to women) very attractive, but unless I use game the opposite sex generally ignores me. Women aren’t able or willing to communicate why I’m not attracting them without game, though I of course know why. I’ve had female friends who were completely unwilling to admit why they didn’t like a suitor, though they would tell me in private (in all cases it was a lack of physical attractiveness).

      Why would our genes or memes evolve to understand our own preferences if those preferences look bad in the eyes of others?

    • Grant

      Adding to this, I know I would think much less of a woman if she was obviously attracted to alpha-type males, even if she didn’t sleep with them. I never think much of the female groupies my alpha-ish male friends have, and I’ve noticed I immediately become less attracted to them when I learn they’ve slept with my alpha friends.

      If this is a general trend with men, it would explain why women don’t admit their preferences.

  • Psychohistorian

    “So yes there is a sense in which women are pickier, but it is more in wanting institutions that make them picky, rather that in being pickier given neutral institutions.”

    This is not, how you say, backed by evidence. I would be surprised if participants are even aware that their selectiveness changes based on who rotates. Moreover, if women become less selective when rotating, that suggests that, for whatever reason, they like those men more; there’s no evidence to think they are actively “settling” for less just because they are the ones getting up.

    The near/far mode explanation of looks vs. income sounds much too just-so. The most sensible explanation to my mind is that people are just guessing the password when they are asked what they want in a mate, and men are generally led to believe the password is “good looks,” women are led to believe the password is “good earning potential,” even though they do not actually believe or act on these things. The actual, real world explanation probably varies substantially within the population and is much more complicated than anything anyone’s thought of here.

    • kai

      I agree it is more complicated. There usually isn’t one factor that makes up a person’s decision; there are multiple.

  • Psychohistorian

    Oh, and the idea that men want looks in the far-view seems somewhat absurd; looks don’t last terribly well, and (to my knowledge) men don’t put a lot of effort into predicting how well their potential mate’s looks will last, nor do they make decisions based on such estimates. If, indeed, objectively rated appearance is a major predictor of marital success, then perhaps this does belong in the far-view. But I don’t really see a mechanism whereby it is of superlative importance in the long-run, especially when compared to other personality and compatibility factors.

    • Grant

      Well I most certainly care about looks in the far-view. Does she work out? Will she work out when she starts to put on weight, or is she just saying she will (and in my experience most do say this)? What do her mother or older sisters look like?

      Given the number of times I’ve heard women somewhat-subtly brag to me about how good their mothers (and sometimes grandmothers!) look for their age, I think they pick up on this.

  • http://permut.wordpress.com/ Michael Bishop

    The study has been described in a misleading way and the authors are at fault. Skip to the last page where you can see the results graphed. When men rotate, women are more selective than men. When women rotate, the gap is eliminated, not reversed. In other words, the institution explains part of the observed gender-difference in selectivity, but not all of it.

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  • http://robertwiblin.wordpress.com Robert Wiblin

    What signalling benefit to men get by saying they just want hot women? Countersignal of toughness?

    • Pwno

      They signal that they have standards and, thus, have been with average women in the past.

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  • Ben Greenfield

    One should a discrepancy between individual’s long term wants and what they actually pursue, since the relationship market doesn’t provide long term goods (say, a 10 year relationship contract) but a series of short term goods (coffee date, night out, high liquidity marriage, etc.)

    • Ben Greenfield

      *One should expect

  • Jason

    I don’t know, maybe I misread – seems to me that if I’m stationary and different prospective mates are coming to me… well, I’d probably feel more empowered, more selective. As far as institutions influencing such tendencies? Well, chicken/egg comes to mind.

    “My hope with the discussions below is that they will help other guys hopscotch past a lot of the conceptual traps that hold us back.” –Nonmonogamy for Men

    Psychological barriers? Value system? Selective Self respect/integrity?
    The other day someone was saying how because of the recession shoplifting had increased dramatically. My thoughts on this is that these people are basically continuing to do what they’ve done for years, on toxic credit, condoned by governments that can’t, or refuse to, legislate/execute the hard facts of unsustainable economics and therefore pander to selfish sex obsessed consumers (just take statistics on pornography). Everything is so hideously distorted I’ll call it ‘shagflation’ (the cause of the so called recession).

    I think an important issue here is confidence. But a confidence that may have been a win win for hunter gatherers far more often translates into narcissism and crime in the modern context, but so long as the conscience is sufficiently dimmed with alcohol it need not impinge on a ‘good’ time.

  • http://fourcultures.com fourcultures

    I’m very interested in the recursivity between behaviour and environment. It looks as though this study shows selectivity (usually seen as an individual trait, as in ‘I can’t help it, I’m just choosy’) is conditioned by institutional context. I wonder if a similar set of experiments could be conducted, in which women and men were allowed to choose whether they wanted to move about (be chosen) or stay put (do the choosing). Somewhat connected: I’ve recently written about the cultural context of tipping and how it affects the people giving tips.

  • Pacemaker

    I’m surprised no one has suggested a selection bias here. The women taking part in speed-dating events aren’t representative of the general population of women, which I assume the surveys sampled. Perhaps this subpopulation has greater preference for good-looking men, which might make them more likely to speed-date over more traditional methods of seeking partners. However, I can’t really think of good reasons for the higher appeal of speed-dating to such women.

  • lemmy caution

    Women. women. women. But if you look at the data, women don’t change there pickyness that much based on who rotates. Men do. Look at figure 1c on page 4 of the paper:

    http://faculty.wcas.northwestern.edu/eli-finkel/documents/49_FinkelEastwickInPress_PSci.pdf

    Both genders are more likely to say yes if they are the ones rotating, but this effect is about 2.5 times greater for the men than the women.

  • http://mysexystories.com Michelle

    Woman don’t mind about the looks, they want the money. Even if you are an ugly man but you are rich, then you can get the girl that you wanted.