Women’s Status and Trade-Offs in Mate-Preferences

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Sex differences provide the opportunity to investigate biological, cognitive, and social influences on human behaviour. For mate preferences and trade-offs, sex differences are explained via two main theoretical orientations: Evolutionary Psychology (EP) models and Biosocial models. In EP, the differences observed between the sexes are the result of divergent sexual strategies as each sex evolved under unique contexts and constraints. Alternatively, biosocial models argue biological differences resulted in complementary social roles; thus, men and women became psychologically different to adjust to these roles. SRT proposes that social factors in the form of gender roles that have restricted women’s status, are the critical factor in predicting mate preferences. The two theories present different hypotheses in examining the relationship between women’s status and their mate preference. EP suggest that women will exhibit preference for mates with more status and resources relative to herself, whereas SRT would suggest that as women gain status and engage in more “male-typical” social roles, they will express reduced preference for mate’s resources. This thesis examines how different measures of women’s status relate to trade-offs in mate preferences as they allow us to measure the sensitive shifts and variation in response to individual circumstances. Study 1 explored the ways in which age, gender role ideology, and status measures influence women’s trade-offs. The results demonstrated preference for intelligence and status was predicted by education, whereas preference for fun versus loving differed across age groups. Study 2 attempted to manipulate women’s sense of status by assigning them roles in society that were either high status or low status. Based on previous research, participants in this study then competed for resources in a rigged system so those with high status always won. The results demonstrated that the women with low status exhibited greater preference for physical attractiveness (i.e. good genes) which suggests flexibility in mating depending on context. Stud 3 introduced isoclines as a means of measuring equivalency trade-offs and explored how gender role engagement is related to status, for both male and female participants. The results suggested men and women hold similar equivalency values for income vs. attractiveness, with minimal influence of gender roles. Study 4 examined how women’s preferences might change when their meta-stereotype awareness was increased as a reflection of women’s societal status. The results suggested stereotype awareness did not impact status perceptions or mate preferences, potentially due to limitations of the methodology. Study 5 introduced conjoint analysis as a more ecologically valid method of measuring mate preference trade-offs, demonstrating its efficacy as a new method for measuring trade-offs. Study 6 addressed the limitations of Study 4. Meta-stereotype awareness did not impact mate preference trade-off. The General Discussion summarises the thesis’ main findings and discusses the implications of them on the meaning of status and its impact on mate preferences. Status is a complicated construct that is flexible depending on context. The ability to understand the impact of gender roles, gender role engagement, and objective vs subjective status are limited by the researcher’s ability to effectively measure them. Overall, however, the results of the thesis generally provide support for the evolutionary models over biosocial models.
Date of Award2021
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorKeith Matthews (Supervisor) & Fhionna Moore (Supervisor)

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