What type of man are female online daters looking for? A man who is handsome, tall, rich…or educated?
A recent study finds that female, compared to male, online daters prefer more educated partners, but that this correlation is moderated by age.1
Characteristics of the 42,000 people in the sample
For the present study, Whyte and colleagues used data generated from active members of an Australian dating website.
The sample consisted of nearly 27,000 heterosexual men and 15,000 heterosexual women.
The ages of the individuals in the sample ranged from 18 to 80; women were on average 49 years old, and men were 47 years old.
About 90% of the individuals surveyed were over the age of 30. Less than one percent were over the age of 65, and just over one percent were below the age of 25. The largest portion (30%) were between the ages of 45 and 54.
Some of the members had joined as recently as April 2016, while some had joined as early as in 1997 (when the website was launched).
Overall, the women in the sample had a higher level of education than did the men.
The results indicated that women were 11% more likely, than men, to specify what educational level they required in a potential mate. This was particularly true of women with higher education.
On the other hand, women who were less likely to be sexually active, did not state an educational preference as often.
Women between the ages of 18 and 40 (their most fertile years) showed more strict educational preferences, though this lessened toward the end of this period. Past the age of 50, however, women became particular once again. Men past the age of 50 also showed strict educational preferences.
Therefore, graphically, female daters’ educational preference appeared somewhat U-shaped. See Figure 1 below.
Source: Arash Emamzadeh (Adapted from Whyte et al., 2018)
In all age groups, women were more likely than men to prefer a partner of the same or higher level of education.
Overall, these results show that when it comes to educational requirements in a potential partner, women are more selective than men, especially during their maximally reproductive years. Indeed, even after controlling for women’s own educational level, still more women (than men) showed a preference for a higher level of education in a potential partner.
Why the preference for higher education?
To explain the difference in choosiness between men and women, Whyte and colleagues refer to an evolutionary based theory called parental investment theory.2
According to the parental investment theory, which was proposed by the American evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers, women’s pickiness can be explained in terms of their parental investment―behaviors that increase the likelihood of offspring survival but also come at a cost to the parents.
Parental investment differs between genders, with women being far more biologically invested, as evidenced by their metabolic investment in production of a single egg (compared to men’s production of millions of sperms), the nine months of gestation, the metabolically expensive lactation, etc.
So, given that women are considerably invested in parenthood, it is natural that they would be picky in mate selection, seeking to find someone who will appreciate their level of investment and try to match it, in some shape or form.
And in many cultures around the world, women rely on education (along with other factors, such as health and dependability) as indicators of a man’s suitability as a mate.3
But why? Because, as Whyte and colleagues note, previous research has shown that education is positively associated with intelligence and status. Men who are smart and those who are of higher status, are more likely to be more capable partners, at least in terms of having access to resources needed to provide for their mate and to raise a child.