A new study explores what tradeoffs women are willing to make in mate selection between good looks and concern for others. Business Insider summarizes Are Women’s Mate Preferences for Altruism Also Influenced by Physical Attractiveness?
New research shows women do indeed find good-looking men desirable—but if they have to choose, they’ll probably pick the altruistic guy over the hunk.
The results provide “further evidence of the importance of altruism in women’s mate choice preferences,” a research team led by the University of Worcester’s Daniel Farrelly writes in the journal Evolutionary Psychology. It confirms that selflessness is “a highly important characteristic trait women look for in long-term partners.”
From the study:
“Female participants were presented with photographs of men of varying levels of physical attractiveness, alongside descriptions of them behaving either altruistically or not in different scenarios.
The results showed women preferred altruistic men, particularly in LT relationships and that this interacted with physical attractiveness such that being both attractive and altruistic made a man more desirable than just the sum of the two desirable parts. Also, being altruistic made low attractive men more desirable but only for LT relationships.”
Darwin called altruism a puzzle, but it evolved as an important signaling mechanism of a man’s ability to be a good partner and parent. As such it functions primarily, though not entirely, in the service of long-term relationships.
In contrast, good looks signal genetic quality. Physical attractiveness is also important to women, but especially to women seeking casual sex. By studying two competing variables, researchers aim to learn more about the tradeoffs and signals involved in sexual selection.
Past research has found that altruistic men are not only more appealing to women for relationships, they are also more inclined toward commitment themselves. And altruistic people mate assortatively, mutually filtering for those characteristics in dating. Indeed, in the subject population altruism was a more powerful attractor than good looks.
As you can see, the less attractive altruist pays only a small price in short-term mating like ONSs, but gets a large jump in desirability for an LTR over the attractive selfish guy. And the low attractive nurturing guy is considerably more desirable for casual sex than the very attractive selfish guy is for a relationship.
“It was found that the desirability of low attractive men who displayed high altruism was higher than that of high attractive men who displayed low altruism.”
In all cases, the low altruist is less desirable than the high altruist, though he is more tolerable for a ONS, because hey, what does it matter? Women seeking a ONS are unlikely to be selecting for “good dad” characteristics.
The researchers conclude that altruism is a trait prized highly by females in mating. From a male standpoint, it’s important to know that this aspect of character counts for a lot, and can compensate for less than movie star looks.
It should be noted that the misguided notion that “chicks dig jerks” has led many “low attractive” men to act selfish in the belief it’s catnip to women. As you can see, those men finish last. (Literally.)
Once again, we have a problem on the supply side. There may be many more female altruists than male altruists.
Priceonomics recently analyzed the “altruism gender gap.” Turns out it may not be all that easy to find altruistic guys.
“When YCore, an organization that promotes volunteerism among young professionals, sent out its inaugural recruitment letters, the leadership was stunned by one aspect of who they heard from. Though the letters were sent out to a gender balanced group, 95% of the responses came from women.
Though Olivia Bryant, the CEO of YCore, had observed the gender gap at other nonprofits, she was still surprised at the discrepancy. She knew women often dominated volunteer spaces, but 95%? The YCore team set to work to recruit men, and they have since increased the proportion of applications from men to about 25%.”
Yikes. This result is extreme, but the U.S. Dept. of Labor reports that women are 30% more likely to volunteer. The Priceonomics team controlled for women participating in the workforce, including part-time work, but that does not explain the discrepancy.
Neither does income:
So what’s the answer? The Priceonomics analysts aren’t sure, but offer some possible explanations:
Cultural expectations: Men are more likely to spend all their time chasing income?
Extended male adolescence: Delays commitment, including to the community?
Recruiting materials more suited to women: Frame volunteering as professional development for men?
That last one kind of negates the altruism piece…it’s hardly selfless.
Of course, altruism is comprised of a lot more than volunteering. Buying a sandwich for a homeless person or saving a child in danger are one-off interactions, and a person may be a good Samaritan without a weekly stint at a soup kitchen.
Fortunately, empathy and concern for others should be discernible very quickly in dating. An altruist will reveal this aspect of his character as part of his identity, especially if he knows that women dig altruists.
If he’s humble enough not to brag about what a good guy he is, then you may have to wait until you have the opportunity to see him come to the rescue.