Where's the Money Honey: The Socioeconomic Effects of Mate Choice

This topic submitted by Jessup Gage and Dori Hancock (gagerj@miamioh.edu) at 4:30 am on 5/2/00. Additions were last made on Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Section: Cummins.

Whereís the Money Honey?: The Socioeconomic Effects on Mate Choice


In evaluating humans, from an evolutionary standpoint, we see that as a species we have an exceptionally high amount of parental investment involved in our choices concerning reproduction. Compared to many animals, we are relatively vulnerable for a long period of time after birth. Therefore, those who stand the best chance of survival in the human species are born to parents who can most adequately protect and provide for their offspring over a longer period of time. Females in our species are invested in providing for their offspring since they can only reproduce once every 9 months. Males, however, can reproduce with many different partners much faster making their natural instinct toward high parental investment less than womenís. Women must therefore choose their mates based on their likelihood of providing the highest amount of parental investment and she is also primarily concerned with "Ö what heíll bring to the offspring after it materializes. In 1989 the evolutionary psychologist David Buss published a pioneering study of mate preferences in thirty-seven cultures around the world. He found that in every culture, females placed more emphasis than males on a potential mateís financial prospects. (Wright, 60) We ask if this is true here at Miami in the year 2000?

Ideals of potential parental investment exist very strongly in modern society. We value socioeconomic status as a means to predict ones ability to provide for their young. Instead of primarily busying ourselves with whether or not our mate is going to be around after our offspring are born we are also looking for indications of various characteristics of lifestyle in our mate. Social class is defined by David Klimek Ph.D. as "more than financial means, opportunity or consumption. It is a lifestyle that also includes, in its basic sense, family history, socialization skills, occupation, wealth, attitudes, interests and general sophistication about life and the world" (Klimek, 19). So, in using the terms "social class" or "socioeconomic status" we are talking about more than just financial standing and money, we are also looking at the attributes that have been found to be most apparent in these social classes.
In our research, we plan to look at and analyze the effects of socioeconomic background and gender in mate selection. We believe that the majority of women in Midwestern society, when choosing a mate, look for candidates among their own socioeconomic class or those who could potentially improve their own socioeconomic status.


In researching various books concerning a personís relationship to money and their choices of potential mates according to this relationship many themes were prevalent. Much of the research discusses significant differences in the sexes as to what a person tends to look for in a mate. It was said more times than one that women take into consideration the financial stability of their potential mate or the potential of the man to financially provide for the family. We look for an answer to the question if this is still true considering that women are growing to be more self-sufficient and able to better care for themselves by their own mean.s today. David Buss, as a result of a study he conducted in 1989, found "men seemed to care more about traits that signaled reproductive capacity while women seemed to care more about cues to resource acquisition" (Wright, 60). Elaine Hatfield, who discusses cross-cultural perspectives of love and sex, found "women also valued, more than men, mates who possessed status, who had good financial prospects, and who were ambitious and industrious" (Hatfield, 41). This seems cut and dry yet there are many social aspects, which seem to play a role in the desire to find someone of upper social mobility. Margaret Randall, who studied the complex relationships between women and money, said that "girls are often urged to ëmarry wellí, meaning a man with more money or job prospects", and that many times "parents make it uncomfortable for children to date or marry outside of their class or culture" (Randall, 18). We wonder if family and friends have this great of an impact on peopleís decisions for mate choice today. The research findings of Dr. Connell Cowan and Dr. Melvyn Kinder follow pattern, and they wrote, "many single women, regardless of their level of achievement, continue to feel internal and external pressures to ëmarry upí ñ to find someone who is even more powerful, more successful. Men still are seen as a catapult to enhanced status as well as financial security" (Cowan and Kinder, 105). But, are men still seen as a catapult to enhanced status today?
Elaine Hatfield, writes in support of women who utilize this involved process of mate selection. She says "it is to womenís advantage to be choosy in selecting sexual partners and mates. It is to their advantage to ensure that the few children they do conceive survive" (Hatfield, 39). So, is what we are looking at here really only an evaluation of male parental investment or has this desire for upward social mobility been socially ingrained in us as well? This is another of the questions we hope to answer in our research.

Another common theme found in the research was that socioeconomic status has a significant relationship to mate selection and only proximity in time and distance has preference over it. But how strong really is this relationship? David Klimek Ph.D. focused primarily on some of the main screening mechanisms involved in mate selection and found that proximity of time and place is of the most importance, when choosing a mate, followed by social class background, racial-ethnic-religious affiliation, attractiveness limits, and psycho dynamic influences. After these characteristics of a potential mate are realized the person who is in search of a mate has narrowed their prospects down quite a bit but what we found interesting was that social class was so near the beginning of this selection or narrowing process encouraging us to study this phenomena further.
David Klimek also discussed the effects of a personís current social class on their opportunities to either remain in their own socioeconomic class when choosing a mate or to traverse those boundaries of the other classes and choose a mate from another social class. He states "individuals of the middle class potentially have the greatest freedom of choice in partner selection. The greater the population density is a contributing factor in and of itself, but there is also the freedom to traverse social class boundaries, which is not common for the lower or the upper-middle class"(Klimek, 19). Some of his concluding ideas are that "because social class correlates with an infinitude of attitudes and behavior, defiance of its boundaries is uncommon in mate selection" and "to assuage the anxiety that exists from noticing and associating with one another, each class usually strives to maintain isolated habitation" (Klimek, 19). We hypothesize that we will find the same to be true, as well as, the desire in people to choose those of higher social status. We will also have to take into consideration the unequal distribution of wealth found in many communities, not excluding our own.

Last but not least, taking into consideration that times change significantly we recognize that many of the things women have looked for in the past are not the same as what they primarily look for currently in a mate. Kiki Olson believes that the definitions of "marrying up" have changed drastically in the last two decades or so. She stated, "most girls, because their mothers led them to believe it was as easy to find a Rockefeller as a rock gardener, may feel that they have ëfailedí by settling for a $25,000-a-year bank employee"(Olson, 23). She claims that women today have changed in their preferences and are "going out of their way to find men who are right for them, as opposed to ësettlingí for an image they were led to believe was Mr. Right" (Olson, 17). We think she is onto something here. Times are a changiní but if searching for male parental investment is a part of human nature then the search for this investment shall keep on keepiní on. We are out to see if this is true.


Step 1: We have designed a survey which should give us both quantitative and qualitative data for analysis (see Survey Sheet). It should give us several variables so we may take into account not only gender and socioeconomic background, but also race, religion, age, and cultural background. These factors could play contributing roles in the effects of our data and must be taken into consideration when evaluating the surveyed persons responses.

Step 2: We will distribute our surveys to approximately 100 Miami students, both students of the Western college and of Main campus. We will attempt to achieve a random sampling by handing out many of the surveys out during prime traffic hours near the center of campus. People whom we have come in contact with prior to this study will fill many of the surveys out, thus giving our test group an unavoidable bias. The survey is short enough so that those filling it out will be able to fill it out within a few moments of receiving it. This may make some test students uncomfortable, but it will be necessary in order to guarantee a response to all of our surveys. Concerning those whom we are planning to survey, we are taking into consideration that our results may be slanted because we will primarily survey students. College students can only be validly grouped into different socioeconomic background groups based on their parents income or their parentsí educational history. College student provide a much less diverse representation from various socioeconomic groups than the majority of the U.S. population. They are no longer an extension of their parentsí incomes since they live alone and, because of this, they have not yet determined their own socioeconomic status independent of their familyís influence.

Step 3: We will then analyze the results of our surveys comparing numerous aspects of our results. For class participation, we could include them in our survey. It might also be interesting to keep the class results separate from the rest and compare their results with all of the others, but we realize this may, very well, slow our progress in evaluating our results as well as require much more configuration on the spreadsheets, which we will be making use of to evaluate our data.
Our survey will primarily provide us with various data concerning the socioeconomic status of those interviewed and their preferences toward specific characteristics in others when choosing a mate.
We are not surveying any persons outside of Miami University or persons who are younger than college age (17-25 yrs. of age) nor significantly beyond traditional college age (35+) to keep our findings within a set population where conclusions can best be made. As well, the liability issue concerning the use of underage children in our study would prove to be too risky.
In designing our survey, we welcomed suggestions and constructive criticism from both our peers and our guiding professor in order to make our survey most useful and increase the probability that the information we procure can provide viable facts from which we could utilize the necessary data into our research conclusions and discussions.


A couple hundred pieces of paper (for Survey Sheets)
Pens and pencils

Timeline of Execution

2/2/2000- idea for project presented
2/10-2/20-literature review and background research done
2/20- survey created, draft #1
2/22- complete project proposal submitted
3/17- survey evaluated and revised, draft #2, final draft completed
4/1- surveys distributed
4/4- poster of project made and presented to class
4/10- surveys reviewed
4/10-4/25- survey data reviewed and entered into database
4/25-5/2 ñ graphs created, results evaluated, final conclusions made

Survey Sheet

Age: ___ Sex: Male ___ Female___

Sexual orientation: Heterosexual___ Homosexual ___ Bi-sexual ___

Where are you from? (city, state)_________

Race/ Ethnicity (choose one):

__African American
__Native American
__Korean/Pacific Islander

What is the highest level of completed education of your:

Mother: Father:

__Grade School __Grade School
__High School __High School
__Some college __Some college
__2-year degree __2-year degree
__4-year degree __4-year degree
__Masters degree __Masters degree
__Doctorate __Doctorate

In which socioeconomic class do you consider yourself to be ?

__Upper Class
__Upper Middle Class
__Middle Class
__Lower Middle Class
__Lower Class

How much money (estimated) did your parents or guardians make last year combined?

__Under $25,000
__$100,000 +

Why do you feel that you date?

__looking for sexual partner
__looking for someone to have fun with; spend time with
__looking for possible marriage partner
__looking for a good friend
__because everyone else does
__other (please specify)

Below is a list of characteristics that one may look for in a process of mate selection whether that be for a dating partner or for marriage. Please specify on a scale from 1-5 the importance each of these characteristics has on your selection:

1 = no importance at all
2 = very little importance
3 = significant importance
4 = very important
5 = absolutely necessary

___financial stability
___physical attractiveness
___potential to care for family
___potential to provide for family
___age similarity
___good with kids
___profession/ potential profession
___physical health

Do you feel that ideals of your friends and family have an impact on who you choose for your mate? How much? (1=no impact, 5= large impact)

1 2 3 4 5

Do you feel that your friends or family stress for you to seek out a significant other of similar or higher socioeconomic background than yourself? (1= no stress, 5= severe stress)

1 2 3 4 5

Considering your past relationships, have you befriended, and found yourself to be attracted to, those of:

__higher socioeconomic background than yourself
__relatively equal socioeconomic background than yourself
__lower socioeconomic background than yourself
__other (please specify):_______________

Thanks very much for your time!


Being students at Miami University in Oxford, OH and surveying other students at this same university, we find that the distribution of parentís income over the past year is very indicative of the student population here at Miami. The greatest amount of those surveyed indicated their parentsí income over the course of the year 1999 to be over $50,000 with the greatest percentage indicating it to be over $100,000.

This graph indicates that those of middle class, as well as the higher classes, primarily choose those who are of their own socioeconomic status to date and/ or to marry. As well, this graph mildly indicates that those of high socioeconomic status have previously both preferred those of either the same or lower socioeconomic statuses.

Indicated above, we recognize that there is a much greater percentage of studentsí fathers than mothers who have their doctorates and there is a slightly greater percentage of those fathers with their Masterís than mothers. The 4-year degree distribution is relatively equal among the mothers and fathers and the rest of the information shows no real significant disparities between the education of the mothers and fathers of the students surveyed.

The above graph illustrates the rather consistent nature in which those students surveyed responded in stating that they preferred, and found themselves involved with, those of rather equal or similar socioeconomic status in their previous relationships.

It is found, in our data, that the greatest majority of those whom we surveyed indicated a preference for those of equal, or of similar, socioeconomic status than themselves.

This graph indicates that both males and females prefer those of a relatively equal social class to themselves over those of lower or higher socioeconomic classes.

As indicated above, there are many characteristics which the entire surveyed population deem preferable when choosing a mate. Some of the most prominent of these characteristics include physical attractiveness, potential to care for the family, intelligence and trustworthiness, with the latter ranking the highest.

This graph does not indicate any significant differences in the preferences for certain characteristics of those of differing socioeconomic statuses.

Our data suggests that the impact of friends and family on oneís mate choice is relatively moderate when comparing the answers indicating this impact by the surveyed. The students surveyed, also, answered more frequently on the right side of the graph of which is more indicative of family and friendís high impact on the personís mate choice.

The data expressed above signifies the various differences in response of females as compared to males concerning the perceived stress on economic status of potential mates by friends and family. As indicated above, the males answered that there is very little stress placed on them by friends and family concerning the socioeconomic status of their potential mates, while the females indicated that there is rather a significant stress placed on them to seek out specific socioeconomic statuses, by both friends and family, when choosing a mate.


As, I am sure, you, the reader, have noted in the previous section, the combined income of the parents of those students surveyed is rather skewed. Because we are students at Miami University, and because most of the student population here at this university are of financial backgrounds consisting of mainly middle class, upper middle class and upper class our research may appear slightly one-sided and this is definitely something that we would seek to resolve if we were to do this project again or continue research in this area. Because we are studying the effects that socioeconomic status have on mate choice, we recognize that we did not get adequate information, or surveys, from those who are of the financial categories below an income level of 50k per year.

As well, the age of the students surveyed, and the mere fact that they are students, and were students, at the time of taking our surveys has to be taken into consideration. As we were gathering the information and data from our research surveys we recognized that much of our data did not coincide with what the literature we consulted had predicted. We have some possible ideas to explain this. Perhaps, if a person is in college, chances are good that they are relatively likely to be dependent on their parents for their financial stability and well-being; and therefore, they may not have a significant concern for seeking out financial prospects in a potential mate. They are less likely to have a concern because they are not presently dealing with the various issues of living in the "real world" where money and support for a family is imminently imperative. In recognizing this in our research, we realized that it would have been a good idea to broaden our age limits, in those subjects of whom we surveyed, to gain a better understanding of the various implications of different lifetime periods and the preferences toward various characteristics in a mate during these different lifetime periods.

The education of the parents of the students surveyed in this study, was used as another indicator of socioeconomic status and we realize that this is sometimes a good and valid indicator but sometimes that it is not. But, merely looking at our results, concerning the highest educational levels achieved of the mothers and fathers of the surveyed, we recognize that at the highest levels of education the mothers are underrepresented while the fathers are over represented. Taking into consideration the statements which we found in the readings, we consulted prior to our research, there is an indication that these disparities between the educational levels achieved between males and females, or mothers and fathers, will change over time for there are more women these days who are achieving higher levels of education as well as making it on their own more successfully.
Relatively equal socioeconomic status seems to be preferred in potential mates among all financial classes and we realize that this could be quite true; however, we also realize that because there is no way to guarantee that the surveyed answered truthfully this conclusion may not be valid. As well, if we, once again, look at the distributions of the parentsí income, of the students surveyed, we will realize that our hypothesis that women look for financial prospects in potential mates may not be something of concern in many of the women who were surveyed because they are already of adequate financial background themselves. Therefore, any upward social mobility may not be required for these women, or sought after.

The most prominent characteristics which we found were most important, among those surveyed, were trustworthiness at the top with perceived high intelligence falling closely behind. As well, the potential to care for a family and physical attractiveness were next on the list. We compared the importance of these various characteristics with parentsí income and found that there was really no correlation between the importance of certain characteristics in the process of mate choice and the financial status of the seekers of a mate.

Friend and family impact on mate choice, in general, seemed to be rather moderate but when the surveyed were asked about the stress that family and friends place on the socioeconomic status of a potential mate the answers were quite telling. The males indicated relatively low or nonexistent stress placed on them in this area, but the women answered very differently. The women reported that there was a significant amount of stress placed on them to seek out a mate of certain socioeconomic status. This coincides with the literature that we reviewed at the start of our research concerning the greater amount of stress for women to "marry up", and even though there is an indication that there is a new wave of independence and self-reliance among women this "new wave" is not significantly demonstrated in our data. There still seems to be a reliance among men for financial security and stability among women. This may be due to the various social aspects which deter women from having much self-confidence in themselves which, therefore, creates more difficulty for these women to succeed in a "manís world". Or, this could be evolutionarily explained as a womanís desire to search for high male parental investment.

The results of this survey could be quite telling concerning the characteristics searched for, and implications involved in mate choice, among college age men and women, but it could, very well, not be very accurate in displaying the things taken into consideration among other age groups or other university students of different socioeconomic backgrounds. We would definitely be very interested in broadening our surveyed population if we were to do this study again and we would, also, add a few questions to our survey for purposes of further study. We were curious to see what the majors of the persons involved in the survey process would predict about their preferences in mate choice. This data may have provided us with a prominent indication of the personís possible financial or socioeconomic status later on in their life. This may have been interesting to look at.
So, in conclusion, the specific results we acquired, are not expected to be concurrent if this study would be conducted at another time or place or among another population. Our population was rather skewed in socioeconomic status, race, and lifetime period which does not give us a good indication of what all males and females in a given society would choose to be of most importance in mate choice. However, we also recognize that much of the data we collected could, very well, have significant implications for the greater society and the human species in general, though much more research is required to make adequate conclusions.


1 Cowan, Connell & Kinder, Melvyn (1985). Smart Women Foolish Choices: Finding
the Right Men and Avoiding the Wrong Ones. New York; Clarkson N. Potter, Inc.

2 Hatfield, Elaine & Rapson, Richard L. (1996). Love and Sex: Cross-Cultural
Perspectives. Needham Heights, Mass.; Simon and Schuster, Inc.

3 Klimek, David (1979). Beneath Mate Selection and Marriage: The Unconscious Motives in Human Pairing. New York; Litton Educational Publishing Company.

4 Olson, Kiki (1985). A Good Manís Not Hard to Find: How to break out of the Prince
Charming trap and find a real man to love. New York; Simon & Schuster, Inc.

5 Randall, Margaret (1996). The Price You Pay: The Hidden Cost of Womenís Relationship to Money. New York; Routledge, Inc.

6 Wright, Robert (1994). The Moral Animal, Why we are the way we are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology. New York; Random House, Inc.

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