Over at the Hooking Up Smart blog Susan Walsh shared a fascinating chart two days ago. Link here.
The chart offers a snapshot of what men want… in a mate. It compares male preferences between 1939 and 2008. Stephanie Coontz reported on this culture shift a year ago in The New York Times.
The chart tells us that today’s men place relatively greater importance on love, attraction, education, sociability and good looks.
The greatest increases involved education, sociability, good looks and good financial prospect.
Today’s men rated love and sexual attraction most important. Men in 1939 rated good character the most important.
In 1939 men valued: dependable character, emotional stability, pleasing disposition, good health, desire for home and children. They placed far more importance on housekeeping skills, religious affiliation and chastity than do men today.
For whatever the reason, today’s men do not seem to be looking for wives. They seem to see marriage as a romantic interlude. Men in 1939 saw marriage as a social alliance.
As Coontz notes, the education penalty has nearly vanished. That means, men do not hold higher education against women, especially when those women can help support the family. Of course, in an unstable marital climate a woman who can support herself will receive less alimony.
Yet, the more salient point is that men place the highest value on romantic love, sexual attraction and good looks. Today’s man is not looking for a wife; he seems more clearly to be looking for what a previous age would have called a courtesan or concubine.
Otherwise, it is difficult to understand why a modern man who values his prospective wife’s education also places so much more value on good looks than his 1939 counterpart.
When marriage was seen as an alliance between social beings, qualities like religious affiliation and social refinement were far more important. If you are going to make a life together and become part of a community these qualities are of great importance.
But, if marriage is based on romantic love and attraction, along with good looks, what will happen when they all fade.
Good character gains value over time; sexual attraction and good looks are diminishing assets.
One might say that the institution of marriage has evolved. One might also say that people no longer understand what marriage is, and therefore have unrealistic expectations about it. If the latter is true, the institution is more likely to punish their ignorance.
Perhaps it is too obvious to state, but marriages contracted in 1939 were much less likely to end in divorce than are more modern marriages.