The invention of online dating and the increase of women in the labor force has changed the landscape of dating and marriage enormously over the course of the last decade. More and more Millennials are choosing to either delay marriage or not get married at all. Some studies even predict that by the time today’s young adults reach their 50s, one in four will have been single forever.
And those who are actively dating are often subverting traditional gender norms and codes of conduct. Polyamory is on the rise, as is pansexuality. According to science, women are no longer interested in flashy men, and prefer square-jawed men for brief sexual flings while choosing men with more “effeminate” facial features for long-term relationships. But, according to a new study published in The British Journal of Psychology, none of that means much to dear old mom and dad.
Researchers asked 589 parents and young adults from the city of Kunming in Yunnan, China, to choose a potential life partner for their adult children based on the profiles of hypothetical men and women. The results suggest that these parents still ascribe to a traditional concept of “mate value,” which, from an evolutionary science perspective, has always come down to looks for women and resources for men.
What this means in practice is that the parents cared more about levels of attractiveness than income when it came to choosing a match for their son, but preferred higher incomes and lower levels of attractiveness when it came to choosing someone for their daughter. And, for what it’s worth, the daughters were not on board. In evolutionary biology, this disparity is known as the “parent-offspring conflict theory.”
“We found no evidence of a parent-offspring conflict in the case of a son, meaning that parents showed very similar preferences compared to sons when they had to choose a daughter-in-law/spouse: Both parents and young men have a strong preference for the more physically attractive profile, irrespective of the income of the potential mate,” Jeanne Bovet of the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, France and lead author of the study, told PsyPost. “However, we found a different pattern in the case of daughters. In particular, parents seemed to avoid the potential sons-in-law who are both well-off and physically attractive. Young women generally preferred the physically attractive profile but also valued income of the potential mate.”
It’s not clear whether or not the results can be directly translated to the United States, since the marriage culture in China is infamously hardcore. Parents routinely advertise the marriageability of their children in public parks on weekends, and hire professional brokers to find them suitable spouses. There’s also been a lot of media coverage about the social stigma surrounding being an unmarried woman over the age of 26, for fear of being branded a “sheng-nu”—a leftover woman.
Even Boyet noted that further research would need to be done in order to determine why exactly these parents seem to prefer a less handsome husband for their daughters even if they are also rich, though the working theory is that it lessens the risk of divorce, as conventionally attractive males have been found to be at more high-risk for infidelity.
If you’re single and still looking, don’t fret, because it’s not as bad as it sounds. And for tips on how to deal and information on how attitudes to marriage are changing, check out 12 Genius Ways to Happily Fly Solo As a Single Person.
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