A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Mate Preferences among University Students; the United States vs. the People's Republic of China (PRC)
Toro-Morn, Maura, Sprecher, Susan, Journal of Comparative Family Studies
Research on gender differences in mate preference has developed and flourished over the years (see for example, Buss and Barnes, 1986; Howard, Blumstein, and Schwartz, 1987; Sprecher, Sullivan, and Hatfield, 1994, among others). Sociological studies beginning in the 1940's offered the first indications that men and women differed in the traits desired of a mate. For example, using a mate selection list with eighteen items, Hill (1945) was able to determine that women, to a greater degree than men, preferred mates who were ambitious, intelligent, and with good financial prospects, whereas men preferred, to a greater degree than women, mates who were good housekeepers, pretty, and had a desire for children. These gender differences have continued to be found in research conducted over the past several decades using a variety of research techniques and sample populations (e.g., Allgeier and Wiederman, 1994; Buss, 1989; Buss and Barnes, 1986; Goodwin, 1990). Although this past research has advanced our knowledge of gender differences in mate selection across diverse groups primarily in the United States, gaps in the research remain.
In particular, the influence of culture on mate selection remains a neglected topic in the area of mate selection research (Goodwin, 1998; Hatfield and Sprecher, 1995). Although research conducted in the United States and other Western societies has generated important insights about gender differences in mate selection, the question remains as to whether these findings hold true for people in other cultures. Given current trends in the globalization of Western cultural patterns, is it possible that mate selection practices and standards have become a global phenomenon as well?
This research aims to contribute to the cross-cultural study of mate selection by comparing the mate preferences of young adults in the United States with those of young adults in the People's Republic of China (PRC). More specifically, our objectives are threefold: (1) to examine gender differences in mate preferences within each culture; (2) to compare the two cultures in the degree and content of gender differences in mate preferences; and, (3) to compare the two cultures on the overall relative importance of various partner traits.
Although we have considerable knowledge about mate selection patterns in the United States, very little research exists on mate preferences in the People's Republic of China (PRC). For many years the PRC was closed to the world in every respect. The social and economic reforms that started in the late 1970's have not only opened China to the world, but more importantly, fostered the development of social science research. Chinese and Western scholars have generated research on various topics related to marriage and family life (Pimentel, 2000), the nature of romantic love (Rothbaum and Tsang, 1998; Xiahoe and Whyte, 1990), the concept of "yuan" or the belief in destiny or fate in regard to love (Chang and Holt, 1991; Goodwin and Findlay, 1997; Yang and Ho, 1988), changes in the sexual behavior of young couples (Feng and Yang, 1996), and sexual satisfaction among married couples (Renaud, Byers, and Pan, 1997). To our knowledge, however, the mate preferences of young Chinese adults have remained relatively unexplored. Thus, a major contribution of the present work is to offer a snapshot of the mate preferences of young men and women in the People's Republic of China (PRC), and how they might be different or the same as those of young adults in North America. In the next section, we offer a review of the cross-cultural mate selection literature with a particular emphasis on the theoretical underpinnings of this work.
REVIEW OF MATE SELECTION LITERATURE: THEORETICAL AND EMPIRICAL FINDINGS
Perhaps the most ambitious attempt at exploring cross-cultural variation in mate preferences was the research conducted by Buss (1989) and his team of researchers with samples from 37 countries (see also Buss et al., 1990). Buss (1989) collected data in countries that ranged from the more industrialized such as Great Britain, France, Germany, Canada, and the United States, to less developed such as India, Africa, and Iran. Buss and his colleagues found that in the 37 countries investigated, males valued physical attractiveness in potential mates more so than females. In addition, they found that in 36 of the 37 sampled countries, women valued "good financial prospect" in a mate more than men. Women across the cultures also generally preferred ambition and industriousness to a greater degree than men.
Of relevance to this study are their findings from China and Taiwan. Buss et al. (1990) found that the mainland Chinese sample (n = 500) differed from the larger international sample in that the Chinese respondents placed greater value on health, chastity, and the domestic skills of potential mates. In addition, the Chinese placed greater value on good heredity, a characteristic the authors associated with the legal restrictions on the number of children. On the other hand, they found that the Chinese sample placed less emphasis on dependability, mutual attraction, sociability, pleasing disposition, exciting personality, appearance, and religious similarity. The Taiwan sample (n = 566) was very similar to the mainland China sample. They also placed a greater value on chastity, health, housekeeping skills, and heredity dimensions, and less emphasis on sociability and appearance, relative to participants from the other countries. But, they differed from the samples collected from other countries in terms of the greater preference ascribed to "a mate who wants to have children" and dependability.
Buss's (1989, 1990) research is guided by one of the most influential theoretical paradigms in the field of human sexuality: evolutionary theory. Evolutionary theory dates back to the influential work of Charles Darwin's (1859), Origin of the Species. Using Darwin's concepts of evolution and natural selection, researchers have sought to understand human mating patterns. For evolutionary theorists the way we go about attracting a partner provides valuable insights into the working of socio-biological processes (Goodwin, 2000). According to Goodwin (2000:19), "evolutionary approaches assume that each species has a genetically organized set of strategies and tactics for survival, growth, and reproduction." Further, evolutionary theorists argue that men and women differ in mate selection practices because of genetic pressures. In other words, the gender that invests more in the offspring is seen as the most selective in choosing a mate. Evolutionary theorists postulate that men prefer physical attractiveness in women because it represents a cue to their reproductive capacity. Women, on the other hand, are assumed to be desirious of mates who can provide resources to them and their offspring. Indeed, this body of work continues to generate a great of deal of discussion and research.
Although there is considerable empirical evidence that supports evolutionary theory assumptions (for a review, see Allgeier and Wiederman, 1994), this body of work has been challenged by social scientists across many fields. Critics in the field of relationships argue that in evolutionary theory there is the tendency to confuse similarities across cultures with genetic and biological imperatives. As Goodwin (2000:21) states, the "tendency to assume that the mere existence of a particular behaviour means that it evolved through natural selection and that it is adaptive" confuses an observed behavior with genetic imperatives (Goodwin, 2000:21). Feminists, in general, have been suspicious of socio-biological explanations because of the tendency to reduce to biology men's domination over women (Lorber, 1994). In this case, feminists have critiqued this work because it tends to foster stereotypes of men's obsession with youth and good looks and reduces women's choices to dimensions related to their roles as caretakers of children and mothers.
A second school of thought prevalent in cross-cultural mate selection research is the individualism-collectivism perspective first developed by Hofstede (1980) and later applied to the field of relationships. In the area of mate selection, the emphasis has been on identifying individualistic cultures, defined as societies where individuals are loosely connected and looking after their own interest; or collectivistic cultures, defined as societies in which people's loyalties are to the group, overriding individual preferences. For example, Hatfield and Sprecher (1995) studied three countries which in their view represented the prototype of an individualist society (the United States), a collectivist society (Japan), and an intermediate society on the aforementioned scale (Russia). Hatfield and Sprecher (1995) found strong evidence concerning gender differences in mate selection preferences. In their cross-cultural sample, men rated physical attractiveness more important than women, and women preferred intelligence, ambition, and potential for success to a greater degree than men, among other factors. …
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Publication information: Article title: A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Mate Preferences among University Students; the United States vs. the People's Republic of China (PRC). Contributors: Toro-Morn, Maura - Author, Sprecher, Susan - Author. Journal title: Journal of Comparative Family Studies. Volume: 34. Issue: 2 Publication date: Spring 2003. Page number: 151+. © 1998 University of Calgary. COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group.
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