A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Mate Preferences among University Students; the United States vs. the People's Republic of China (PRC)

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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.


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. …


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