The Role of Relational Communication Characteristics and Filial Piety in Mate Preferences: Cross-Cultural Comparisons of Chinese and US College Students

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Since the 1940s, the characteristics that people desire in their potential marriage partners have been ranked for their importance, and also compared between men and women (e.g., Buss, 1994; Goodwin, 1999; Hill, 1945). Mate preference traits among US young adults cluster into three categories, warmth/loyalty, vitality/attractiveness, and status/resources (Fletcher, 2002), with physical attractiveness more important for men and earnings potential more important for women (Raley & Bratter, 2004; Sprecher, Sullivan, & Hatfield, 1994). Mate preference traits function as ideals to evaluate potential mates for their short and long term merits, and for regulating relationship behaviors (Fletcher, Simpson, Thomas, & Giles, 1999; Regan, 1998).

Cross-cultural analyses of mate trait preferences have also begun (e.g., Allgeier & Widerman, 1994; Buss, 1989; Buss & Barnes, 1986), with these studies detecting both gender and cultural differences. Cross-cultural studies have generally employed researcher-generated lists of traits developed from US studies. Unexamined are mate characteristics important to men and women that are not on researcher-generated lists, characteristics whose importance may or may not vary cross-culturally.

The aim of our two studies is to examine current mate trait preferences in a cross-cultural comparison of young adults from the US and China, by not relying upon researcher-generated trait lists that have been commonly used in previous studies. We use free response methods to identify current mate preference characteristics of college students in the US and China, and then examine gender and culture differences in the importance of these mate characteristics. In so doing, we address the "neglected topic" of culture in mate selection (Toro-Morn & Sprecher, 2003, p. 151), and contribute to the few US-China comparisons that exist on mate preferences.


In the last few decades, scholars have documented the massive social and economic reforms that the People's Republic of China has undergone compared to the rest of the world (e.g., Croll, 2006; Kristof, & Wudunn, 1994; Tang & Parish, 2000). The reform era begun in 1978 and continuing in the current post-Deng era has established China's drive for economic modernization and altered the socialist social contract of secure state employment (Tang & Parish, 2000). Changes in social policies like an aggressive family planning program and marriage reform, combined with market reforms, have affected all facets of Chinese family life (Pimentel, 2000), including shifting from arranged to free-choice marriage (Xu, 1994), increased education and better paying jobs for women (Li, 1994), changing attitudes towards filial responsibility (Zhan, 2004), increased sexual activity (Feng & Quanhe, 1996), and greater participation in household chores by men (Lu, Maume, & Bellas, 2000; Zhang & Farley, 1995). Chinese families are also experiencing increases in cohabitation and divorce similar to US families, although at much lower rates (Parish & Fairer, 2000; Qian, Lichter, & Mellott, 2005).

Given these changes, a comparative study of China and US young adults on their mate preferences is useful. Although research on personal relationships has increased rapidly in the last few decades, there has been comparatively less study of the role personal relationships play in non-Western cultures (Goodwin & Tang, 1996). Most cross-cultural analyses have methodologically relied on established Western scales methodologically, which Goodwin and Tang (1996) maintain may lead to cross-cultural misunderstandings because they may not supply a full picture of the intricacies of Chinese personal relationships.

A comparative analysis on mate preferences is also warranted given the economic force China is having in the world. In 2004, half the growth in world trade was accounted for by China, which now has the sixth largest economy in the world (Croll, 2006). …


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