Dating-Partner Preferences among a Group of Inner-City African-American High School Students

By Smith, Sherry P. | Adolescence, Spring 1996 | Go to article overview

Dating-Partner Preferences among a Group of Inner-City African-American High School Students


Smith, Sherry P., Adolescence


A substantial amount of research has examined the criteria that influence interpersonal attraction, and the findings are mixed. For instance, Buss and Barnes (1986) studied a group of married people ranging in age from 18 to 40 years and found that the ten most appealing attributes listed were: honesty, companionship, affection, consideration, intelligence, dependableness, understanding, loyalty, interesting to talk to, and kindness. On the other hand, in his classic study, Waller (1937) found what he termed a "rating and dating" complex among college students. Specifically, Waller concluded that students were largely concerned with dating someone with "status" in order to acquire prestige. Among the traits that made one a desirable female dating partner were: having good clothes, being popular, knowing how to dance, and having a "smooth line." For a male to be perceived as a desirable dating partner, he had to have lots of money for dates, be involved in campus activities, be well-dressed, have good manners, have a "smooth line," and belong to a prestigious fraternity. However, since the time of Waller's study, researchers have found greater emphasis on personality traits rather than "prestigious" ones - at least among college students. For instance, while Smith (1952) found some agreement with Waller, he noted that such qualities as friendliness and considerateness were rated higher than status-laden attributes, even though campus prestige (e.g., fraternity or sorority membership) had significant influence on choice of dating partner. Moreover, Christensen (1950) found that males and females ranked the following attributes as being important: physical attractiveness, sociability, and a pleasant personality. Herold (1974) found that although students ranked personality characteristics highly in dating relationships, prestige factors (e.g., charm and good looks) had more influence at the initial dating stage.

With regard to racial differences at the high school level, Hansen (1977) found that black students ranked materialistic factors more highly than personality factors, while white students ranked personality traits more highly. Additionally, among a group of college students, Hansen and Hicks (1980) found no pattern of traits for black students, while the following traits were ranked highly among whites: has a sense of humor, is dependable, and is natural. The majority of these studies used either fixed-choice or free-response questionnaires.

A more recent study reveals the types of individuals males and females preferred in a dating partner at the college level. Using a fixed-choice and free-response questionnaire, Goodwin (1990) distinguished between males' and females' preferences. In the fixed-response portion, both males and females desired a partner who was kind, honest, and humorous. In the free-response set, "companionship" was rated highly among females, while "personality" and "kindness" were rated highly among males. Moreover, most research suggests that a "principle of similarity" prevails among the mate selection process; males and females tend to select partners with whom they share similar traits (Buss, 1984).

The present study examined the rank-orderings of 12 pre-selected characteristics that students may (or may not) deem important. The intent of this study was two-fold: to explore the dating preferences among a select group of inner-city high-school students to determine whether exist, and to provide a new perspective on understanding dating practices through the use of a well-known (but rarely used) scaling technique. The data were analyzed according to self-reports of 12 characteristics which the students rated in terms of how important they perceived these traits to be. Because of the novelty in using the multidimensional scaling technique in this particular field of study, the present analyses are purely descriptive and are aimed solely to supplement existing knowledge of dating practices among high school students. …

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