Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2012

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Noonan, Mary C

First Committee Member

Glass, Jennifer

Second Committee Member

Sprecher, Susan

Third Committee Member

Glanville, Jennifer

Fourth Committee Member

Bianchi, Alison

Fifth Committee Member

Hiemer, Karen


I test canonical theories in the preference literature - evolutionary psychology, social role theory, and social exchange theory - using group mean comparisons to replicate basic sex differences in spouse preferences. I find that, consistent with past studies, males prefer attractiveness and females prefer resources in potential partners, and in general, we prefer partners who are similar, rather than different, to us. I also find that males who anticipate enacting the "traditional" male role of "provider" within their marriage tend to prefer spouses who would fulfill the caregiver role, compared to males who do not anticipate such "traditional" gender divisions within the family. Interestingly, females who anticipate the "traditional" caregiving role do not in turn prefer spouses who fulfill the "provider" role; they instead prefer a spouse who is family-oriented, as they themselves are. I further test four new theoretical derivations and methodological assessment techniques. First, I expand the test of social exchange theory to include a wide array of personality characteristics and find similarity between how respondents see themselves and the types of characteristics they prefer in a spouse. Second, I include an assessment of gender endorsement - how respondents see themselves in terms of characteristics we commonly associate with masculinity and femininity. Interestingly, I don't find the predicted complimentarity - that highly masculine individuals prefer highly feminine spouses and vice versa. I find instead strong homogamy effects, such that respondents with masculine self-perceptions prefer spouses who also embody those masculine traits, and respondents with feminine self-perceptions prefer spouses who also identify with feminine traits. Third, my data includes a wider age range of unmarried respondents than nearly all other preference studies, so I am able to test preference differences by age. I find that older unmarried adults are generally less "particular" in their preferences, compared to those unmarried adults still in college. Despite my predictions that age would be positively related to the desire for spouse characteristics associated with "growing up," essentially, age appears to be negatively related or unrelated to most spouse preferences. Fourth, I include factor analysis techniques that both replicate a past research study (which was pioneering for the field), and broach the possibility for latent variable assessment using a wider array of preference dimensions than have been previously considered. I find evidence of several underlying preference constructs which could, and should, be taken into account when conducting future preference studies.


Factor analysis, Gender, Mate selection, Sex differences, Spouse preferences


vi, 150 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 140-150).


Copyright 2012 Christie F. Boxer

Included in

Sociology Commons