Sex differences in sexual attraction for aesthetics, resources and personality across age

PLoS One. 2021 May 19;16(5):e0250151. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0250151. eCollection 2021.


Because sexual attraction is a key driver of human mate choice and reproduction, we descriptively assess relative sex differences in the level of attraction individuals expect in the aesthetic, resource, and personality characteristics of potential mates. As a novelty we explore how male and female sexual attractiveness preference changes across age, using a dataset comprising online survey data for over 7,000 respondents across a broad age distribution of individuals between 18 and 65 years. In general, we find that both males and females show similar distribution patterns in their preference responses, with statistically significant sex differences within most of the traits. On average, females rate age, education, intelligence, income, trust, and emotional connection around 9 to 14 points higher than males on our 0-100 scale range. Our relative importance analysis shows greater male priority for attractiveness and physical build, compared to females, relative to all other traits. Using multiple regression analysis, we find a consistent statistical sex difference (males relative to females) that decreases linearly with age for aesthetics, while the opposite is true for resources and personality, with females exhibiting a stronger relative preference, particularly in the younger aged cohort. Exploring non-linearity in sex difference with contour plots for intelligence and attractiveness across age (mediated by age) indicates that sex differences in attractiveness preferences are driven by the male cohort (particularly age 30 to 40) for those who care about the importance of age, while intelligence is driven by females caring relatively more about intelligence for those who see age as very important (age cohort 40 to 55). Overall, many of our results indicate distinct variations within sex at key life stages, which is consistent with theories of selection pressure. Moreover, results also align with theories of parental investment, the gender similarities hypothesis, and mutual mate choice-which speaks to the fact that the broader discipline of evolutionary mate choice research in humans still contains considerable scope for further inquiry towards a unified theory, particularly when exploring sex-difference across age.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Beauty*
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Educational Status
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Income*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Personality*
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Visual Perception

Grants and funding

The author(s) received no specific funding for this work.