Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

Living Edition
| Editors: Todd K. Shackelford, Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford

Male Mate Choice

  • Anthonieta Looman MafraEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_1410-1



Romantic or sexual partner selection by men; characteristics that guide male choice of their romantic or sexual partners.


According to the Parental Investment Theory (Trivers 1972), males and females present their mating strategies related to the investment they make in their offspring. In general, females tend to invest more time and energy in their children. Males, on the other hand, do not invest in offspring as much as females do, and the low paternal investment necessity allows them to invest more time and energy in mating effort. For them, engaging more in short-term relationships, with different sexual partners, increases their probability of having a greater reproductive success since they can have more children in a short period of time. Therefore, men’s reproductive success is limited by their access to women, which leads them to compete to have access to females, a limiting resource.

Sexual Strategies Theory

Observing men and women romantic partners preferences, Buss and Schmitt (1993) noticed both sexes focus on different characteristics. Distinct evolutionary pressures have acted on men and women and have led them to valorize different traits in their partners in order to maximize their reproductive success.

Because of women’s high physiological investment in children (9 months of gestation, breastfeeding, and the primary care with children), men tend to prioritize physical attractiveness more than women do (Buss 1989).

Physical Attractiveness

As the physiological investment by women is mandatory, men who choose their partners based on characteristics that give them cues about women’s good physiology for having children, such as ideal estrogen levels, have increased their reproductive success (Karremans et al. 2010). Karremans et al. (2010) found that women’s body in hourglass shape (waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7) is considered more attractive. This proportion of fat distribution is positively associated with the neural development of the embryo, and women who have ideal estrogen levels accumulate more fat in the hip area.


In addition, due to the relation of women’s physiology and fertility, another important trait is age (Kenrick and Keefe 1992). Women have a short period during which they can reproduce when comparing to men. Women start being reproductive with menarche, having their reproductive peak around age 24 and stop reproducing at menopause (around 50 years old). With the increase of men’s age, there is a decrease of their fertility because of sperm quality (such as ill-formed sperm) and quantity, but there is no interruption of their reproduction (Pawlowski 2000). Thus, age is a limiting factor of female reproduction and, therefore, important when men are looking for a partner.

Strategy Change

Even though men tend to adopt a short-term relationship, there are some circumstances that might lead them to modify their strategy from short- to long-term. One factor that can influence men’s strategy change is the percentage variation of women in a population. A men-biased operational sex ratio forces men to choose a partner and commit to her faster than usual in order to guarantee at least one woman by his side, since some men will not have access to her (Kruger et al. 2010).

Another factor that might influence men’s strategy is their perception of social acceptation. Men who perceive themselves as less accepted socially tend to decrease their self-esteem and, consequently, their mate value evaluation (Penke and Denissen 2008). Men with a low self-esteem level, as men in a men-biased population, also tend to commit faster than usual.


In order to maximize their reproductive success, men tend to invest more in short-term relationships, for having the possibility of getting greater access to women. Women invest more physiologically in children when compared to men. This factor leads men to search for characteristics that signal women’s capacity to have children. Through physical attractiveness, men assess information about women’s youth and fertility, important factors to women’s reproductive potential.



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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Universidade de São PauloSão PauloBrazil

Section editors and affiliations

  • Douglas Sellers
    • 1
  1. 1.Penn State Worthington ScrantonScrantonUSA