Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

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

Female Mate Choice

  • Urszula M. MarcinkowskaEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_89-1


Mate Choice Sexual Openness Female Mate Choice Future Child Mating Context 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



A complex system of conscious and unconscious mechanisms leading to an expression of a preference toward a certain individual or a certain feature.


Sex differences in mate choice arise from differences in minimal investment in children between men and women (minimal parental investment). For men, basic investment is energy spent for sperm production and then fertilization. For women, not only is the energetic expense for ovum much higher than men’s investment in sperm cells, but minimal cost also includes pregnancy and then usually breast-feeding. Due to these primary differences, men and women differ greatly in what they seek in a partner and what choices they make.

Women’s mate choice is not fixed throughout their lifetime and depends on a multitude of conditions. Those conditions can be defined as more “internal” (such as hormones or sexual openness) or “external” (e.g., living conditions, family structure, or past sexual experiences). Also due to minimal parental investment inequality, men and women differ in what they want to receive from a partner (putative parent of their future children).

Sex Hormones and Preferences

Women’s sex hormones’ levels (mostly estradiol and progesterone) vary greatly, both during their lifetime (being highest during fertile years and lower before puberty and after menopause) and monthly (over the menstrual cycle). It is suggested that change in levels of sex hormones influences what women want in a given time of life or month (Anthony C. Little et al. 2010; Penton-Voak et al. 1999). It has also been suggested that women express dual sexuality – their preferences and behaviors vary between fertile and non-fertile phases; however, there is an ongoing debate about how strong such menstrual cycle shifts are (for meta-analyses leading to contradictory results on this topic, see Gildersleeve et al. 2013 and Wood et al.2014).

Mating Context and Relationship Status

Depending on whether women are judging putative partners for a long-term or short-term relationship, they can favor different characteristics. In a long-term relation, parental skills or emotional stability are more sought after. For more of short-term liaison, women direct their attention toward attractiveness (Li and Kenrick 2006) or masculinity and health, manifested through symmetry (Anthony C. Little and Jones 2012). Mating context can change, however, depending on the relationship status of a woman (exerting preference for good genes from a one-time encounter with a masculine man “pays-off” only if a woman is already in a long-term relationship (A. C. Little et al. 2002)).

Sexual Openness

Women’s past sexual experience and how easily she enters into physical relationships with emotional engagement play an important role in what she looks for, for example, women who are more sexually open have a stronger preference for masculinity (Sacco et al. 2012) than their more reserved peers.

Living Conditions and Country Characteristics

Mating choices of women also vary depending on the living conditions of their surroundings. Women in countries with worse living conditions show a higher preference toward more masculine men (Brooks et al. 2011; DeBruine et al.2010), most probably as such men can provide better genes for future children.


Due to differences in minimal investment in children, women are the choosier sex – meaning their preferences will be more complex and expectations will be more stringent than men’s when it comes to pairing. Women’s characteristics and their life history play an important role in how her mate choices are shaped.



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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Jagiellonian University Medical CollegeKrakowPoland