A study for Vanity Fair magazine, published this month, claims to have discovered - once again - what women look for in the “perfect man”.
There’s no great surprise in the answer. Apparently, the perfect man for many modern women is a well-educated and successful 40-year-old who doesn’t get drunk. He may well be a doctor.
Like we say, the idea that women are looking for successful men of a certain age is hardly revolutionary. What is a surprise is that this must be the third study of “perfect man” traits we’ve come across in the last year or so.
So what would the opposite poll find? We trawled through the research to discover what makes our perfect woman. Some of the findings may surprise you.
The first surprise is that, according to one study, modern British men prefer brains to looks. The research, by psychologists at York University, found that men increasingly value intelligence and character over a curvy figure.
“We found in societies like Britain, or especially in Scandinavia, men place increasing value on other qualities, like intelligence, rather than curvy figures or skill at cooking,” said Dr Marcel Zentner, one of the researchers.
It’s not entirely clear why that might be, but the study authors suggest that, as societies become more equal, traditional gender preferences start to flip. So while men place more value on intelligence, women place more value on looks.
Lack of intelligence
We know, we’re contradicting ourselves. But it seems to depend on what men are wanting from their perfect woman. If we’re looking for an ideal long-term partner, we value intelligence. If we’re looking for a perfect short-term fling, the 'dumb blonde' stereotype may still hold true.
To reach this conclusion scientists from the University of Texas showed 72 heterosexual men photos of women, which contained cues indicating intelligence, vulnerability, exploitability and so on. The men found the dumber looking women more attractive for short- term relationships, but the same women quickly lost their appeal when the men were asked to rate the women as potential long-term partners.
The researchers think that, subconsciously, the men judged the stupid, silly or drunk-looking women as more likely to be receptive to sexual advances. When they were looking for more than sex, this perceived benefit vanished.
As well as brains, we also increasingly look for earning potential in our long-term partners. Again, 30 years ago a woman with money was far less of a draw, but with increasing equality in the workplace and the increasing expense of everyday life, a good wage earner - or a woman with the potential to bring home plenty of bacon in future - floats many a man’s boat.
A study run by the University of Iowa every decade since the 1930s now suggests that earning potential (or being a “good financial prospect”) has become a desirable characteristic in women.
Our attraction to earning potential and intelligence suggests the traits we look for in potential partners have changed with the times, but in one area we remain staunchly traditional.
According to a poll commissioned by paintballing.co.uk earlier this year, two-thirds of men are looking for a “good homemaker”. And nearly 80% of respondents admitted they would like to have children one day and valued good maternal traits in a potential partner.
Men are attracted to women who are self-sacrificing and generous with their time, according to research. It could be that women who put others before themselves are sending off subconscious signals about their suitability as a mate and mother.
That was hinted at by a study from the University of Arizona in 2007. It found that women in the first flushes of romance were more likely than men to volunteer or engage in acts of charity. But they particularly liked to flaunt their giving natures in public places, the research found, suggesting that women may advertise their self-sacrifice as a way of appealing to men.
No sense of humour
Actually, that title is a bit misleading. We do want women to have a sense of humour, because we want them to laugh at our jokes. What we don’t want is a woman who will be constantly cracking her own string of one-liners.
That’s the conclusion of a study published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior a few years ago. It found that, when asked to name three desirable traits in a potential mate, most women opted for a good sense of humour and many men did too.
But when the researchers dug a little deeper, they found that men didn’t want funny women, they wanted women who found them funny. “When forced to choose between humour production and humour appreciation in potential partners, women valued humour production, whereas men valued receptivity to their own humour,” said one of the researchers.
So our perfect woman laughs at our jokes but doesn’t crack too many of her own.
There’s a romantic fiction which has it that wild, unpredictable girls are the most fun. You might be arguing one minute and jumping into bed the next. You never know what they’re thinking or what they’ll do next. They’re forever threatening to leave or declaring undying love.
It might make for an exciting relationship, but most men - it seems - think it would make for a pretty miserable one. The University of Iowa study cited earlier also found that emotional stability and maturity were considered “essential characteristics” in a potential girlfriend or wife. Encouragingly, most men want a partner who is calm, thoughtful and level headed.
It’s also encouraging that most men don't seem to want to share their lives with porn stars or trophy wives. Attractiveness is important to us, but so are brains, ambition, maturity and stability. OK, we may conform to our bimbo-loving stereotype when searching for a one-night-stand, but our perfect long-term partner is an altogether more sophisticated and interesting proposition.