What Modern Men Want in Women

What do men want in a woman? Brains? Beauty? Vacuuming prowess?

Researchers at the University of Iowa find that men increasingly are interested in intelligent, educated women who are financially stable — and chastity isn't an issue.

The findings are part of a study, conducted every decade since 1939, which asks participants to rank a list of 18 characteristics they would want in a partner on a scale ranging from "irrelevant" to "essential." Included are such items as "sociability" and "good cook, housekeeper," as well as "mutual attraction and love," which came in first place for both men and women in 2008. (In 1939, it wasn't in the top three for either sex.)

Male and female participants in 2008 rounded out their top traits with "dependable character" and "emotional stability, maturity." Men ranked intelligence fourth, a big jump from 11th place in 1939; in addition, "good financial prospect" moved to 12th place in 2008, a shift from its low 17th-place ranking in 1939 and last-place ranking in 1967.

"This is a generation of men who has grown up with educated women as their mothers, teachers, doctors, and role models," said Christine Whelan, head of the study and author of "Marry Smart: The Intelligent Woman's Guide to True Love" (Simon & Schuster, 2008). "And in tough economic times, sharing the financial burden with a spouse takes the burden off these guys to be the sole provider."

The study's participants were college students from the University of Iowa, the University of Washington, the University of Virginia, and Penn State University.

"Like attracts like, so certainly the fact that we were polling college students would suggest that intelligence and education are going to be important characteristics," Whelan says.

Another notable shift involves the significance of chastity: In 1939, it was valued more than intelligence in women, but in 2008, it was ranked the least important characteristic. Furthermore, it also was ranked the least important for men. This, coupled with the shared top-three ranking for both men and women, suggests a commonality that seems positively modern-day.

Details of the study are below.

Details:

WHAT MEN WANT

Essential characteristics:

  • Mutual attraction and love
  • Dependable character
  • Emotional stability

Important characteristics:

  • Education and intelligence
  • Good looks
  • Ambition

Desirable characteristics:

  • Good financial prospect
  • Good cook and housekeeper

Unimportant characteristics:

  • Similar political background
  • Chastity

WHAT WOMEN WANT

Essential characteristics:

  • Mutual attraction and love
  • Dependable character
  • Emotional stability

Important characteristics:

  • Education and intelligence
  • Desire for home and children
  • Ambition

Desirable characteristics

  • Good looks
  • Refinement

Unimportant characteristics:

  • Similar political background
  • Chastity
Sally Law has written about health and sexuality for the Cleveland Clinic, and has appeared regularly as a guest host on Sirius Radio. Her column, The Science of Sex, appears weekly on LiveScience.