Be Mine

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Forget "Love the one you're with." Love the one you can get. So say University of Texas professor Kelly Raley and doctoral candidate Jennifer Bratter in their aptly named report, "Not Even If You Were the Last Man on Earth!" Their study draws upon data from the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH) to examine how specific preferences in a spouse can affect the likelihood of getting married.

Previous studies on marriage have focused on factors such as the age, race, education, and employment of the unmarried. But not all individuals in the same demographic group have the same preferences in the opposite sex. While Raley and Bratter didn't quantify the number of gentlemen who prefer blondes, their findings reveal that, contrary to popular belief, most young men between the ages of 19 and 34 seek a woman with more education and more money - the two most preferred traits - than they have themselves. Similarly, women prefer men with a bigger paycheck and a higher degree of education than their own. But women are more likely than men to say they're willing to marry someone unattractive. Men who are five years younger or earn less need not apply, however. Women give these characteristics a low rating. The fellas don't have the same hang-up about women who don't bring home the bacon - especially if they're easy on the eyes: Most men say they're unlikely to choose an unattractive wife.

But do such preferences actually affect the likelihood of marriage? To find out, single women and men were interviewed about their preferred mates in the first wave of the NSFH study in 1987. They were then given five years to see if they caught one of Cupid's arrows and then were re-interviewed. The researchers found that men and women looking for someone with a set of preferences that are in greater supply are more likely to tie the knot. For instance, there are many women seeking men with greater economic resources than their own, so men looking for women with less economic resources have a better chance of getting hitched. Conversely, the number of women searching for men of a different race is relatively small and thus it is likely that men looking for a woman of another race will spend more time as bachelors. Raley and Bratter were also able to show, but to a lesser degree of certainty, that men and women who are willing to marry someone that their competitors find less desirable are more likely to take a stroll down the aisle. This was especially true for men willing to marry a woman with a child.

Still looking for help in the love department? Another study out of the department of anthropology at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, might help. The report, "SWF ISO LTR: The Quest for Love and Meaning in the Personals," focuses on personal ads placed in a New York newspaper during an 18-month period. Women, the researchers found, commonly use words like "sensitive," "easygoing," "attractive," and "curvaceous" to describe themselves. They say they are seeking men who are honest, sensitive, funny, and, to a lesser degree, secure and independent. Men describe themselves as "honest," "caring," "humorous," and a "financial success." They're looking for ladies who are "outgoing" and "athletic," traits not often used by women to describe themselves in personal ads. Men also don't directly indicate a desire for physical attractiveness, but women still describe their appearance most of the time. What gives? Men and women, believing that they can read between the lines, provide information that they think will be most appealing to the opposite sex - and that follow traditional gender stereotypes. So with a little bit of research you may be able to land a Valentine's Day date that will last a lifetime. Good luck!

For more information about "Not Even If You Were the Last Man on Earth!" call Kelly Raley at (512) 232-6333 or e-mail kraley@prc.utexas.edu. For information on "SWF ISO LTR: The Quest for Love and Meaning in the Personals," call Sharon Rippey at (315) 859-4691 or e-mail srippey@ hamilton.edu.

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