SWANSEA, Wales — What’s the number one quality you look for in a potential long-term romantic partner? According to a new international study of over 2,700 college students, the most important quality most people look for in a long-term partner is kindness. Other qualities, such as physical attractiveness or financial stability, were also ranked as important factors, but kindness was given the highest priority.
Researchers from Swansea University in Wales had college students from all over the world construct their ideal lifelong partner using a fixed budget to “buy” different characteristics. The study’s authors made it a priority to include participants from both Western countries (United Kingdom, Australia, Norway) and Eastern countries (Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia).
Each participant was presented with eight different attributes they could spend their “mate dollars” on: kindness, humor, physical attractiveness, strong finances, chastity, strong religious beliefs, creativity, and a desire to have children.
While there were some differences among Eastern and Western students’ preferences, there were also a number of similarities.
Across the participant pool, students spent 22-26% of their budgets on kindness, as well as a significant portion on attractiveness and finances. Surprisingly, traits like chastity and creativity received less than 10%.
Researchers also noted differences among genders, both Eastern and Western men spent more of their money on attractiveness than women (22% vs 16%), while women from both areas spent more “money” on good finances than men (18% vs 12%).
The research team believe that studying partner preferences across cultures can help us better understand human behavior as a whole.
“Looking at very different culture groups allows us to test the idea that some behaviors are human universals,” comments principle researcher Dr. Andrew G. Thomas in a release. “If men and women act in a similar way across the globe, then this adds weight to the idea that some behaviors develop in spite of culture rather than because of it.”
A desire for children was also an especially high priority among Western women.
“We think this may have something to do with family planning,” Dr. Thomas speculates. “In cultures where contraception is widespread, a partner’s desire for children may predict the likelihood of starting a family. In contrast, in cultures where contraception use is less widespread, having children may be a natural consequence of sex within a relationship, making actual desire for children less relevant.”
The study is published in The Journal of Personality.