Stephanie Coontz’s provocative opinion piece in today’s New York Times touches on some interesting dilemmas facing men and women in modern America. It’s well worth reading and is a fun conversation starter with your spouse and parents. But, it was the above infographic accompanying Coontz’s commentary that caught this editor’s eye.

For the most part, the top five traits that men look for in potential wives have changed very little in 70 years. In 1939, the five most important qualities were:

  1. Dependable character
  2. Emotional stability, maturity
  3. Pleasing disposition
  4. Mutual attraction, love
  5. Good health

And, in 2008:

  1. Mutual attraction, love
  2. Dependable character
  3. Emotional stability, maturity
  4. Education, intelligence
  5. Pleasing disposition

The big mover: education and intelligence. It climbed from #11 to #4. Good health dropped two positions, and I suspect will plummet further down the list in the coming decades. The romantic in me is heartened to see that love and attraction are sitting atop the field.

For the purposes of this blog, though, the precipitous drop in having a similar religious background and the slight rise in men seeking a woman whose political background is similar to his own is intriguing. It seems men’s personal identities are mirroring our larger cultural identity. As U.S. society has become increasingly divided and hyper-partisan in political terms, men are assigning more value to having a like-minded partner in the political persuasion department. Will this trait continue to rise in importance? I hope not.

Source: “Measuring Mate Preferences: A Replication and Extension” by Christine B. Whelan, University of Pittsburgh, and Christie F. Boxer and Mary Noonan, University of Iowa

Share Your Reflection



Humour!?!?   How is the indispensible trait of a sense of humour completely missing?  IMHO, men in 1939 and 2008 are very similar; as a group, men from both eras are idiots.  Nothing like a vibrant sense of humour to indicate intelligence, quick wits, and, most importantly in a relationship, an avenue of relief when being together becomes all too difficult.
Want a long, long marriage never dull, always somethign you want to come home to?   Find a woman with an overabundance of humour.  All else will fall into second place.

I suspect that similar political views was less important in 1939 as men often told their wives what to think and how to vote at that time.

where do you find evidence for our society becoming "increasingly divided" in political terms? as opposed to when?

I'd love to see one of these for women - what women wanted in 1939 versus now.

Yes, I would love to see as to what women seek when looking for long term relationships from men.
I also agree that in 1939 till late in years, men dominated and expected their partners to vote who they voted for.
Actually, I find that in the past, men did not worry about where you stand financially. Now, I find men are interested in what women are worth financially.