Variation in human mate choice: Simultaneously investigating heritability, parental influence, sexual imprinting, and assortative mating

Brendan P. Zietsch, Karin J.H. Verweij, Andrew C. Heath, Nicholas G. Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations

Abstract

Human mate choice is central to individuals' lives and to the evolution of the species, but the basis of variation in mate choice is not well understood. Here we looked at a large community-based sample of twins and their partners and parents (N > 20,000 individuals) to test for genetic and family environmental influences on mate choice, while controlling for and not controlling for the effects of assortative mating. Key traits were analyzed, including height, body mass index, age, education, income, personality, social attitudes, and religiosity. This revealed near-zero genetic influences on male and female mate choice over all traits and no significant genetic influences on mate choice for any specific trait. A significant family environmental influence was found for the age and income of females' mate choices, possibly reflecting parental influence over mating decisions. We also tested for evidence of sexual imprinting, where individuals acquire mate-choice criteria during development by using their opposite-sex parent as the template of a desirable mate; there was no such effect for any trait. The main discernible pattern of mate choice was assortative mating; we found that partner similarity was due to initial choice rather than convergence and also at least in part to phenotypic matching.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)605-616
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Volume177
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2011

Keywords

  • Assortative mating
  • Behavior genetics
  • Evolutionary psychology
  • Mate choice
  • Mate preferences
  • Sexual imprinting

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