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Note to Guys: Women Prefer Prestige

Women, according to the cliché, are attracted to powerful men — those who have achieved success and made it to the top of their field. It turns out that is only partially true. According to new research, a man's desirability depends on how he achieved his high status.
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A team of researchers led by anthropologist Jeffrey Snyder of the University of California, Los Angeles, has concluded that, when women rank men in terms of desirability, prestige is a far more important factor than dominance. They found that “women preferred targets on whom peers conferred prestige-based status because of specific knowledge or skills to targets who achieved dominance-based status through strategies of force or the threat of force.”

Their paper, just published in the journal Personal Relationships, describes three studies of female college students. In the first of these, 71 coeds from the College of William and Mary in Virginia read fictional vignettes describing two male students at different colleges.

Each of the men was described as president of the school’s debating club. But according to the brief bios, the first was also described as dominating his peers and grandstanding during meetings, while the second rose in rank because his fellow members liked and respected him.

The women were asked to “honestly and accurately report their first impressions” of these two men and then rate whether they were desirable as a date or romantic partner. They rated the second candidate — that is, the one who was less dominant but had greater prestige — as both more desirable and more attractive.

Further studies confirmed that women “did not prefer targets who used dominance-based strategies to achieve status” in any context “outside of a socially sanctioned athletic contest.” The researchers surmise that women who see men acting in domineering ways when interacting with other men believe they will behave similarly in a relationship.

The report concludes that “women utilize specific clues that help them identify potential mates that hold social rank and are direct in social interactions, but are unlikely to direct force or the use of force toward them.”

The authors admit that their sample is limited to young, relatively affluent, educated women; they concede that “there may be contexts in which traits such as aggression and being domineering are in fact desirable.” The continuing reality of domestic violence suggests that is very likely an understatement.

Still, it is interesting to note that while the female college students surveyed are drawn to men of high achievement, they seem to have developed a type of a radar to identify those “who will not direct dominance behaviors toward their own mates.” In other words, the guy who succeeds due to his smarts and his skills is likely to make the best mate.