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What young people around the world want most in a partner

A new study finds an unexpected trait that young people want in a lifelong partner.

A couple in a cafe in Istanbul. September 10, 2019.

Credit: OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images.
  • A new study from the UK looked at dating preferences of 2,700 international students.
  • The study found that kindness was the top trait preferred by both men and women in a lifelong partner.
  • Looks, financial stability and a sense of humor were also important but with differences across cultures.


We often have unrealistic expectations of our partners, wanting them to fulfill us in a multitude of ways. But there's one quality that stands out above all when choosing a lifelong mate – kindness. So says a new study of college students from six countries. It beat out money and looks as the top trait young people find most desirable.

The study carried out by the UK's University of Swansea involved the dating preferences of 2,700 students in the "Eastern" countries of Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong, and the "Western" countries of UK, Norway and Australia. While some differences in behaviors were noticed across the world, there were also clear similarities.

For the study, participants had to "buy" characteristics they wanted in a partner from a fixed budget. They had eight attributes to choose from for spending their "mate dollars" - physical attractiveness, creativity, good financial prospects, kindness, humor, religiosity, chastity, and the desire to have children.

Responding to different budgetary scenarios, the students were asked to figure out which traits were necessary, indispensable, and which were luxuries.

On average, the young people spent 22-26% of the total budget on kindness, making it a necessity. Outside of that, men found looks most important, while women favored partners with financial stability. On the flip side, traits like chastity, creativity and the desire for children emerged as luxuries for both men and women, getting less than 10% of the budget.

Here's a chart of key findings:

BUDGET SPENT ON DIFFERENT TRAITS BY GENDER

Trait

Men

Women

Kindness

25%

24%

Physical attractiveness

23%

17%

Good financial prospects

12%

18%

Humor

15%

14%

Wants children

7%

9%

Creativity

8%

6%

Religiosity

5%

7%

Chastity

6%

5%

One interesting cultural difference that emerged from the study was that while humor was considered indispensable for men to people in all cultures, it was a "necessity" only for the Western men. It's less of a priority in Eastern cultures, suggests the research.

The desire to have children was also more of a priority for Western women. The principle researcher Dr. Andrew G. Thomas explained that this has to do with differences in family planning.

"In cultures where contraception is widespread, a partner's desire for children may predict the likelihood of starting a family," said Thomas. "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."

Read the study here, published in the Journal of Personality.

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