It seems logical for people with high mate value to insist on comparable partners, and there’s some evidence that they do. By observing singles pursuing one another at online dating sites and in speed-dating experiments, researchers have found that people tend to end up with those of similar mate value.
That pattern also occurs in married couples: Attractive, well-educated, high-earning people tend to marry people like themselves. In fact, economists say that this growing trend of “assortative mating” is a major cause of income inequality, because a household with two high earners makes so much more money than a household with two low earners (or only one earner).
But just how ruthlessly superficial are people in assessing the value of potential mates? To investigate, psychologists at the University of Texas at Austin asked students to rate the romantic appeal of their opposite-sex classmates.
At the start of the semester, the students pretty much agreed on who in their class was most desirable. But when they were asked again three months later, after spending a semester in a small class together, their judgments varied widely on who was hot and who was not.
“Perceptions of mate value change the more time that people spend together,” said Lucy Hunt, a graduate student who published the study last year with Paul Eastwick, an assistant professor of human development and family sciences.
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