Study Suggests Preferences in Romantic Partners Change Little During College Years

According to research published in Evolutionary Psychology, although students believe that what they desire in a relationship changes as they mature, their actual preference in romantic and sexual partners varies little with age.

The research included three separate studies, which were conducted by April Bleske-Rechek, Baily Heuvel, and Maria Wyst, from the University of Wisconsin.

In the first study, the researchers analyzed 103 college student’s responses to two questions: How they thought romantic relationship desires change as they develop and how partner preference changes as they develop from freshmen to graduating seniors.

They found that most students reported they believed as they matured through college they would have an increased preference for long-term relationships and place a higher emphasis on personality traits in their partners.

The authors then conducted two additional studies to examine whether this belief accurately reflected college students actual preferences. The participants of these two studies completed a survey in which they constructed their perfect partner by allocated 50 “mate dollars” to various characteristics. These characteristics included ambition, desire for children, emotional stability, faithfulness, intelligence, physical attractiveness, potential for financial success, sense of humor, similar values, and social popularity.

“The findings from our two subsequent studies of emerging adults of varying ages suggest that men’s and women’s  mate preferences, short-term mating desires, and long-term mating desires vary little between the ages of 18 and 26,” as the authors of the study explain.

Although in the first study college students reported that they believed their preferences in sexual and romantic partners would change over time, the results of the second and third study did not find any association between the allocation of “mate dollars” and age.


April Bleske-Rechek, Baily Heuvel, & Maria Wyst. (2009). Age variation in mating strategies and mate preferences: Beliefs versus reality. Evolutionary Psychology, Vol 7, No 2: 179-205. Full text: