New research published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that concerns about COVID-19 are associated with fear of being single and changes in partner preferences.
During the lockdowns, individuals were asked to stay home and refrain from socializing face-to-face; however, there was an increased use of online dating services. Study author Cassandra Alexopoulos and her colleagues were interested in investigating whether the COVID-19 pandemic has altered romantic partner preferences.
More specifically, the researchers wanted to confirm if the fear of being single is associated with being less selective when seeking a long-term partner. This group of researchers predicted to find that the most valued qualities in a mate during the stressful COVID-19 pandemic are financial stability, good physical health, and family communication.
The researchers recruited 2,614 participants from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to complete an online survey. Participants were at least 18 years old, single, casually dating, or in a romantic relationship, and most (78%) were female. Alexopoulos and her colleagues measured participant’s COVID-19 concern via a modified version of the Fear of Ebola Scale in which participants reported how often they worried about getting infected with, felt vulnerable to, and thought about contracting COVID-19. Participants responded to items from The Fear of Being Single Scale and a modified version of Buston and Emlen’s (2003) mate-preference survey.
Results from this study show that concern about COVID-19 was positively correlated with importance of partner stability, family commitment, and (contrary to their predictions) physical/social attractiveness. COVID-19 concern was also positively associated with fear of being single and indirectly positively related to stability. Fear of being single was indirectly negatively related to physical and social attractiveness, which suggests that these individuals lowered their standards for physical and social attractiveness to fulfil their needs for love, belonging, and social connection.
The findings regarding increased preference for stability and family commitment during the COVID-19 pandemic suggest that attaining these qualities can help alleviate and cope with stress. It is also beneficial and comforting to attain a partner who is not pursuing other partners. It appears that, rather than lowering standards for mates due to a stressful environment, people are motivated to assess good physical health as an indicator of being able to survive the coronavirus.
This coincides with the “good genes” hypothesis which suggests people desire mates with good physical qualities their offspring would likely inherit. Alexopoulos and her research team also suggest that the preference for higher social status could help fulfil the need for more social connections considering that people of higher social status tend to have access to a larger range of social connections. This preference is likely higher during the COVID-19 pandemic because many people report increased feelings of loneliness.
A limitation to consider regarding this research is that the findings show correlations between COVID-19 concerns and partner preferences but does not imply causation. Although it appears worry about COVID-19 is directly related to partner preferences and fear of being single, it is possible that other factors, such as neuroticism and loneliness predict the same outcomes.
Another limitation is that participants were not asked whether they were seeking a relationship or whether they prefer a short or long-term relationship, which may influence which qualities they value. Nearly all participants indicated they were following social distancing guidelines, which likely limits the amount of potential mates in their environment. Lastly, this research relied on participants reports of partner preferences at the time of taking the survey and before the COVID-19 pandemic to determine any changes and is subject to recall bias.
The study, “Settling down without settling: Perceived changes in partner preferences in response to COVID-19“, was authored by Cassandra Alexopoulos, Elisabeth Timmermans, Liesel L. Sharabi, David J. Roaché, Alyssa Croft, Elizabeth Dorrance Hall, Laurie James-Hawkins, Veronica Lamarche, and Maximiliane Uhlich.