A psychology study from 2015 was highlighted in the media this week, with the research supposedly showing that the dating preferences of men and women are slowly converging as gender equality in society improves. Men historically have valued youth and attractiveness in women, and women for their part value men with with status and wealth. According to evolutionary biologists such as David Buss, these preferences are hardwired and the result of selection pressures. Women have evolved to find powerful, wealthy men attractive because mating with such men increases their odds of successfully reproducing their genes. The 2015 study purported to prove the researcher’s own bias – that sexual preference is culturally determined and will converge in an egalitarian society.
Although the SBS author seems to largely accept the study’s findings when giving his own thoughts on the future of dating in 100 years, he doesn’t see mating preferences ever fully converging :
What if a society actually did achieve perfect gender equality? Would women and men hold essentially identical partner preferences? My hunch is that women’s and men’s choices might never completely converge. The key difference is likely to come down to the demands of breastfeeding following the birth of a child – an activity that’s energy-intensive, time-consuming, and quite difficult to integrate with paid work, at least as work is currently structured. The implication is that women will seek to replace this anticipated loss of income by choosing husbands with good earning prospects. This decision will have little to do to with some primeval urge for a great male protector, however; it will be guided by rational calculations about future needs. Moreover, progressive social policy, changes to the workplace, and greater participation of fathers in childcare could all mitigate such career-compromising pressures.
While I’m sceptical that dating preferences are significantly changing, the author doesn’t consider that the dating scene, and society itself, is likely to be radically transformed long before 100 years into the future. Ironically, what will converge is male wealth and power with youth and beauty. Not because young males will be richer, but because rejuvenation technologies that are just around the corner, and likely to be very expensive for a long time, will allow older men with money to look as good or better as most 20 year old men. Anti-aging treatments that really do ‘turn back the clock’ such as senolytics and stem cell treatments. So even if it is true that women will value youth and beauty more, radiant ‘youthful’ beauty may certainly in 100 years time, be an indicator of wealth and status. The same will be true for female beauty. Middle-aged women who can afford the treatments will truly look ‘forever 21’.