One of the most obvious clues is youth, a correlate of physical attractiveness, which has also been shown to be a desirable trait by older men in lonely-hearts advertisements. This could be because the older a woman gets, the less fertile she becomes. According to evolutionary psychologists, a man sees fertility as an important attribute because it assures him that his bloodline will continue. In many cultures, men prefer wives who are younger, although the age difference varies across societies. In the United States, college students surveyed between 1939-1988 indicated the preferred age difference is approximately 2.
5 years. Men who were 21 years old preferred, on average, women who were 18. 5 years (Buss, 1994). As men get older, they tend to be attracted to women who are increasingly younger than they are. Men in their thirties prefer women 5 years younger, while men in their 70’s prefer women who are 10 to 20 years younger. In evolutionary terms, the older male is strategically balancing his aging, and thus poorer quality genes with the younger females youth, and thus good genetic potential in order to reproduce healthy offspring.
Aside from the widely accepted facial features which have been recognised as being attractive to both males and females (prominent cheek bones, large eyes and wide smile), facial features have also been shown to be attractive to males if they look youthful, smaller and neotenous, representing a baby face. For example a smaller chin is more attractive in females than males and this has come about due to lower levels of testosterone (Cunningham et al 1990).
Jones (1995) highlighted this in a cross-cultural study using a youth indicator scale of women. He found that that female attractiveness involves a substantial neotenous component as women whose predicted age was less than their actual age, were considered more attractive. However this bias towards youthful features is problematic from an evolutionary standpoint as those with the most child-like faces are children and next inline are old women whose facial features have shrunk with age, and these groups of people are infertile.
Therefore male’s attraction to more youthful faces is better explained by the observational standpoint claiming that women’s faces always look younger than males faces of the same age, therefore by looking for ‘youth’ men are more likely to get a healthier female. From the female point of view there is evidence that youth is seen as an important component of attraction as the random attitude drift model claims that attributes such as youth are for aesthetic preference rather than biological function which in turn have led to social pressures for women to remain youthful looking.
This is evident as the beauty industry is premised on a multi million dollar quest to retain a youthful appearance as it is known that the ageing process causes a decline in physical attractiveness, thus fashion magazines have portrayed celebrities getting plastic surgery or face lifts encouraging youth. Small feet are also reported to be more attractive to males. This is evident as practices such as foot binding in females in China (Jackson 2002) and US women wearing excessively small shoes (Frey et al 1993) indicates that small feet are a more attractive feature in women.
There are two hypotheses as to why this may have arisen. Sexual dimorphism in foot size may lead observers to view small feet as feminine and large feet as masculine. Alternately, because small female feet indicate youth, evolution may have favored a male preference for this attribute in order to maximize returns on male reproductive investment. Frey et al (2005) confirmed these hypotheses using line drawings that varied only in regard to relative foot size, examining attractiveness judgments in nine cultures.
They found that small foot size was generally preferred for females by males. This confirmed observational hypothesis predicting symmetrical polarizing preferences, with small feet being preferred in women and large feet being preferred in men, however disputed evolutionary hypothesis predicting asymmetrical preferences, with the average phenotype being preferred in men, as according to evolutionary accounts small feet are problematic and associated with pelvic insufficiency.
Symmetry is yet another measure of attractiveness that men use when evaluating any potential mate as it is held to be an indicator of ‘good genes’ (Zahavi, 1975). Scientists say that the preference for symmetry is a highly evolved trait seen in many different animals. Female swallows, for example, prefer males with longer and more symmetric tails, while female zebra finches mate with males with symmetrically coloured leg bands Fluctuating asymmetry (FA) is a measure of symmetry of a bilateral character (e. g. ear length or hand breadth) that fluctuates.
Although this appears to be a minute detail, it could have its links to our evolutionary past. This is because departures from perfect FA are assumed to be the result of environmental stressors such as physical assaults, parasitic infections, reduced nutrition and disease. For example a high FA (e. g. one foot longer than the other) is thought to indicate a poor condition on the assumption that it requires a sound metabolism to grow perfectly symmetrical features. Therefore good symmetry of the body and face are deemed to be indicators of health.