It's thought that men value women's looks most of all. Not so, says a new study.
As men, we know what we like in women.
We like pretty faces, curvaceous bodies, and luxurious long (preferably blond) hair. It's good if the objects of our attention are smart, kind, witty and interesting too, but we are nothing if not simplistic in our tastes. We go for looks above all else, for very good evolutionary reasons.
Except maybe we don't. New research has cast some doubt on the idea that men are attracted to physical factors above everything. It suggests that, for modern men, brains are becoming more important than beauty.
Here's why that might be the case.
Intelligence most important
According to the study by researchers at the University of York, in societies where the gender gap is narrowing, more men are coming to value intelligence and character over both physical looks and traditional wifely virtues such as cooking skills.
The researchers surveyed over 12,000 people in 30 countries, and asked them to describe the traits they most valued in a partner. They then matched the answers to a global index of inequality, which rates countries based on their progress towards equal rights.
They found that, in those countries where the gender gap was narrowest, men increasingly valued brains over beauty. At the same time, women in the same countries were generally less impressed by the size of a man's wallet than evolutionary psychology would have us believe.
Where women earn decent incomes of their own, male spending power becomes less important. Instead, in a world turned upside down from traditional stereotypes, women focus more on how men look.
Dr Marcel Zentner, a psychologist at York University, said: "We found in societies like Britain, or especially in Scandinavia, men place increasing value on other qualities, like intelligence, rather than curvy figures or skill at cooking."
"Traditionally, women prefer wealthy men who have an ability to invest resources in any children. What we found was that as women became more equal, this preference declines, but men's looks become much more important."
More men becoming house husbands
Previous research seems to support at least some of those findings. For example, figures released earlier this year found that there were now 62,000 British men who might describe themselves as house husbands, a number that has tripled in the last 15 years.
In other words, there has clearly been a shift away from traditional male/female roles, which may explain why fewer women regard wealth and earning power as important.
Why do men value intelligence?
At the same time, why do so many men value brains over beauty? It could be simply that there are so many brainy women about. According to statistics, 58 per cent of undergraduate degrees are awarded to women.
It could also be that intelligent women are likely to earn well, and having two earners in a household can be important in a tough economy with rising inflation and house prices that still feel beyond the reach of many young people.
Psychologist and novelist Voula Grand, author of Honor's Shadow, believes that a narrowing gender gap in economic terms has left both genders reassessing their needs and wants.
"If you don't need a man for his money, a woman has more power in the relationship, but the man gets more status from a woman who is both beautiful and smart," she says.
So a man can benefit from his intelligent, high-earning partner in more ways than one. And it could signal a recognition by men that being drawn to character and intellect, as well as looks, is much better for your chances of a happy long-term relationship than being drawn to looks alone.
"I have seen more and more advice columns recently advising women to look for similarities of background, goals, values and interests in a future mate this gives the marriage or relationship most chance of success long term... I would also emphasise equality of intellect, as communication is so much more straightforward when you are talking to someone who is similar to you in this respect," she says.
What does it mean for men?
At a trivial level, all this means is that having a crush on the nerdy girl is no bad thing. But it also suggests a deeper realignment of gender relationships.
It means, says Grand, that our romantic choices might not be as hardwired as previously believed, with men programmed always to choose looks first and women programmed to prioritise wealth and resources.
And it could be that, just as men start to value brains over beauty, so women start to value looks over riches. Or as Dr Zentner told the Sunday Times: "Men can relax about having to build up wealth, but may benefit from looking after their looks a little more."