Home / Blog / Article




April 25 2016

What Did Our Grandparents Want in a Spouse--Compared with What We Want?

Charlotte Hays

Quote of the Day:

Think about how your grandma met your grandpa: She probably didn't swipe right because of an amusing description in his Tinder profile. Dating has changed hugely over the past generations, and so have cultural ideas about what men and women value most in a mate.

--a Washington Post article headlined "What Men and Women Wanted in a Spouse in 1939--and How Different It Is Today"

The most interesting story in the newspapers this morning is this one on how men and women have changed in the values they use in selecting a husband or wife (one changed value: we're encouraged to say partner or spouse).

The story is based on charts by economist Max Roser, who created a blog called Our World in Data. The chart relied on data from a 2013 study in the Journal of Family Issues. Three researchers compared the responses of heterosexual men and women who had been asked to rank eighteen traits by importance in picking a spouse.  The researchers compared 1939 answers with 2008 values.  

There was a lot of change in those seventy years:

First, the traits that people value more today. The lines on the left in green indicate the traits that rose in importance over the years. For both men and women, mutual attraction and love rose up the ranks, to become the most highly ranked trait in 2008. (In 1939, women ranked “dependable character” as the most important quality in a prospective husband, while men chose emotional stability and maturity.)

For both sexes, education and intelligence, good looks, good financial prospect, sociability, a similar education background and a similar political background all rose in the ranks over the years.

Women ranked a favorable social status for their partner more highly in 2008 than in 1939. Interestingly, men rated a woman’s desire for home and children and good cooking and housekeeping more highly over time — perhaps because these qualities were no longer taken for granted in a wife.

Then there are the traits that declined in importance, shown in red on Roser's chart. For both men and women, the importance of chastity nose-dived, from #10 in 1939 to #18 in 2008. Emotional stability and maturity, a pleasing disposition, good health, and refinement and neatness also declined for both sexes.

For women, a similar religious background and a desire for home and children became less important in their mates, while men placed less value on ambition and industriousness in their wives.

Essay Question: Are these changes for better or worse?



Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
Follow us