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Keywords:

  • Heritability;
  • indirect benefits;
  • mate choice;
  • multiple ornaments;
  • sexual selection;
  • twin study

Human mate preferences have received a great deal of attention in recent decades because of their centrality to sexual selection, which is thought to play a substantial role in human evolution. Most of this attention has been on universal aspects of mate preferences, but variation between individuals is less understood. In particular, the relative contribution of genetic and environmental influences to variation in mate preferences is key to sexual selection models but has barely been investigated in humans, and results have been mixed in other species. Here, we used data from over 4000 mostly female twins who ranked the importance of 13 key traits in a potential partner. We used the classical twin design to partition variation in these preferences into that due to genes, family environment, and residual factors. In women, there was significant variability in the broad-sense heritability of individual trait preferences, with physical attractiveness the most heritable (29%) and housekeeping ability the least (5%). Over all the trait preferences combined, broad-sense heritabilities were highly significant in women and marginally significant in men, accounting for 20% and 19% of the variation, respectively; family environmental influences were much smaller. Heritability was a little higher in reproductive aged than in nonreproductive aged women, but the difference was not significant.