Women who date intelligent men are less likely to learn with numbers, says study

by L&D08 Apr 2016
Do you fancy intellectual men, and prefer learning with words rather than numbers? You’re not alone.

Indeed, women who are attracted to knowledgeable partners are less likely to show interest in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), according to new research from the University at Buffalo (UB).

The results also indicate that the more the women supported this preference, the more traditional they were in their gender roles.

The findings are backed up by previous research that suggests a mismatch between romantic goal pursuits and intelligence goal pursuits for women. However, this was not the case for men.

"What we found is that not all women reacted equally to these romantic goal primes," said Lora Park, a UB psychologist and the study's lead author.

She added that women who had a preference for dating someone smarter than themselves also distanced themselves the most from STEM fields when they thought about romantic goals.

The women in this research also generally performed worse on a maths test and showed less identification with maths – the subject that's often most important for science and technology careers.

However, the lack of interest and identification is specific to maths and science and is not a general effect. These participants did not show less interest in careers often considered feminine (eg. social work or elementary education).

"This suggests there might be something strategic about the lack of interest or perhaps women are downplaying their interests in these fields," said Park.

"On the other hand, it could be a process they're not even conscious of. It could be an automatic reaction.

"In general terms, women have made many advancements, but in certain fields of STEM they haven't made that much progress."

The published paper includes four studies, including one with 900 participants that established the link between a preference for dating smarter partners and “traditional gender roles”.

The three additional studies examined maths performance, maths identification and interest in STEM when thinking about romantic goals.

All participants activated a romantic goal and across the studies a pattern emerged. It showed that there was worse maths performance, less identification with maths and less interest in STEM careers for those women with traditional romantic partner preferences.

"I was surprised by the fact that some women have this preference," said Park.

"But I wasn't surprised that this preference led to worse outcomes in these masculine fields."

Parks said it's also interesting that women who didn't have this partner preference were more inclined to show better STEM outcomes.

The research is published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology.