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Dads and cads: U-M study tests female preferences for partners


"I never saw a woman worth thinking twice about after the anchor was a-peak – on shore it is another thing; and I will laugh, sing, dance, and make love, if they like it, with twenty girls." — Clement Cleveland, in Walter Scott’s "The Pirate"

For long-term relationships, women like dads – men who are kind, compassionate and monogamous. But for short-term relationships, women prefer cads – the classic Romantic dark heroes who are dominant, promiscuous and daring.

That’s according to a new study by the University of Michigan.

"About 60 percent of the women said they would prefer to have sex with a cad when considering a brief affair," said Daniel Kruger, a social psychologist at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR), the world’s largest academic social science survey and research organization.

For the study, appearing in the current issue of the journal Human Nature, Kruger and co-authors Maryanne Fisher and Ian Jobling tested evolutionary mating theories using hypothetical scenarios involving classic cad and dad character types from 18th and 19th century British literature. The subjects were an ethnically diverse group of 257 female undergraduates at a large Midwestern university.

The women read passages from Romantic novels describing two prototypical dads and two prototypical cads and answered a series of questions. While the women said they preferred dads for long-term relationships, they found cads more desirable as short-term mates. Their tendency to choose cads over dads increased as the length of the hypothetical relationship decreased.

According to Kruger, the findings imply that the dad versus cad distinction is intuitive to women and remains a key element of contemporary mating strategies. Women’s preference for cads for short-term relationships supports what evolutionary psychologists call the "sexy son hypothesis," Kruger said. Even though cads aren’t good bets to stick around and help raise children, the genes that make men successful cads will be passed along to their sons, who will increase their mothers’ eventual reproductive success by providing numerous grandchildren.

Finally, Kruger noted, the distinction between dads and cads is intuitive enough that women showed a strong preference for dads as potential sons-in-law. Only 13 percent of the women said they would prefer to see an imagined 25-year-old daughter engaged to a cad. "A cad would be less likely to provide paternal support for offspring," Kruger said, "which means that a daughter might turn to the maternal family for help. That could adversely impact the grandmother’s overall reproductive success."

Established in 1948, the Institute for Social Research (ISR) is among the world’s oldest survey research organizations, and a world leader in the development and application of social science methodology. ISR conducts some of the most widely cited studies in the nation, including the Survey of Consumer Attitudes, the National Election Studies, the Monitoring the Future Study, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the Health and Retirement Study, the Columbia County Longitudinal Study and the National Survey of Black Americans. ISR researchers also collaborate with social scientists in more than 60 nations on the World Values Surveys and other projects, and the Institute has established formal ties with universities in Poland, China and South Africa. Visit the ISR Web site at for more information. ISR is also home to the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), the world’s largest computerized social science data archive.

Diane Swanbrow | EurekAlert!
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