The purpose of this research was to determine whether or not the father absence literature can be successfully used to predict patterns of female preferences for facial masculinity in young adulthood. Predictions were made based on the effect father absence may have on the development of (a) sexual strategy, and (b) female ‘condition’, and were tested in two independent samples. Results for the link between father absence and masculinity preference were mixed; across both studies, however, daughters who reported low quality relationship with parents during childhood showed lower masculinity preference. These results predominantly support the condition dependence predictions that early family stress should be associated with reduced ability to compete for mates and thus preference for less masculine men. Additionally, in Study 2, family background was associated with facial preferences and age of menarche only amongst women who were not currently in happy and committed relationships, which suggests that there are systematic physiological and/or psychological differences between women for whom father absence is and is not related to long term outcomes.
The aim of the current studies was to test an assumption that variation in female preferences for sexually dimorphic male facial characteristics reflects strategic optimisation of investment in offspring. A negative relationship was predicted between ideal number of children and preferences for masculine male face shapes, as the benefits of securing paternal investment should outweigh the benefits of securing good genes as the costs of raising offspring increase. In Study 1 desired number of children and preferences for masculine face shapes were compared in a sample of female students. In study 2, the prediction was tested in a sample with a wider age profile while controlling for relationship status. Preferences for explicit partner characteristics were also assessed. The prediction was supported: women who desired a higher number of children preferred more feminine male face shapes and ranked cues to investment of parental care over cues to immunocompetence in a partner more highly than those who desired fewer children. Results indicate that female mate preferences vary with reproductive strategy and support assumptions that preferences for feminine male faces reflect preferences for “good dads”.