New research published in Journal of social and personal affairs found that concerns about COVID-19 are associated with fears of being single and changes in partner preferences.
During the shutdowns, individuals were asked to stay home and refrain from socializing face-to-face; however, there was an increased use of online dating services. Study author Cassandra Alexopoulos and her colleagues were interested in investigating whether the COVID-19 pandemic has changed romantic partner preferences.
More specifically, the researchers wanted to confirm whether the fear of being single is associated with being less selective when seeking a long-term partner. This group of researchers predicted to find that the most valued traits of a spouse during the stressful COVID-19 pandemic are financial stability, good physical health, and family communication.
The researchers recruited 2,614 participants from Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to conduct an online survey. The participants were at least 18 years old, single, casually dating or in a romantic relationship, and most (78%) were women. Alexopoulos and her colleagues measured participants’ COVID-19 concerns via a modified version of the Fear of Ebola scale, in which participants reported how often they were concerned about being infected with, felt vulnerable to, and considered becoming infected with COVID- 19. Participants responded to topics from The Fear of Being Single Scale and a modified version of the Buston and Emlen (2003) Partner Preference Survey.
Results from this study show that concern about COVID-19 was positively correlated with the importance of partner stability, family commitment, and (contrary to their predictions) physical / social attractiveness. COVID-19 concern was also positively associated with fear of being single and indirectly positively related to stability. Fear of being single was indirectly negatively related to physical and social attractiveness, suggesting that these individuals lowered their standards of physical and social attractiveness to meet their needs for love, belonging, and social connection.
The results regarding increased preference for stability and family commitment during the COVID-19 pandemic suggest that achieving these qualities can help relieve and manage stress. It is also beneficial and comforting to achieve a partner who does not pursue other partners. It seems that instead of lowering the standards for peers due to a stressful environment, people are motivated to rate good physical health as an indicator of being able to survive coronavirus.
This coincides with the hypothesis of “good genes”, which suggests that people want spouses with good physical characteristics that their offspring are likely to inherit. Alexopoulos and her research team also suggest that the preference for higher social status may help meet the need for more social connections given that people with higher social status tend to have access to a wider range of social connections. This preference is likely to be higher during the COVID-19 pandemic because many people report increased feelings of loneliness.
One limitation to consider in this research is that the results show correlations between COVID-19 concerns and partner preferences, but that they do not suggest a causal relationship. Although it seems that concern about COVID-19 is directly related to partner preferences and fear of being single, it is possible that other factors, such as neuroticism and loneliness, predict the same results.
Another limitation is that participants were not asked if they were looking for a relationship, or if they prefer a short or long-term relationship, which may have an impact on what qualities they value. Almost all participants indicated that they followed guidelines for social distancing, which is likely to limit the amount of potential peers in their environment. Finally, this research was based on participants’ reports of partner preferences at the time of the study and prior to the COVID-19 pandemic to determine any changes and is subject to recall bias.
The study, “Settling down without settling down: Perceived changes in partner preferences in response to COVID-19“, Is authored by Cassandra Alexopoulos, Elisabeth Timmermans, Liesel L. Sharabi, David J. Roaché, Alyssa Croft, Elizabeth Dorrance Hall, Laurie James-Hawkins, Veronica Lamarche, and Maximiliane Uhlich.