Some of the mysteries of dating, and choice of partner, aren't really mysteries at all. (read: slate story: http://www.slate.com/id/2177637/nav/tap3/). Fishman shares his observations and research from a years-long study, and most of the information is generally observable to the untrained, non-economist retinas. In fact, the first obvious fact has everything to do with the retinas, and the way we all see others, and potential sexual partners. Across both sexes, and probably all orientations (only heterosexuals were studied in Fishman's project), attractiveness was an overwhelming factor. And as unfortunate as that is, it makes sense - people want to be attracted to the person they eventually choose to pursue. Men and women, (though men tend to place more emphasis on physical beauty) both expressed a need to like the way their partners look. And this explains the pairings that we would generally see, if this rule of dating was tested in a "vacuum" so to speak - in other words, all other factors ignored, men and women would essentially pair up accounting to physical attractiveness, and couples would be equally identified as attractive at a certain point on some imaginary sliding scale.
But luckilyy, and in some ways unluckily, we don't live in a physical and visual vacuum when it comes to dating. Age,"personality," intelligence, race, background, living situation, etc. -- they all matter. And Fishman's study of these aspects and how they play a role when pursuing a mate is what really sheds light on issues not only between couples, but between the world as a whole.
Let's start with race. And this is the part where females should cringe. Apparently, according to his study, Fishman found that while men tend not to discriminate in terms of race when choosing a partner, women tend to date within their own race. And this really shouldn't be too shocking - America's founding fathers, most notably Thomas Jefferson, had no problem being attracted to a different race. Of course, this finding begs the question of how exactly men dating women of different races can actually be in the majority - but that is a quandary for another day. Before people go berating women through the ages for their racist dating preferences, it must be noted that women have been pressured to follow familial rules that men, with more past freedom, were tied less tightly too. Take for example, Mr. Jefferson. He didn't do too bad for himself. Sally Hemings, on the other hand....
The next topic, while not entirely shocking, but extremely revealing, has to do with intelligence, ambition, and choice of a partner. Women sought out men who were as intelligent or more so than the women thought themselves to be. They didn't necessarily want a man who was smarter or less smart than themselves, and they didn't discriminate in terms of this factor. Men, on the other hand, purposely looked for women who they viewed as maybe just as smart, or less smart than they envisioned themselves to be. For men, intelligence is a turn-on only to the point were it eclipses their own, and at that point, the attractiveness of the woman slopes quickly down. So, it's not really shocking, I suppose, that men would discriminate against brilliant women, but it goes to show how they have dominated the history books - they purposely choose, in Darwin-inspired fashion, to systematically mate with women they perceived as intellectually inferior, and therefore "controllable." Well, happily, some men overestimate their smarts in comparison with their mates, and women have managed to escape the un-natural male selection process. I guess while women are looking for their better half, men are perhaps looking for a static, slightly prettier third of themselves.
This observation by Fishman explains a lot, and can be perhaps applied to non-sexual areas of culture (or at least the areas that pretend to be non-sexually discriminating), like politics. Regardless of your political preferences, if you are male, you might be a bit threatened by a smart woman who has managed to get to the top, or say managed to run a strong campaign. Or, let me rephrase - not threatened exactly, but "turned-off." And who could blame you -- if you would never share your bed with them, why would you even consider committing your tax return to their initiatives and programs?
This study doesn't tell us too much about human nature that we couldn't guess, but it does show us some areas for reform. Women need to expand their horizons when thinking about race and dating, and men need to overcome their fears of intelligence, or predilections for women with a higher ratio of air to solid mass in their craniums. And then, what begins in the homes will expand out to the world, making it a friendlier, more equalized existence. As lovely as that sentiment sounds, I don't know if it will ever happen. But hope springs, and awareness is a start.