Women Want Betas

SONY DSCA lot of guys think women only want so-called Alphas — big, muscular, domineering guys. But a study at the University of Tennessee and published in PNAS, found that most women actually want more reliable and generous “Betas.”

The preference for Betas began much earlier than expected, shortly after humans began living in large social groups, according to a study that used mathematical models to determine when humans first began living monogamously.

Before that, the most dominant men had the most access to women. Apparently, Betas have more brains than brawn and realized that even if they couldn’t compete physically they could attract women by devoting themselves to just one.

And, as fathers became monogamous instead of widely spreading their seed, children got more resources, had better survival rates, and developed bigger brains, too.

Which reminds me of a question I’m sometimes asked: Why do men get aroused through intercourse but women more often thru outercourse (the clitoris)?

I don’t know. So women will choose partners who care about them and do “foreplay” – which is usually the main event for us? As opposed to selfish men who only care about getting off, themselves? Maybe more caring lovers make more caring dads?

Who knows? But it works with these theories, which come out of evolutionary psych.

Actually, I sometimes question the discipline, as you can see from my “related posts” below. Some of their stuff seems legit, like symmetry indicating healthier genes. But ev psych can be inconsistent too. In the original theory, men will more widely reproduce their genes if they are promiscuous, which contradicts their other notion that kids are more likely to survive if their fathers are around to support them (and bolstered by the new research I just referenced).

Commonly, ev psych takes a Western social pattern and concocts a theory as to why it’s “in our genes,” leaving it socially conservative: things can’t change because we are biologically programmed.

In fact, the further up the evolutionary ladder you go the less we are ruled by our genes and the more we can make actual choices. The fact that humans are born before their brains are fully developed leaves us largely influenced by our societies and able to move beyond biology.

Sure, Alpha’s can be attractive. And some women go for dominant types who play the field. But an awful lot of women seem to prefer partners who are devoted to them. Others even go for non-monogamous betas (I know a few of these). Maybe it’s evolutionary. Or maybe something else leads to these varied attractions.

Related Posts 
Are Women Naturally Monogamous? 
Guys Just Wanna Have Relationships?
Racism: Genetic or Learned?
Black Isn’t Beautiful Claims Evolutionary Psychologist

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on August 12, 2013, in men, psychology, relationships, sex and sexuality, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 36 Comments.

  1. Interesting read Madam. The results of your research are quite contrary to the popular school of thought which states that women generally prefer alphas. Maybe that has to do with the patriarchal notion that alpha males can be better providers or earners (which may not always be true)
    It is quite heartening to see women open up and prefer betas, contrary to the patriarchal notions, but are men willing to accept alpha females? Some do, but I think more men need to shun the prevalent patriarchal thoughts.

    • Yeah, interesting that scientists now say that women prefer betas. And the reasoning makes sense to me. Plus me and my friends married what people would call betas — kind, generous, egalitarian. And I agree that more men need to shun the prevalent patriarchal thoughts.

      • Rightly said Madam, more men need to shun the prevalent patriarchal thoughts. I think the definition of beta is a bit ambiguous. Beta in terms of earnings or beta in terms of egalitarian thoughts and generosity? I somewhat think beta males in terms of earnings are not preferred by females, maybe because of the same patriarchy working in the subconscious zone of the mind. What do you think?

      • The researchers defined betas as men who were kind, generous and monogamous. Not domineering players.

  2. Thank you for your post.

    There’s no way to generalize what kind of guy attracts the most women. I honestly think that each person is different and depending on their personalities, they’ll choose someone that complements them. I think the idea of “beta” versus “alpha” is just a substitute for shy versus outgoing. Perhaps this study says most women prefer beta’s because more women prefer shyer guys. But still…I’m not sure what this study was trying to research. There’s no clear definition of what Beta and Alpha mean in the destination. I just think the way men look changes from woman to woman.

    Later you mention how “beta” also represents loyal and reliable men. I think this also isn’t necessarily a “beta” feature. There are social and outgoing men who are loyal to their partners and there have to be shyer guys who aren’t. In conclusion, I just think it’s hard to categorize anyone as anything anymore. There are way too many exceptions and buts. These labels, like many others, are outdated and can’t definitely classify groups anymore.

    • Well, I don’t know if this post talks about the definition, as the post it response to does, but the researchers see betas as more kind and generous. And it’s not surprising that most women would prefer that.

  3. I’m not too versed in the realm of evolutionary psychology, but regarding alpha and beta males, I think that the whole concept of the two categories should not be applied to human beings. It just hurts the advancement of gender equality as men are going to think girls only care about looks and then in turn they’ll also only care about looks and objectify women because they believe women do the same thing to men. I don’t think a person can be crammed into one category and I’m sure everyone possesses qualities that belong to an alpha male, as well as some beta male traits too. People are too nuanced and this categorizing of men just puts even more unneeded social pressure on them to be masculine and dominant in order to find a partner. This can lead to dangerous upbringings and an unhealthy way to look at your other human peers. Other men might seem like threats and women are seen as objects to be won or, even worse, taken. I think men should just focus on treating women like human beings rather than seeing them as possible partners. There seems to be a disconnect between women and humanity when men think about women as objects. They don’t talk about women as fellow people with minds and consciences of their own, but as inanimate objects or investments for possible pleasure or partnership in the future.

  4. Paige Montgomery

    I find this topic really frustrated. I have dated betas and alphas and find that while alphas are for some time more attractive and confident, eventually their appeal fades and you are left with the as you mentioned more self (him)-oriented sex, and general lack of care and interest. With beta men you get much a much more deep emotional and mentally stimulating relationship that isn’t necessarily sex oriented. I agree with this article that betas make much better fathers and lovers and are definitely the type of guys you want to keep around. Loyalty, however, isn’t a trait that all Beta’s have as mentioned in the post, and in some cases an alpha may prove very loyal although it’s unlikely.

  5. This was an interesting blogpost; it brought up a number of thoughts and mixed feelings in my mind.

    Firstly, I want to share my excitement: I’ve read studies on the topic just recently and ran into quite a few that found the same correlation! There seems to be a split between what women prefer sexually, and what women prefer in a long-term partner (according to statistics).

    Based on my research, it seems that women, on average, sexually prefer males who are more confident, bold, and commanding. In today’s society, these types of qualities are typically attributed by modern definitions of an “alpha male”.

    Conversely (and along with your article), I’ve read a number of studies which found a correlation between women’s preferences in long-term partners and, on average, they seem to prefer males who are more “tame”, gentle, caring, and empathetic. Although these are not necessarily “beta” qualities.

    One rhetorical question I have is, are the two “types” of males truly so separate and polar that one person cannot exhibit qualities from both factions?

    A side thought I have is: Our overall nature of mate-selection seems to value certain archetypes from both genders as attractive ideals, both physically and character-wise. In turn, most of us feel the need to fulfill these ideals in order to compete for mates. Is this healthy? I’m sure many people step outside their comfort zones, often altering their core personalities and beliefs to fit into shoes they otherwise don’t fit. It’s an interesting thought that Earth’s human gender ratio is more or less 50:50 (with slight excess in female population), meaning most people should theoretically be able to pair with a mate, yet we still seem to jump through so many hoops and suffer much distress in this area (probably a result of everyone competing for those considered to be most desirable).

    Back to the original topic, I have some qualms with the use of “alpha” and “beta” in this article. I read the linked article, which also used the term “beta”. But then I read the original source which did not use these words. The original article appeared to be communicating the differences between muscular men (who often for this reason had more power in more primitive groups) and men who could provide better.

    As we learned in class, language is a powerful tool for perpetuating stereotypes and pushing internalization of ideas. These days, our method of providing is mostly monetary. There are many muscular men who fit our common definitions of both “alpha” but also “beta”. Similarly, there are many rich men who fit both titles as well. Parental investment, ability to provide, and pair-bonding (traits described as preferential) are not readily nor easily defined as “beta” traits. The article linked as the source uses “alpha” and “beta” as that author’s interpretation, rather than a sociological or scientific assessment of humanity.

    I would go as far as to argue that thinking of things in terms of “alpha” and “beta” can create power hierarchies where they don’t exist. All I plead is, let’s not take the science out of science.

    • What people value varies from culture to culture. In western cultures we tend to value confidence in both women and men. It wouldn’t surprise me if we tended to value confidence in men in most cultures because patriarchy is in most cultures. But in less patriarchal cultures confident women are also valued.

      And it certainly seems to be the case that men can be monogamous and alpha.

      But women can be really attracted to so-called betas. Or nice guys. See this post, where I argue that nice guys (“betas”) are often a turn on:
      Nice Guys Are A Turnoff?

      There are cultural ideals– Which vary from place to place–which people often feel like they need to live up to. But it is likely that they will find a better partner if they just be themselves. Some of the happiest couples I know are couples who don’t fit the cultural ideal at all. And pretty much everyone gets married, so it’s not like you have to be a certain type to find a mate.

      I used the terms Alpha and Beta because I am responding to readers who use those terms. My posts are often inspired by concerns my readers have. If I don’t use their language they will totally miss what I’m trying to get across. I’m trying to say that the science isn’t what you might think it is. Using the language that people would understand, Based on their own concerns. In other words: Alphas are better than betas. As it turns out, Women tend prefer “nice guy” monogamous men, whether muscular or not, who are often described as betas.

  6. I may just be cynical here, but when I was an adolescent, and trying to find a girlfriend (yes, I am actually a man), it seemed that the girls were only interested in the alphas: the tall, good-looking rugby playing types, next to whom I abjectly failed to measure up. By the time they had taken their fill of those guys, it seemed only then that they realised they were looking for something more than just muscles and testosterone, and started to be receptive to betas like me. I really felt as if I was taking last place in some strange metaphysical (perhaps evolutionary) competition.

    Unfortunately, I am not just beta, I am more like gamma, or perhaps epsilon. But the notion of a deeply emotional resonance within the context of a monogamous relationship (with a woman) is the absolute ideal to which I aspire.


    • Well I wonder if the survey would be different if you surveyed girls in high school. Because I was more interested in alphas in high school. And then I grew up and got over it.

      I wonder how many guys who write in and tell me that women prefer alphas got this notion from high school.

      I’ll have to say that the reason I liked them in high school wasn’t “them” so much as my own personal identity. They were the popular guys and if I could get one of them that meant that I was something special, too. In truth, I liked the beta boys better even then. But you wouldn’t know it by the way I acted uninterested in them and more interested in the alphas. I was basically more interested in my self-esteem than in actual relationships.

      Maybe I will write about this sometime in a blog post. See what other women have to say.

      • I am certain that the lessons learned in high school stay with you for a long time. It is a period where one forms one’s identity and begins to figure out how one is going to interact with the wider world. I suppose it’s also a time of experimentation: with hair, with clothing, with music, trying to “find” oneself, and (as you say) trying to build one’s self-esteem in any way possible.

        I am very interested to hear you say that even you liked the beta boys better, but still pursued the alphas! Georgia, how _could_ you??!

        Another person whose blog I follow wrote that, in high school, the boys weren’t interested in her, because she was bookish and intellectual. I wrote to challenge her: even in school, I thought brains were sexy as hell, and I was sure there would be some geeky guy in the back of her classroom holding an invisible torch for her. I wonder if what she meant to say was not “all boys”, but “attractive boys”, or even “alpha boys”. Perhaps geeks don’t “count” in the same way!


      • Hate to say it but I wasn’t all that mature in high school. Just an insecure kid trying to figure things out. It’s funny that I never thought that my smarts would be a problem for guys being interested in me. It just hadn’t occurred to me.

      • It’s very honest of you to say that. I was well aware that being geeky was a huge social barrier. At first, I was interested in the conventionally attractive girls, and got knocked back repeatedly.

        I remember reading an interview with Suzanne Vega, where she said that, in school the boys told her she was “beautiful on the inside”, but continued to date girls who were “beautiful on the outside”. The very things which seemed to set me apart from my peers (sensitive, romantic, attentive) seemed to be the kind of thing girls were saying they wanted, but they seemed not to want them from me!

        I attempted to make contact with other girls who seemed to be my opposite numbers, so to speak, but without making any headway whatsoever. I found this painfully perplexing. Surely you must find it frustrating, I wanted to say, that most guys can’t keep up with you intellectually. I can! And I would phone you and give you presents and do all that romantic stuff too! It could be brilliant!

        I first started dating at the age of 16. My first girlfriend was (by her own admission) somewhat hesitant; in fact, the plan was only that we would go to the school dance together, nothing more. Instead, we fell in love. We are still in touch now, more than 20 years on. She’s married with kids, and so am I. She came to our wedding, and we went to hers. She remains one of my favourite people in the world. And I still think she’s gorgeous.

        What’s not clear to me is whether that sensitivity and lack of traditional masculine behaviour as an adolescent was a manifestation of the feminine side of my character which now finds its way out in crossdressing. I believe it is, but I may simply be flattering myself.


      • Thanks for sharing your experience.

        Luckily, a lot of women, and likely the majority, grow up and get over the alpha-thing.

        I wonder if due to these early experiences some of the “betas” get angry and discouraged with women, and then later when women would be open to them these guys are so angry at women that it’s impossible for them to get one. I have heard from some pretty angry betas on my blog, who think it’s all women’s fault. But I’d run as fast as I could away from their attitudes, as I have told them.

        I don’t think that a man has to be on the extreme end of femininity to be open and romantic and sensitive. I know plenty of guys like this who don’t have extremely feminine personalities. In fact, I think that this is all a part of our common humanity. Maybe guys who are more in the middle are just better at repressing it.

  7. Yay, for betas. I’m reading a book about sensitive males, and the author argues that some women are attracted to sensitive men because of the emotional connection possible. Maybe women deep down want a compassionate man (fingers crossed).

  8. I definitely prefer the betas. The guys who are the way ev.psych. define alphas just scare me.

  9. Women prefer or might prefer the beta guys because overall women prefer relationships. Beta guys having more brains, probably more success and resources are more suitable for settling down with. But hook ups or casual dating and sex, seems that the alph guys get more of that or women going to them more on lust, and have fun with them and then look for the nerd to be their husband. Makes me think of revenge of the nerds movie ha. And you see that in real life, the Bill Gates, and Zuckerberg there.

  10. IMO alpha guys at guys that are goods doing something, its totally normal that girls prefer or likes guys that are good doing certain thing.

    Sadly when you think in alpha males you think in a big and muscular guy, but if you look 5 guys that play chess, the one that beat the other is the alpha, and normally women prefer that kind on guys, even from a evolutionary point of view is a rule.

  11. A man who has a strong, ‘dominant’ personality, but also happens to be caring, unselfish, generous and faithfull is a beta or an alpha?

    When I say dominant personality I don’t mean someone who pushes people over. But someone who is really confident and doesn’t let nothing affect his feelings, he keeps his integrity and he is standing up to what he believes no matter what. And he’s priority is to help and provide for his significant other.
    Is he an alpha or a beta?

    • Confidence, integrity and standing up for yourself are qualities that are healthy for everyone to have whether alpha, beta, women (who don’t tend to be divided into alphas and betas), girls and boys. I also believe that both women and men should be able to provide for their families. Alpha, Beta… irrelevant.

      I realize that you want to define Alphas in a particular way. I’m using the definition that the researchers used.

  12. I agree about ev psych being patchy. It seems to often take our current way of looking at things and bend the research to fit it.

    I tend to think that the “real” Alphas are not the ones who can bed the most women, but are the ones who have the greatest overall sense of economy, who know how to take care of their “tribe” and who command respect through example and vision, rather than through brute force.

    This is certainly the kind of “Alpha” that I think people should aspire to be, not just the biggest in the pack.


    • Apparently, according to the theory early men competed with other men and whoever was strongest got the girls. So that’s how the discipline defines alpha at that point in time. And it sounds like they didn’t even see people as living communally at the earliest point that the term is relevant.

      But women can definitely be more attracted to men who are kind and loving over leaders of communities, businesses, etc. I saw one study that I cannot find now when I try to Google it but that reflected my own experience pretty well:

      Because of these alpha versus beta theories, I always thought I was kind of odd in preferring kind generous men who are NOT company heads, or heads of anything, and who would not be considered dominant. I mean, yeah, they can seem sexy but I wouldn’t want a relationship with one of them. That’s because I thought that they wouldn’t be likely to be faithful to me. I’m into strongly merging with one person in an intense monogamous relationship. I have friends who are non-monogamous and that’s fine, but it’s not me or anything I find even slightly attractive.

      But then I read an article that found that most women feel the same way I do. Most would rather be with a kind generous man who is not the head of anything than a man who is a company head or political head. And for the same reasons as me. They wanted someone who is devoted to them rather than focused on everyone else.

  13. There seems to be a confusion over alphas and betas.
    The guys who are wrongly described as alphas (loud, aggressive, selfish, abusive, etc) are in reality frustrated betas trying to force their will on others.
    There can be many kinds of betas. Another kind of beta is the “nice guy”. They are pretending to be nice guys because they believe that’s the only they are going to make the other people to do what they want. They are acting super nice to women and they believe that women are obliged to them and must fullfil their requests in return.

    The REAL, TRUE alphas, are sure dominant. But being dominant is an attribute that there is a misunderstanding about it. I don’t know if “dominant” is the right word though.
    Being dominant doesn’t neccessarily mean “abusive and selfish”

    A TRUE alpha is dominant but he is also kind, caring, giving and helping the others. He is someone with a ‘strong personality’ who is unselfish and wants to help the others, not because he is expecting from them something in return, like the betas-nice guys are doing, but he is helping because he really wants to.
    He is secure is his skin and he’s not shaken by other people’s positive and negative comments.

    True alphas are very rare.
    An alpha never raises his voice and never loses his temper. He can be described as “calm power”. And he always acts for the best of those who are around him.

    • Well that’s your definition. It’s not everyone’s. And it’s not everyone’s experience. It certainly doesn’t reflect my experience with men at all. I mean some men do fake being nice. I’ve read stories about them. But I don’t personally know any of them that I can think of. There are a lot of genuinely nice men who fit the definition of beta that the researchers use. And I would much rather be in a relationship with one of them than an alpha, either the way you describe it, or the way they do.

      See what I wrote to Rohan.

  14. overcoming depression

    A lot of girls whom I know are not fond of/not like men who are muscular.

    • And I don’t really like the domineering type, myself.

      • overcoming depression

        I think that is the case with most. Perhpas the image of a masculine dominating man (of course not to suggest that all muscular men are dominating) as an ideal man/lover is a creation of media and other popular mechanisms. Perhpas the creators of such imageries (even if they are females) are viewing the men through the ‘steriotypical lenses’. Nice that you posts such interesting entries. I enjoy reading them.

      • Thanks so much.

        Yeah, I grew up believing that women prefer those “alpha” types — and I was just weird — because that’s what I’d always heard. Turns out most of us don’t.

        Hugs back!

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