The Terminal Investment Hypothesis and Age-related Differences in Female Preference for Dads vs. Cads

  • Sigal Tifferet
  • Daniel J. Kruger
Keywords: Life history, mate selection, age, terminal investment hypothesis


Williams’ (1966) terminal investment hypothesis states that in species showing an age-related decline in reproductive value, reproductive effort should increase with age. Non-human primate studies have supported this hypothesis, though research in humans is lacking, likely due to the restricted age range of participants in typical studies in evolutionary psychology. We hypothesize that older women will decrease mating effort in order to allocate additional resources to parental effort, and that this shift will be manifested in women’s’ mate selection preferences. Because older women are hypothesized to shift resources from mating to parenting, they may show greater preferences for partners with high potential for paternal investment compared to partners with features signaling high potential for genetic investment. We use character sketches of “dad” and “cad” male reproductive strategies to demonstrate the age-related shift in relationship preferences. We found that older women prefer mating strategies that are related with higher paternal investment. In addition, we found that a woman's self-description changes with age, mediating the age-related changes in mate preferences. We suggest that these changes serve the changing needs of an older woman and the transition from investing in future offspring to investment in the current offspring.

Original Articles