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  • Level: GCSE
  • Subject: Maths
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Offers and Stipulation in Lonely Hearts Advertisements: A Comparison of Gender and Age.

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Offers and Stipulation in Lonely Hearts Advertisements: A Comparison of Gender and Age.


Research into gender differences, physical attractiveness, and those looking for partners with similar interests, has been greatly looked into by social psychologists using lonely heart advertisements as data. Discourse analysis of 80 newspaper advertisements were scrutinized to expose differences and similarities among genders into what one stipulates and seeks in lonely hearts adverts. 40 heterosexual female and 40 heterosexual male adverts were analysed. The hypotheses were accepted as the analysis noticed; men under the age of 40 offered more information on appearances than older men, men stipulated partners ages to be younger than them whilst women stipulated ages older than them, and that advertisers seek partners with similarities to themselves.


At some point in their life most people will experience the feeling of loneliness Hayes (1995). Loneliness may be caused by a number of reasons and there are a variety of solutions, one solutions maybe to partake in the placing and reading of lonely heart advertisements, in the hope of finding a companion or partner. When looking for a potential partner we tend to like those we perceive as similar to yourself in factors such as; age, religion, smoking and drinking habits. Brehm, Kassin and Fein (2002) cited in Bernstein et al (2003) assume that this is because we expect people similar to ourselves to think highly of us if we hold the same views. According to Berscheid and Reis (1998) cited in Bernstein et al (2003) in the initial stages of attraction, physical appearance is one of the most important factors. The ‘matching hypothesis’ proposed by Bernstein et al (2003) states that people similar to each other in physical attractiveness are most likely to form long-term relationships.

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Results and Discussion

From the codingprocess 3 main themes emerged from the transcript to prove or disprove our hypotheses. These themes are; ‘age’, whether participants offer or stipulate age, and if the stipulated age is younger, older or similar to themselves, the second theme is ‘physical attractiveness’, again whether participants offer or stipulate physical attractiveness, the final theme is ‘similarities’, whether participants stipulate that they wish for someone with similarities to themselves, such as; age, attractiveness, beliefs or interests.


This theme was reoccurring throughout all the advertisements. All of the participants offered their exact age, they were not vague as one may think by offering an age range, however we cannot be sure that they are all telling the truth. Age was split into two categories, those under 40, and those 40 and over. The age 40 was chosen because the usual stereotype assumes that someone is middle aged when they reach 40, also out of the 80 participants, approximately half of them happened to be under 40 and the other half 40 and over. The data showed that men under the age of 40 generally seek women of a similar age or older than themselves,

“Romantic male, 32, 5’9”, enjoys walking, country pubs, nights in, dancing, seeks similar female, 45-50, no-ties for love and romance.”

whilst men over 40 seek women younger than themselves.

“Young outlook male, 49, fair/blue, stocky, GSOH, many interests, seeks kind, genuine female, 35-45, for good relationship.

This supports Buss (1988) theory that men chose women younger than themselves and attributes it to the fact that younger women will still be able to reproduce. It is an understanding among some that women age faster than men; perhaps the men in these adverts believe this, so seek someone younger than themselves.

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However, validity and reliability could be questioned as this is a very subjective approach as two different conclusions could be made about the same subject depending on who was carrying out the analysis. Inter-coder agreement is needed, so another experimenter is necessary to analyse the discourse and compare findings. Hyman (1992) cited in Hayes (1995) has reservations that discourse analyses may result in being “a researcher’s ideas with examples.” Analysing discourse by oneself is difficult when ambiguous words emerge, when one person sees a word they may immediately think of something different to another person. I feel that if another analyser was used then it should be someone with different beliefs and social background, so that the analysis is not dependent on someone’s up-bringing. A local newspaper was used as a source for the lonely hearts. The issue with using local newspaper is that there maybe a chance of recognising a participant, however the particular adverts used do not give detailed information, such as their name or photograph.


Lawes, R. (1999). Marriage: an analysis of discourse. British Journal of Social Psychology, 38, 1-20.

Pawlowski, B., Dunbar, R.I.M. (1998). Withholding age as putative deception in mate search tactics.  Evolution and human behaviour 20: 53-69.

Rajecki, D.W., Bledsoe, S.B. & Rasmussen, J.L. (1991). Successful personal Ads: Gender differences and similarities in offers, stipulations, and outcomes. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 12(4), 457-469.

Smith, J.E., Waldorf, V.A. & Trembath, D. (1990). “Single white male looking for thin, very attractive…” Sex Roles, 23(11/12), 675-685.

Bernstein, D.A., Penner, L.A., Clarke-Stewart, A., Roy, E.J. (2003). Psychology. 6th ed. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Coyle, A. (2000). Discourse Analysis. In Breakwell, G.M., Hammond, S., & Fife-Schaw, C. Research methods in psychology. London: Blackwell.

Coolican, H. (1999). Research methods and statistics in psychology. 2nd Ed. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

Hayes, N. (1995). Foundations of psychology; An introductory text. London: Routledge.

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