Would you marry for money?

Finances still matter when we look for a mate.

Nobody these days will admit to marrying for money, but just because we don’t talk about it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. A recent study by two economists and a psychologist at the University of Chicago and MIT shows that one of the main factors women look for in men is still ? you guessed it ? their income.

The study, conducted by Günter J. Hitsch, Ali Hortaçsu and Dan Ariely, attempted to find out once and for all what characteristics men and women look for when they’re searching for a mate. It did so by analyzing the data from more than 23,000 users of online dating services to discover which personal ads got the best response. The researchers looked at the impact of everything from height and weight to race and occupation.

The results were clear-cut. A man’s income was a huge factor in determining the response to his ad. Men making over $250,000 a year received more than twice as many overtures from women as men who made $50,000 or less.

So, did wealthy women draw a similar flood of suitors? Not at all. The researchers found that, when it comes to drawing men, looks trump money. Women who earned more did get a slightly better response ? but only up to an income of $100,000. Higher salaries seemed to scare men off.

The study went on to confirm many women’s worst fears. Turns out that a woman who makes $30,000 is attractive to more men than a woman who earns $200,000. Just as depressing, the study found that female college freshmen were much more popular with suitors than women with a master’s degree.

Stephanie Coontz, author of the recent bestseller Marriage, A History, says people shouldn’t read too much into the study. “For thousands of years, both men and women have married for money and power,” she says, “but those old trends are lessening.” Women may look for online dates with big bucks, but when it comes to deciding whom to marry, studies show that compatibility rises to the fore. After all, one third of married women now earn more than their husbands. And while the first few generations of college-educated women were less likely than their high school-educated sisters to get married, today they’re more likely to get hitched.

Let’s hope these trends continue. In the interim, though, you may want to play the odds. If you’re a man searching for the perfect mate, widen your field of prospects by making as much as you possibly can. And if you’re a woman? Make as much as you can, too ? then lie.

Make sure you know the legal side of love before you walk down the aisle.