Why Do Beautiful Women Sometimes Marry Unattractive Men?

It may be that the unattractive man has a lot of money, or some other compelling attribute.

But a new study by Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics, suggests it may be a simple supply-and-demand issue: there are more beautiful women in the world than there are handsome men.

Why? Kanazawa argues it’s because good-looking parents are 36% more likely to have a baby daughter as their first child than a baby son — which suggests, evolutionarily speaking, that beauty is a trait more valuable for women than for men. The study was conducted with data from 3,000 Americans, derived from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, and was published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology.

According to this news article, “Selection pressure means when parents have traits they can pass on that are better for boys than for girls, they are more likely to have boys. Such traits include large size, strength and aggression, which might help a man compete for mates. On the other hand, parents with heritable traits that are more advantageous to girls are more likely to have daughters.”

Beauty is apparently just one “female” trait. Kanazawa has done previous research suggesting that nurses, social workers and kindergarten teachers — those with “empathic” traits — also had more daughters than sons. Meanwhile, he found that scientists, mathematicians and engineers are more likely to have sons than daughters.

It is good that Kanazawa is only a researcher and not, say, the president of Harvard. If he were, that last finding about scientists may have gotten him fired.

(Hat tip: Nadine Groney)


I would like to know how they determine wether someone is attractive or not. As far as I'm concerned I believe it can be pretty subjective.

Another thing is that in the article they say that beautiful people are more likely to have a daughter and that this will lead to an increase in the beauty gap between men and women. But what happens to a couple consisting of an attractive woman and a not so handsome man? Will they have a daughter or a son, and is she or he going to be beautiful? Because I assume that as the beauty gap grows, more and more women are gonna have to hook up with less attractive men.


Hm. I'd want to hear somebody talk about the mechanism for this--how do the traits involved influence which sperm does the fertilizing, or is it a third thing that influences/decides both?

Anyway, saying that scientists are more likely to have sons is bloody different than saying that girls are innately disadvantaged at science.


Without digging into the article/study, I'm suspicious of the results.

It seems quite likely in both cases here that we're dealing with correlation, not causality.

i.e. Examine mothers with only daughters (aged, say 8-15), versus sons. The former will be much more beauty conscious than the latter, primping their makeup, watching their weight, etc, both to inspire their daughters, and because of greater feedback (good and bad from their daughters).

Mothers with sons have less incentive and less of a feedback loop on beauty-related issues.

Parents with lots of sons might get involved in athletics in concjunction with their sons' involvements.

Mothers might be more inclined to seek and stay on at "empathic" jobs (nurses, etc), if they have many other females (i.e. daughters) in their households.


Just background- I have looked at the same dataset for other reasons before and can you that the data on attractiveness is very sketchy. It is rated on a 1-5 basis by the interviewer. Data on race of interviewer is not recorded. So if there are systematic pairings of mixed race between interviewer and interviewee that would bias the results substantially. I don't know if they even included interviewer fixed effects.


An underlying assumption here that has always fascinated me is the reliance on so-called (by me at least) rules of attraction. The rule relied upon here is that attractive people are supposed to mate with other attractive people. It is like beauty entitles you to date other beautiful people, which is something we think we everyone wants to do, and so we are amazed when a beautiful person will pass this opportunity up. I have always been interested in how people pair up. Do people assess their own level of beauty, or intelligence, or any other trait and then pick a mate accordingly? And when that breaks down, is that when we begin to look at a pairing with curiosity?


I agree with #1: Beauty is a matter of taste. And the special "male" trait of scientist and engineers can be a major obstacle to be attractive. Women prefer "female" traits like empathy feeling ... you name it. I will stick with my old theory "Why Do Beautiful Women Sometimes Marry Unattractive Men?"

1. Yet another proof: "Good Marketing is worth every Cent".
2. Big wallet. Big tits.


How many ways is this "study" flawed? We do not have a working definition of beauty, let alone any way of measuring it. We do not have a working definition of intelligence, nor any way of measuring it. We don't have any reason to believe that either of them are hereditary, to any interesting degree (the most attractive people, by my lights, often have relatively unattractive parents, and lots of smart people have dumb kids (and vice-versa)). However we define or describe them, we certainly don't have any reason to think they're mutually exclusive. This seems to me to be almost a parody of social science in its most meretricious form: the construction of a monument of cliches on top of a foundation of sand.


what needs to be studied here is the DEFINITION of beauty , rather than it's repurcussions.
that would be an interesting study


To go back to conor's question: Yes, that is exactly what happens. The vast majority of men and women would mate with the most attractive person they could find, if that were possible. Reality teaches us otherwise (most of us, anyway) and when we discover that this is not in fact possible, we experiment until we find our own level of attractiveness which, we discover, entitles us to mate with people who are approximately on the same level of attactiveness as we are (or below), but not above (with rare exceptions). Thus, we have concepts such as "she's out of your league". I know very few straight men who would pass up the chance to "mate" with Angelina Jolie, for instance, or few straight women who would pass up the chance to "be with" Brad Pitt, to choose an obvious example.

Dr. Vino

OMG it's a good thing that beauty is objective and can be quantified. Pretty soon, evolutionary psychologists will plotting beauty on a trend line.
-Eye of the Beholder


Did you hear about the study finding that women give birth to girls in higher percentages when there's no father in the picture?

If the suggestion that attractive women give birth to more girls because attractiveness matters more to girls is not sufficiently outrageous, couldn't you also hypothesize that attractive women have more girl babies because they're more likely to get pregnant without a reliable father in the picture?


Apparently as men age, the likelihood of having a boy increases. Maybe ugliness increases as well...


cauloccoli, I would think it's hard to give birth to anything when there's no father in the picture. ( A tip of the cap to groucho marx)


> it's hard to give birth to anything when there's no father in the picture

He only has to be in the past. Not in the picture.


I'm wondering if they could do a study of the symmetry of features, something which St Andrews Uni in Scotland determined as being a factor in attractiveness, and to what extent this is heritable.


I vaguely recall reading about the correlation between facial symmetry and perceptions of beauty. A quick Google search dug up this Newsweek article from 10 years ago. I wonder how much knowledge has been added to the field since then?


There was also the body proportions study done all over the world (including isolated tribes in the amazon). The variance is not huge, but it is there. I think it was head size to wasit to hips to heigh, or some such. Applying a more objective (if flawed) metric would seem to be more useful than artificial and subjective measures of beauty. It would also be interesting to know if the beauty measure was place after the couple had children or before. As someone posted, women with a girl vs. a boy may act and present themselves differently (if a young boy, they may just be worn out from chasing them around the house ;-)


QQ has a link above to Andrew Gelman's critique. This is well worth a look.

Our nuclear family clearly follows this pattern, though, since my wife is incredibly beautiful [aren't all wives??] and we have 0 sons, 2 daughters.

I plan on showing her this study just as we go to sleep tonight. ;)


Where I go with this, (and I know a few examples), is to wonder about the psychology of it. Many beautiful women have accumulated experiences of having men compete for them, try to impress them, take advantage of them, etc. Ugly guys tend not to engage in such behavior - they're out of the running from the start. When a beautiful woman pays attention to an ugly man, she may find someone who actually pays attention to her in a genuine, authentic way. Or at the very least, she thinks she can trust him with her babies because he's not doing the same BS she's gotten from every other man who's approached her.

Just a guess.

The question about what causes such a couple to have more girls may have more to do with testosterone or other hormones. I know studies have shown (can't site, sorry) that women rated more beautiful tend to have higher estrogen levels, (even the same women at different times of the month hold true to this). I'm wondering if ugliness in men is related to hormone levels, and if that relates to the production of male vs. female sperm.