Why Beautiful Women Marry Less Attractive Men

Lyle Lovett and Julia Roberts Photo YahooNews has a feature on “Why Beautiful Women Marry Less Attractive Men.” The obvious answer, it seemed to me, was regression to the mean.

Apparently, though, it’s more complicated than that:

The reason, researchers suspect, is that men place great value on beauty, whereas women are more interested in having a supportive husband.

[…]

The finding “seems very reasonable,” said Dan Ariely, a professor of behavioral economics at MIT’s Program in Media Arts and Sciences and Sloan School of Management. “Men are very sensitive to women’s attractiveness. Women seem to be sensitive to men’s height and salary,” said Ariely, who was not involved in the recent study.

In couples with more attractive husbands, both partners were less supportive of one another. [University of Tennessee researcher James] McNulty suggests wives mirror, in some ways, the level of support they get from husbands. “The husband who’s less physically attractive than his wife is getting something more than maybe he can expect to get,” McNulty told LiveScience. “He’s getting something better than he’s providing at that level. So he’s going to work hard to maintain that relationship.”

Men who are more attractive than their partners would theoretically have access to partners who are more attractive than their current spouses, McNulty said. The “grass could be greener” mentality could make these men less satisfied and less committed to maintain the marriage.

Physical attractiveness of husbands is not as important to women, the researchers suggest. Rather, wives are looking for supportive husbands, they say. So it seems the mismatch in looks is actually a perfect match. “Equitable is unlikely to mean the same on every dimension,” Ariely said during a telephone interview. “It just means that overall two people make sense together.”

Seems reasonable enough.

Photo credit: MSN

FILED UNDER: Gender Issues, Science & Technology
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. DC Loser says:

    Seems reasonable to me too. Also this from the Atlantic a few months ago. But then again, check out the eternal flame wars on Craigs List Rant ‘n Rave on the unrealistic standards single women have for men.

  2. Bithead says:

    Yeah, that does seem reasonable.
    Yet, the example you chose for your picture seems to argue against your theory, given that they’re not married anymore, if memory serves.

    (chuckle)

  3. James Joyner says:

    your picture seems to argue against your theory, given that they’re not married anymore, if memory serves.

    Heh. Well, incredibly rich, famous people aren’t useful illustrations of much of anything. While a woman who looked like Julia Roberts may have been outside the league of a normal dude who looked like Lyle Lovett, the actual Lyle Lovett presumably wasn’t having difficulty attracting the ladies.

  4. Bithead says:

    Oh, I know… I was just playing with it a little. You know me…

  5. Paul Barnes says:

    As an not-so-attractive young man, all I can saw is: excellent.

    Now I just have to wait for the ladies to line up.

  6. another matt says:

    According to Steven Pinker’s book “How the Mind Works”, the ultimate evolutionary strategy for a human female is to get impregnated by a healthy alpha male and then convince another male to stay with her for the long term in order to successfully raise the offspring to maturity. In short, get pregnant for the best genes, and get married for the most supportive husband.

  7. John Ellis Rogers says:

    James: I’m sure I was not the only one to get a chuckle out of seeing the Lovett-Roberts picture that you used to exemplify the topic of the post.

    After thinking about it for a moment, had I written on this topic, I would have chosen to use the same picture.

    Granted the real Lovett is not finding difficulty attracting women (or men), it still must be of some shame to him to note that a great many people in America automatically thought of his marriage with Roberts as emblematic of the homely man-beautiful women coupling.

  8. James Joyner says:

    Granted the real Lovett is not finding difficulty attracting women (or men), it still must be of some shame to him to note that a great many people in America automatically thought of his marriage with Roberts as emblematic of the homely man-beautiful women coupling.

    Probably just a chuckle. A year or so after his divorce from Roberts, he wrote “That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas)” which featured this lyric:

      See I was born and raised in Texas
      And it means so much to me
      Though my girl comes from down in Georgia
      We were up in Tennessee

      And as we were driving down the highway
      She asked me baby what’s so great
      How come you’re always going on
      About your Lone Star State

      I said that’s right you’re not from Texas
      That’s right you’re not from Texas
      That’s right you’re not from Texas
      But Texas wants you anyway

      That’s right you’re not from Texas
      That’s right you’re not from Texas
      That’s right you’re not from Texas
      But Texas wants you anyway

      Oh the road it looked so lovely
      As she stood there on the side
      And she grew smaller in my mirror
      As I watched her wave goodbye

  9. Maggie Mama says:

    Bill can’t keep his pants zipped. Bill can’t keep his mouth zipped.

    Hillary smiled coyly thinking about how Bill resurrected Bosnia after it had quietly faded away. Now she was going to have the entire Steelers’ offensive line to take that damn loose cannon down once and for all.

  10. Bachbone says:

    Ms. Roberts was never my idea of a beautiful woman even before she opened her too liberal mouth and spouted anti-Bush, leftist garbage. I don’t know Mr. Lovett’s political leanings, but perhaps she thought he was on her side of that fence when she married him?

  11. “The husband who’s less physically attractive than his wife is getting something more than maybe he can expect to get,” McNulty told LiveScience. “He’s getting something better than he’s providing at that level. So he’s going to work hard to maintain that relationship.”

    Bah. He and she value very different things, and value them by different scales, as well. Atop that, beauty is a deteriorating asset — perhaps less so than in the past, but it still fades over time — whereas earning power and a responsible character are very durable. If the trade were made explicit, rather than papered over with romantic fiction, he’d clearly be trading a lifetime promise of sustenance and fidelity — bequeathed both to his wife and any children she might bear by him — for a few years of proximity to a superficial sexual attraction.

    Let’s hope and pray there’s more to the match than those elements alone.