Men are happier husbands when they have hot wives.
That’s the takeaway from a new study published recently in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Sounds like science of the obvious, and brings up numerous questions, the most prominent one being how the "attractive" women were rated.
Let's break down how this study worked.
Researchers “objectively” evaluated the attractiveness of more than 400 newlywed couples. They then asked those couples up to eight times over the next four years how satisfied they were with their marriages.
They found that husbands with “attractive” wives were more satisfied at the beginning of their marriages and remained more satisfied over the following four years. However, women with attractive husbands were no more or less happy over those four years than women with less visually appealing husbands. Women were also less likely to be swayed by attractiveness at all. For men, on the other hand, it played a significant role in their marital satisfaction.
The pretty wives also said they were more satisfied in their marriages and the researchers speculated this could be because having a happy husband made them happy too. That’s partially because husbands with attractive wives are more likely to treat them better than they would less-attractive wives.
That matches with a study from five years ago that found men who felt lucky for marrying hot wives were also more likely to care about their wives’ needs. This in turn made them women happier.
"For women, that’s not part of the deal. The deal that women get isn’t being with an attractive man. It’s being with a protective man, or a wealthy man, or an ambitious man, or even a sensitive man. So they didn’t care as much about the appearance of their husbands,” Benjamin Karney, professor of social psychology and co-director of the Relationship Institute at UC Los Angeles and one of the authors of the new study, said of that 2008 study. "They were saying, ‘I’m more attractive than you, but I’m still with you.’ But they didn’t seem to be quite as motivated to help out their wives when they were more attractive than their wives."
So men are just superficial jerks?
This study seems to imply that, but not necessarily.
The researchers acknowledge that “in addition to desiring physically attractive partners, men also desire partners who are supportive, trustworthy, and/or warm.”
Great, there’s hope!
But wait. According to the study, it does mean self-reported preferences for physical attractiveness likely have implications for long-term relationship outcomes.
Before we all take this as gospel, though, there are some things to keep in mind:
The studies only rated attractiveness at the beginning, not throughout the four years.
In many marriages, four years is just a blip. The researchers acknowledge it’s still unclear whether men’s marital happiness is as tied to attractiveness later on, although it does seem tied to long-term relationships.
Women, the researchers also acknowledge, may be just as influenced by physical attractiveness in a short-term hook-up or speed dating situation.
It’s also notable that the paper focuses on subjects in the United States and attractiveness was “objectively” rated by researchers in the United States. They were looking for facial symmetry, a strong jawline for men, large eyes and full lips for women. Societies with different beauty standards might have elicited different results.
A group of psychologists led by Paul Eastwick and Lisa Neff at the University of Texas at Austin argue in this paper that men aren’t actually that much more likely to value attractiveness.
What does this all mean?
As the researchers note, “women may experience increased pressures to maintain their physical attractiveness in order to successfully maintain a long-term relationship. Indeed, women are more likely than men to undergo extreme measures (e.g., elect for cosmetic surgery) to improve their physical attractiveness.”
Great, just what women need. More pressure to be perfect.
But really? We’re with Jezebel on this one.
“Most likely, this study will primarily be cited by self-styled brotellectuals at college parties, as part of their attempts to neg naive sophomores into dates. They are best ignored.”
Dr. Andrea Meltzer, the lead researcher, declined a request to be interviewed by Fusion.
WE WANT TO KNOW: Do these study findings ring true for you?
Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.