Why Women Should Marry Uglier Men, It’s Good For Overall Happiness, Study
Christopher Philip

What givesThe conventional advice “happy wife, happy life” might not be representative of the entire story according to new research published in the Journal of Family Psychology. The researchers found that women who marry down a notch on the looks category fair better than those who marry otherwise, as having a hot wife leads men to be more positive and supportive.

Researchers suggest that since men place great value on beauty over other attributes, women who posses those qualities in relation to their mates, are more likely to extract the kind of value they appreciate in return.

While looks are somewhat subjective, admit the researchers, certain elements hold true across culture. Namely, men prefer women who have large eyes with a feminized symmetrical “baby face,” clear skin, long legs, pronounced hip-to-waist ratio and a larger bust.

The researchers note that previous studies on the matter reveal that highly attractive people preferred to couple with other highly attractive counterparts, but often this lead to less than ideal outcomes. Specifically, the highly attractive couples tended to report less relationship satisfaction.

The Research

The experiment consisted of a videotaped interview of newly married couples as well as surveys and questionnaires. In total, 82 couples were sampled for the experiment. The couples had all married within the previous six months, had been together for around three years prior to marrying, and were in their early to mid-20s.

In the videotaped interview, couples were asked to discuss a personal problem they had experienced such as goals to eat healthier, to land a new job, or to exercise more often. The videotapes were subsequently analyzed for cues related to the level of supportiveness of their spouse’s issues.

Trained observers also assessed the facial attractiveness of each spouse on a scale from 1-10.

The Results

A more attractive wife was the case in about one third of all couples, whereas in one third the husband was more attractive and the remaining partners were about equal in attractiveness.

The researchers found that in most cases, the husbands were more supportive of his wife if she was better looking than he was.

“A negative husband would’ve said, ‘This is your problem, you deal with it,’” McNulty said, “versus ‘Hey, I’m here for you; what do you want me to do?; how can I help you?’”

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

“The husbands seemed to be basically more committed, more invested in pleasing their wives when they felt that they were getting a pretty good deal,” says one of the co-authors of the paper, Benjamin Karney. When the wives were less attractive than they were, “They didn’t seem to be quite as motivated to help out their wives when they were more attractive than their wives.”

This is likely a case of the “grass could be greener” mentality according to McNulty. Men who are more attractive than their spouses could, in theory, be able to find a partner who is more attractive than their current partners. This presents a troubling situations where men might be tempted to stray, rather than help their partner’s to succeed.

The Take-Away Message

While men and women both tend to appreciate physical attractiveness within sexual relationships, women tend to value supportiveness more than looks in the long-term. While the temptation for women to maximize all facets of her choice husband, she may be best in trading off with respect to physical attractiveness. This is a classic case of hypergamy at work where spouses face the temptation to continuously trade up by comparing their spouse to what is otherwise available.

Normally women will seek men with greater earning potential, but it seems that men are also tempted by more attractive women – that is, unless they have already maximized their claim in that department. A happy husband, it seems, leads to a happy wife, rather than the more ubiquitous assertion that a happy wife leads to a happy life. Though, in truth, this is a bit of a ‘chicken and egg’ dilemma as a more supportive husband, in fact, leads to a more satisfied wife.

It would seem that the advice is perfectly obvious for women – if you value a supportive husband, you should leverage your attractiveness against his, in effort to gain a more valued trait from your counterpart.


James K. McNulty, Lisa A. Neff, Benjamin R. Karney.  Beyond Initial Attraction: Physical Attractiveness in Newlywed Marriage. Journal of Family Psychology. 2008. 22(1): 135–143. DOI: 10.1037/0893-3200.22.1.135

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