Are Smarts and Sex Appeal Mutually Exclusive?

September 7, 2010

Natalie Portman Without Makeup

Kim Kardashian Without Makeup

“I’m on the airplane…love wifi,” Kardashian, 29, wrote. “I am sitting next to an Air Marshall! Jim the air marshall makes me feel safe!”

US Magazine, reporting KK tweet

This past weekend a very interesting line of discussion developed on the most recent comment thread; namely, whether smart women are unattractive. Apparently, fans of Jane Austen in particular are lacking sex appeal. Who knew? Fellow blogger Obsidian had this to say:

The gals who go on and on about Jane Austen and the like, Kim Kardashian and Halle Berry they ain’t…It has long been known that the most brainy gals tend to be not so hot looking…not necessarily Creature from the Black Lagoon, but definitely not smokin’ either.

I replied that this is a matter of personal opinion, figuring it’s not my job to tell anyone who to be attracted to, right? To each his own and all that. Obsidian’s reply:

No, it’s not. It’s a matter of objective reality.


I offered Natalie Portman as just one example of a beautiful, brainy woman. Beautiful because she is often cited as having nearly perfect features, and brainy because she attended Harvard, while making the Star Wars films. She told the New York Times “I don’t care if [college] ruins my career, I’d rather be smart than a movie star.” She’s been nominated for an Academy award, and won critical acclaim on Broadway. This led to a Portman vs. Kardashian showdown, with Portman the clear winner, but as reader Brendan pointed out, the real issue is the claim that smart women are not attractive:

The point Susan was trying to make is that there are smart, hot women — Portman is certainly an example of that and is not the only one by a long shot. Even if a guy were to agree with you that KK is “hotter” than Portman, that doesn’t prove the statement that “smart girls aren’t hot”, because, again, even if KK is hotter than Portman, Portman is still hot, and she’s probably at least twice if not three times as smart as Kardashian is.

If you walk around Princeton or Harvard or Stanford or what have you, pretty much all the women are very smart due to the admissions standards. And some are quite hot. Again, the point isn’t “ah, but there are hotter women at USC than at Stanford” — because again that doesn’t prove the statement that smart women are not hot. In my experience in elite academic institutions and then in the legal and business world, I’ve noted quite a few smart women who are quite hot, and then there are quite a few who are not — this is also the case among smart men.

Anecdotal Evidence

I thought it might be fun to go fishing for details on the intelligence of celebrities, and it was. Here’s a list of beautiful brains in the entertainment industry – keep in mind I haven’t even scratched the surface of doctors, lawyers, bankers, entrepreneurs and other famous professionals.

  • Emma Watson: attends Brown
  • Jennifer Connelly: attended Yale and Stanford
  • Kate Beckinsale: studied French and Russian literature at Oxford
  • Geena Davis: IQ 140, Mensa
  • Sharon Stone: IQ 154, Mensa, enrolled at Penn at age 15
  • Claire Danes: attended Yale
  • Elisabeth Shue: attended Harvard
  • Brooke Shields: attended Princeton
  • Madonna: IQ 140
  • Nicole Kidman: IQ 132
  • Shakira: IQ 140
  • Asia Carrera: IQ 156 (but, ahem, very poor judgment)
  • Zooey Deschanel: gifted singer songwriter, briefly attended Northwestern
  • Danica McKellar: UCLA grad, math whiz
  • Loren Rabinowitz: New Miss Massachusetts, 2010 Harvard grad, double major in pre-med and English

Unfortunately, I could find very little information on stupid hot women, possibly because of libel laws. For those of you who like ’em hot and dumb, I suggest checking police records for DUIs, rehab stints, sex tapes, etc. Not to mention quotes like the one from airhead Kardashian, above.

  • Jessica Simpson: high school dropout
  • Paris Hilton: high school dropout
  • Britney Spears: IQ 100

Empirical Evidence

I. Beauty Boosts High School GPA

No genes linked to intelligence have so far been discovered and verified, though it’s surely a matter of time. In the interim, there is some limited data that speaks to the link between beauty and brains. A study at the University of Miami found that beauty has a significant effect on GPA:

Physical attractiveness, they conclude, “has a positive and statistically significant impact on GPA for female students,” as other studies have found (the effect also exists for males, but not in a statistically significant way—that is, it may be due to chance).

[Is it] that years of extra attention and rewards from teachers made attractive people more confident, smarter (because they received lots of positive feedback, they studied more) and thus genuinely more capable? For now, all we can say is that attractiveness and a winning personality boost grades when you’re young, and may have an enduring effect once you enter the work force.

Obviously, certain kinds of classes, e.g. Drama or English, where grading is subjective, provide a greater opportunity for bias toward good-looking women than quantitative subjects.

II. IQ 6 Points Higher for Very Attractive Females

In Satoshi Kanazawa’s Beautiful People are More Intelligent articles, he reports on findings from the The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. (Hat tip: PJL) Over 15,000 young Americans (mean age 22) were given an IQ test and rated for attractiveness by an interviewer. (The interviewer did not know the test results). The results were clear for both men and women, with the female results shown below:

Kanazawa posits the following theory:

If more intelligent men are more desirable to women than less intelligent men, because they achieve higher status, at least in the modern environment, and if physically more attractive women are more desirable to men than physically less attractive women, then there should be assortative mating of intelligent men and beautiful women, and of less intelligent men and less beautiful women.  Because both intelligence and physical attractiveness are heritable, such assortative mating should create an extrinsic (non-causal) correlation between intelligence and physical attractiveness in the next generation.  Children of intelligent men and attractive women should simultaneously be intelligent and beautiful, and children of less intelligent men and less attractive women should simultaneously be less intelligent and less attractive.

III. Intelligence Was Linked to Health and Attractiveness 60 Years Ago

Lewis Terman, a Stanford professor and author of the Stanford-Binet IQ test, believed that gifted children needed special education. He studied 1,500 children (800M, 700F) with IQs of 140 or higher and in 1951 published the following lists of traits about his “termites:”

  1. Slightly larger, healthier and more physically attractive
  2. Superior in reading, language usage, arithmetical reasoning, science, literature and the arts
  3. Superior in arithmetical computation, spelling, history and civics
  4. Spontaneous, with a variety of interests
  5. Able to learn to read easily; read more and better books than average children
  6. Less inclined to boast
  7. More emotionally stable
  8. Different in the upward direction for nearly all traits

So there you go. Beautiful women are smarter than other women, in aggregate. Of course, none of this may matter much. Research clearly shows that most people marry others of similar intelligence and attractiveness.

Smart women should not apologize to anyone for their intellectual prowess, nor should they be told they’re unattractive because they’re brainy.

Men have every right to select less intelligent hot women, but in the immortal words of Dorothy Parker:

You can lead a whore to culture, but you can’t make her think.