The Science of Us profiles a new study that investigates the exchange of female beauty for male status in marriage. In Beauty and Status: The Illusion of Exchange in Partner Selection, Notre Dame prof Elizabeth McClintock looks closely at the incidence of trophy wife marriages and finds assortative mating instead.
“I find that handsome men partner with pretty women and successful men partner with successful women,” says McClintock, who specializes in inequality within romantic partnerships. “So, on average, high-status men do have better-looking wives, but this is because they themselves are considered better looking–perhaps because they are less likely to be overweight and more likely to afford braces, nice clothes and trips to the dermatologist, etc. Secondly, the strongest force by far in partner selection is similarity — in education, race, religion and physical attractiveness.”
McClintock’s research shows that there is not, in fact, a general tendency for women to trade beauty for money. That is not to say trophy wife marriages never happen, just that they are very rare.
…McClintock’s research also indicates that, contrary to the trophy wife stereotype, social class barriers in the marriage market are relatively impermeable. Beautiful women are unlikely to leverage their looks to secure upward mobility by marriage.
McClintock is an expert on the behavioral economics aspects of relationships. In this study she differentiates between two prominent pairing mechanisms: