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Fascinating News About Marriage in America!

groomA new study of 10,000 young people examines the predictors of marriage within “a few years” regardless of the individual’s intentions. The conclusions in Personal Traits, Cohabitation and Marriage may surprise you - the researchers found that those most likely to marry were those who scored highest on personality, grooming and physical attractiveness. In other words, being more attractive in numerous ways increased offers, which increased marriage. The study found no difference between men and women.

There is a wealth of prior research linking marriage to happier and healthier lives. However, the causal relationships are not well understood. Are happy, healthy people more likely to marry? Or is it marriage that makes people feel better? Most prior research on marriage has focused primarily on physical attractiveness and socioeconomic status. This despite the following finding:

Kindness, agreeableness, and intelligence were the most highly ranked characteristics sought in a mate by both men and women (Buss, 1985, Buss, 1989, Buss and Barnes, 1986, Li and Kenrick, 2006 and Botwin et al., 1997).

Unlike physical attractiveness, previous studies have found that women tend to view personality characteristics as more important than men when evaluating a partner (Botwin et al., 1997, Braun and Bryan, 2006 and Shackelford et al., 2005).

The new study hypothesized that other traits would play a significant role in a person’s likelihood of entering marriage, using a personal traits index comprised of physical attractiveness, personality attractiveness, and level of  grooming. 

Our main hypothesis was strongly confirmed in that higher scores on the personal traits index were significantly and positively associated with the likelihood of entering into a marital relationship for both men and women. The marriage finding was robust in all of the sensitivity tests and is consistent with the notion that these young adults take into account the “whole package” when selecting a marital partner.

Moreover, we found quantitatively similar results for men and women, suggesting an egalitarian trend in mate selection, whereby women and men select mates based on broadly similar personal traits (Whelan,2006).

The analysis revealed that increasing the overall index score by one Standard Deviation led to a 13.7% increase in marriage odds for men, and a 13.2% increase for women. None of the traits stood out individually – the boost to the overall score was the significant variable.

This suggests that those who may be weak in one area can improve their chances of marrying significantly if they increase their score in another area. For example, a good sense of humor can compensate for lower attractiveness. And those who have good personalities fare better than average regardless of their strength on the other traits. 

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Haunted By His Promiscuous Past

Dear Susan,

I have been dating this guy for about a year and a half now. I love him, and loves me. He is my best friend, and he claims I am his. However, his promiscuous past seems to always be getting in between us, mostly, just bugging me. We met when he was a senior in college, and I a freshman.

I had a big crush on him, and when finally a mutual friend introduced us we clicked right away. We talked for an entire month via email and skype over winter break right after we first met, and as soon as we were both back together in school, it was instant chemistry and it did not take long for us to start dating.

Recently though, I found out about his promiscuous past. He decided to tell me about all his past sexual encounters, all names and times he had been with each partner.. A bit too much information. He had been with a total of eight girls before me. The first one was the girl he lost his virginity to in high school, who was his girlfriend for a bit. Then in college, he went a little crazy. He slept with a few girls his freshman year. His sophomore year he dated a girl for about 6 months or so, until she cheated on him and started dating another guy. He said that she fucked with his heart, so he became more promiscuous then ever. From his junior year of college until his second semester senior year, when we got together, he slept with many girls many times. A total of five or six girls in one year and a half.

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Lysistrata in Ukraine

Ukrainian women have organized a “crossed legs movement” using this graphic meant to depict the vagina, along with the slogan DON’T GIVE IT TO A RUSSIAN:

Don't give it to a Russian

If nothing else, the PR campaign is generating a great deal of publicity. I’m dying to order one of these t-shirts, which appears to be possible via their new Facebook page. (No word yet on Shipping & Handling charges.)

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Dad Not Cad

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An Increase in Male Eating Disorders Reflects Confusion About What Women Want

male eating disordersThe Atlantic article Body Image Pressure Increasingly Affects Boys caught my eye recently. Female eating disorders are well documented and quite common, but I’d always chalked that up to consistently intense pressure from the fashion and beauty industries. I was under the impression that boys were immune to eating disorders for the most part. 

That’s no longer the case. Approximately 25% of young people with eating disorders are now male. The trend reflects the same insidious process that girls experience – unrealistic images from popular culture beginning at a young age. There’s good reason to be concerned about this development.

new study of a national sample of adolescent boys, published in the January issue of JAMA Pediatrics, reveals that nearly 18 percent of boys are highly concerned about their weight and physique. They are also at increased risk for a variety of negative outcomes: Boys in the study who were extremely concerned about weight were more likely to be depressed, and more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors such as binge drinking and drug use.

However, the boys’ goals are quite different from girls’, who invariably are pursuing thinness. Of the boys who are very concerned about their weight:

50% want to gain more muscle.

35% want to gain muscle and lose fat.

15% want to lose fat only.

“There are some males who do want to be thinner and are focused on thinness,” Field says, “but many more are focused on wanting bigger or at least more toned and defined muscles. That’s a very different physique.”

What messages are being aimed at boys?

While the media pressure on women hasn’t abated, the playing field has nevertheless leveled in the last 15 years, as movies and magazines increasingly display bare-chested men with impossibly chiseled physiques and six-pack abs. “The media has become more of an equal opportunity discriminator,” says Lemberg. “Men’s bodies are not good enough anymore either.”

The message is also found in the superhero toys boys play with from a young age. In much the same way girls play with Barbie and absorb her (impossible) body as the ideal, boys are now absorbing very unrealistic standards for themselves:

In the last decade or two, action figures have lost a tremendous proportion of fat and added a substantial proportion of muscle. “Only 1 or 2 percent of [males] actually have that body type,” says Lemberg. “We’re presenting men in a way that is unnatural.”

 Among middle and high school boys, attempts to gain muscle are commonplace. More than a third drink protein powders, 6% admit to using steriods (!!!) and another 10.5% use other supplements. Physicians are most worried about supplements kids pick up at the local GNC, which are often just anabolic androgens packaged as “natural.” There are many negative outcomes associated with the use of these substances.

While eating disorders are complex, and not always focused on being more attractive to the opposite sex, research shows that both sexes have a warped understanding of the other gender’s preferences. 

The study Do representations of male muscularity differ in men’s and women’s magazines? (Frederick, Fessler, and Haselton, 2004) found that:

Men overestimate the degree of muscularity that is attractive to women, and women overestimate the degree of thinness that is most attractive to men. [This is] consistent with the thesis that sociocultural input influences body type preferences and beliefs.

Systematic comparison of popular magazines (Cosmopolitan, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, and
Muscle & Fitness) revealed that the ideal male body marketed to men is more muscular than the ideal male body marketed to women.

It always makes sense to follow the money when examining sex differences and preferences. Here’s how the mean scores for muscularity broke out, on a scale from 1-8.

Cosmopolitan: 4.26

Men’s Health: 5.77

Men’s Fitness: 6.27

Muscle and Fitness: 7.50

Note that the ideal in Muscle and Fitness is nearly double what women buy Cosmo to gawk at! What is the mechanism for this distortion?

Because bodily prestige competition involves only comparisons between, and evaluations by, members of one gender, the possibility exists that runaway processes will lead to divergence between what members of that gender consider ideal and the preferences of the opposite gender. This appears to have occurred with regard to both female
thinness (Davidov, 2000) and male muscularity.

Other physical traits the importance of which one gender may overestimate include breast and buttock size and shape, penis size, foot size, and height (e.g., Jones, 1996).

A 2007 series of four studies looking at the male muscular ideal in the U.S., Ukraine and Ghana found vast differences. American men were far more likely to be concerned about their muscularity. 

Percentage of American college age males who want to be more muscular: 90%

Percentage dissatisfied with their level of body fat: 50-71% (across studies)

The primary motivator was increasing sex appeal:

In the United States, many men desired increased muscularity for reasons related to increased dominance and attractiveness to women.

This is a crisis in self-confidence among young Americans around dating and relationships. It’s all the more tragic because the beliefs are distorted and founded on erroneous information. 

Tune out these detrimental cultural images as much as you possibly can. The truth is, if you are healthy and fit, you’re probably attractive to women right now, and starving yourself or taking steroids is not going to increase your appeal and will damage your health. Whether you’re naturally slender or beefy, respect it. Work with it. Optimize it. But don’t try to change it.