Why women keep getting prettier

It’s natural selection: better-looking people have more girls


 

Why women keep getting prettierOn their 2006 album Boys and Girls in America, Brooklyn, N.Y.-based band the Hold Steady proclaim: “Guys go for looks, girls go for status”—an acute observation of a phenomenon, which, according to researchers, is having significant evolutionary repercussions. A new study shows that the importance that men, rather than women, place on beauty when choosing a mate is actually a form of natural selection. One result: women keep getting prettier, while men are as hairy and pudgy as they’ve ever been.

The University of Helsinki study is based on data collected in Wisconsin, which followed 10,000 high school graduates for four decades. Using the yearbook photos of a random sampling of 3,250 of the participants, researcher Markus Jokela asked a separate group of people to evaluate their attractiveness. On average, the women identified as attractive had 16 per cent more children than their plainer counterparts—a difference that was much less marked in men.

However, it’s not just the propensity of attractive women to have more kids that is pumping beautiful genes into the female pool. The fairer among us also tend to conceive more daughters than sons. In a government-backed study of 15,000 Americans, the most good-looking couples were 26 per cent less likely to have boys. Evolutionary psychologists Alan Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa explain this trend in in their 2007 book Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters. In part, the sex of a child is dependent, they argue, on the traits its parents have that are most beneficial to survival. And because being good-looking is a more significant factor in the reproductive success of women than men, it follows that pretty people would have more girls.

But while the recent findings might tempt men to settle into complacency about their looks, they would be wise to reconsider. Yet another study found that attractive women carry a hormone that makes them more likely to have affairs, and change partners if someone more desirable comes along.


 

Why women keep getting prettier

  1. This study sounds suspect to me. What about changing perceptions of constitutes 'attractive'? "Pretty" here seems to be in need of a definition and that is a huge variable.

    • would also be interested in knowing how they controlled for the massive expansion of the beauty and fitness industries…. this does indeed sound suspect.

    • I completely agree Em. It does sound very skewed & possibly biased, whether the bias is intentional or unintentional. I've seen both attractive & unattractive people have boys & girls – I haven't noticed any outstanding difference in attractive women having more boys or more girls – it seeems pretty equal to me. A neighbour of mine has 5 sons – both the neighbour & her husband are both quite attractive people – they stopped trying for a daughter after boy #5 (I don't blame them – lol).

    • Actually beauty is completely scientific, multiple studies have been done and they all concluded about the same thing. Facial beauty is based on ratios either 0.68 to 1 or 1 to 1.68. If ratio like face height vs. width, thickness of upper lip vs. lower lip, etc. are closer to one of these ratios, you are considered to be more beautiful than someone who's ratios are far from that.

  2. Eh…I'm no evolutionary biologist, but I'm pretty sure genes don't select themselves before a child is born–or even conceived. Stating that "the sex of a child is dependent…on the traits its parents have that are most beneficial to survival" is an extraordinary claim. By what mechanism is this selection occurring? If ugly boys are terminated in utero or gobbled up by family pets at a greater rate than pretty girls, that's natural selection. It ISN'T natural selection if individual traits (i.e. gender) never get tested in the environment.

    • There are some ways in which the genetic make-up of the sperm or egg can influence likelihood that that specific sperm or egg leads to conception or that the resulting zygote survives to birth. For example, sperm carrying a Y chromosome are more likely to fertalize the egg than their counterparts with an X chromosome – but male embryos are less likely to survive long enough to be born.

      Also, the mother's womb is an environment – natural selection can occur before birth, and often does.

      I somehow doubt that the attractiveness of women being passed along from mother to daughter matters in those circumstances, especially since the apparently unattractive fathers are contributing equally to their daughter's genetic makeup, but yeah, some genes do select themselves before a child is born or even conceived.

      • See? Now why couldn't the article say that?

  3. I'm confused why this is being published now, after the statistical analysis used in this study was shown to be flawed:

    http://www.stat.columbia.edu/~gelman/research/pub

    "But the results could also be reasonably explained by
    chance and by selection effects…I think that the data should
    be analyzed so as to minimize concerns of statistical errors,
    and that such problems should be clearly identified in the
    abstract and in the body of the article so that the
    readership, AS WELL AS THE POPULAR PRESS, does not overinterpret
    speculative research."

    • Its being published now because it makes for a grabby headline and a splashy photo.

      I don't mind that, makes for some nice, nugatory, summertime reading.

    • There are columnists and even articles here which quote the fraser institute with credulity. MacLeans isn't always interested in getting the best numbers so much as making the story more interesting.

      sorry, Whyte and Coyne, but that's just the way it is sometimes around here.

    • Satoshi is a pseudo-scientist and it is disturbing that he gets published at all.

  4. But is it too much to ask that my nice, nugatory, summertime reading is factual?

    • Apparently. But how seriously are you really going to take this as science? It has an attractive hypothesis.

  5. this sounds like junk science. You can be as ugly as hell, and still have children, despite the "preference" as determined by similar studies of women's hip to waist ratio, assymetry of facial features, youthfulness, other physical traits that are attractive to men and suppossedly make you more fertile. It's just a way for nerdy male scientists to interview and study as many beautiful women as they can under the auspices of science.

    • ..putting those brains to good use.

      • Cute.

  6. "On average, the women identified as attractive had 16 per cent more children than their plainer counterparts—a difference that was much less marked in men."

    They conclude that men seek good looks in a mate more than women. Seems more likely to me (what with mating and childbearing being two different things these days) that good-looking chicks are less hostile to having children. Anyone who's ever been to a hardcore feminist rally can vouch for that.

    Anyhoo, if the women get cuter and us dudes stay fugly…life is good.

  7. "On average, the women identified as attractive had 16 per cent more children than their plainer counterparts—a difference that was much less marked in men."

    …from which they conclude that men seek good looks in a mate more than women.

    Seems more likely to me (what with mating and childbearing being two different things these days) that good-looking chicks are less hostile to having children. Anyone who's ever been to a hardcore feminist rally can vouch for that.

    Anyhoo, if the women get cuter and us dudes stay fugly…life is good.

    • You're a sexist moron.

      • *bows politely*

        • except if attractive people really do have more daughters and more children you are going to be way outnumbered and society would change drastically. so life wouldnt be good

  8. so what to that? luv luv women any woman they are beautiful regardless of any study in helsinki or any where else…so there, beautiful woman or whatever they are a wondrous gift to the blue planet! politiks of it? so what,,,, its better then war!

  9. This sounds like nonsense. Thanks to those above for debunking more thoroughly than I had the energy for right now.

  10. The Simpsons' superintendent Chelmers complained to Principal Skinner about all the ugly kids at Springfield Elementary.

  11. Although fascinating to read it is based on hypothesizing everything. Not all "people" whatever their gender are looking just at the surface for a lifetime mate, they are looking for substance. You cannot have a good conversation with "attractive". Whoever did this study should also study people in general not just pictures in a yearbook.

    • "Not all "people" whatever their gender are looking just at the surface for a lifetime mate, they are looking for substance."

      But typically one also finds one's lifetime mate "attractive", no? People may enter a long-term relationship because they're compatible but at some initial point in time, before substance could be determined, they were probably going out to dinner because they were attracted to each other. In other words, "attractiveness" is important because it creates opportunity for mating and reproduction and the more attractive you are (generally speaking), the more likely you are to find a mate you are compatible with because you generally get more opportunities.

      • When it comes to men looking for a life partner or someone to 'bed', then yes, usually or in most cases, he would be looking for someone attractive in his eyes…because what one person deems attractive, another may not.
        When it comes to women looking for a male partner, many women will look beyond looks completely if the man makes lots of $$$$. Bad to say, but there is a lot of truth to that.

        • So how about the Amazons taking over Wall Street soon. And are men getting “prettier” or “fairer”? Seems more gay looking men, too.

  12. Hmmm. There are plenty of ugly women who have lots of children! I myself am a rather dumpy chick who has only girls. Also, back to the yearbook pictures – hair and makeup styles have changed considerably over the years and were often more severe than they are now. Some of the girls who were judged as less attractive from their yearbook photos might actually have been quite pretty, but the style of grooming makes them appear less attractive to someone from our current culture.

  13. I agree. "back in the day" there were very few attractive girls in my rural high school. Only a handful of girls in my school would be considered to be "HOT" . However the years have passes, and it is interesting to see how things have changed. The pretty ones turned out to be rather plain, sometimes ugly. And the plain to somewhat ugly girls have turned out to be quite atrractive. go figure, i should have married one of the ugly ones from school. LOL

  14. Is this a Saturday Night Live skit? This study is ridiculous!! Although amusing.

  15. How exactly did they determine that "the fairer among us tend to have more daughters than sons"? The last statistic I knew was that more than half of babies born were female, anyway – born to pretty and ugly parents alike. And it is the man/sperm who determines gender of a baby, so I don't see how a "pretty" mother has much input into gender selection. I can understand how "pretty" mothers have "pretty" daughters since all offspring take after their parents in traits such as looks, size, health, intelligence, etc. This is NEWS?

    • Excellent point Lynn – the man's sperm determines the sex of the baby – that has NOTHING to do with the attractiveness of the mother. The conclusion that this research came to sounds suspect to me.

      • While it's true that the man ultimately determines the sex of the child through whether his sperm has an X or Y chromosome, it does not preclude the possibility that women have some selection mechanism of their own that makes it more likely for their eggs to be fertilized by sperm containing one or the other chromosome.

  16. Something that hasn't been brought up yet….it is a fact in animal breeding that looks largely come from the FATHER & intelligence is largely inherited from the MOTHER! This is a general rule that follows in animal breeding – I've heard that there is some evolutionary importance on why looks are largely inherited from the male…to ensure that the father recognizes their own offspring so that they won't harm them. Human beings are animals too…..I can see this very much being the case with people. Smart moms seem to have smart kids, & kids with attractive fathers seem to generally be quite goodlooking too.

  17. "I'm pretty sure there's a lot more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking. And I plan on finding out what that is."
    – Derek Zoolander

    • LOL

    • AHAHAHAHAHAAA ,.

  18. The study neglects the fact that women are jumping on the train to artificially become more attractive if they are not happy with their level of attractiveness… they can turn to artificial attractiveness, (Plastic surgery, makeup, hair removal, manicures, pedicures, artificial lashes, breast implants, botox, much more clothing selection than men have etc)

    Men have no need to do this to attract women, women are much more attracted to status, so men simply need to improve their ranking at work, with other men and with other women to become more attractive

  19. Are yearbook photos a representative sample of the population? As a former yearbook editor, I would suggest that they are not. While it may seem like an obvious place to look for upper middle class researchers, you need to consider that:
    1. Many lower income schools do not have yearbooks at all, or at least, fewer people will have bought yearbooks (so fewer are in circulation)
    2. There are always a significant number of students that miss their yearbook picture. Disproportionately these would be lower income students.
    3. The study relies on the accuracy of the students that worked on the yearbook. We put in long hours, but there were still definitely mistakes.
    4. The data also relies on their being some information on the flip-side about how many children an individual has.

    So even a culturally neutral study with a perfect measure of beauty would face considerable obstacles with respect to data. It is at best a somewhat flawed study of wealthy people. While it may be true that among upper middle class women, prettier women have more children, if you compare across populations, less wealthy and [often] less attractive women may have more kids.

  20. First of all, I question whether attractive women really have more children. A woman's educational and socioeconomic background plays a huge role in determining how many kids she'll have – less-educated women from poor backgrounds tend to have the most kids. They are also more likely to be overweight. Well-educated women with good incomes tend to be healthier and take better care of themselves – and have fewer children.

    Furthermore, attractive women have unattractive children all the time. Girls do not always look like their mothers – sometimes they look more like their father or a relative.

    • …ergo unattractive. Is this sexist? I mean, your last statement. Oh, well. Like the old anecdote: Eve was made beautiful so that Adam would love her. But Adam asked why she was so dumb…and the answer: so that she’d fall in love with him. Okay, perhaps that’s not politically correct or simply correct. Just saying…”hooray for the little difference!”

  21. There are probably a few studies/science that support this finding in one way or another. First of all, of all births, there are more girls being born.

    Check out: The Disappearing Male – a documentary on the reduction of male births. http://www.cbc.ca/documentaries/doczone/2008/disa

    The other study that may be related, although I am not sure how yet, but it seems to be a topic of interest to scientists is that
    Attractive Men Produce Less Sperm: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/0907/0907

    Somehow or other some kind of natural selection seems to be going on; mixed that with the bizarre effects of the man-made toxins (pardon the pun) that we keep spewing…

  22. There are probably a few studies/science that support this finding in one way or another. First of all, of all births, there are more girls being born.

    Check out: The Disappearing Male – a documentary on the reduction of male births. <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/documentaries/doczone/2008/disa…” target=”_blank”>http://www.cbc.ca/documentaries/doczone/2008/disa

    The other study that may be related, although I am not sure how yet, but it seems to be a topic of interest to scientists is that
    Attractive Men Produce Less Sperm: <a href="http://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/0907/0907…” target=”_blank”>http://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/0907/0907

    Somehow or other some kind of natural selection seems to be going on; mix that with the bizarre effects of the man-made toxins (pardon the pun) that we keep spewing…

  23. Yearbook pictures, honestly? Who looked good in grade 10?
    I say look at someone at 25. They've been through college or university, or whatever the heck someone does in their early 20's, and yet there's not too too old.

  24. the sex of a child is determed by the stronger pardner week men farther girls and weak women mother boys i was in sales for 35 years and i saw this in my customers when i was a boy in the 40's boys were being born and women stayed in there places now the women are very strong and the men are wimps check your friends and take a count bet you see girls being born more mike

  25. These Scientists chat shit half the time, or indeed most of their time. Bunch of wankers trying it on with women in the name of science. Furthermore, I've dated women with dads so ugly that you would say, "but she is a pretty girl".

  26. These Scientists chat gibberish, they're just trying it on with the lady's in the name of Science and that.
    I've seen pretty looking women with butt ugly parents, and vice versa. If you keep getting lumbered with an ugly bird, then you need to go out more and find ones that aint minging.

  27. I agree! Of course I have three girls!

  28. I find it interesting that women who are prettier are more likely to have affairs or leave if a better mate comes along because of a HORMONE? Please!? How the hell can you determine that. This article is just another example of how we use science to justify and determine culture. It's like we need science to "tell us the story" of why things are the way they are. Science is just a meta-narrative. The data might be true, the the scientist herself/himself lives in a culture and uses that culture to interpret the data. Therefore the data reflects this contemporary moment. And to the jerk who made the comment about attending a feminist rally, all I can say is where, precisely are these "hardcore feminist rallies" to which you are referring? Just because someone believes in equal rights for all people (which is what feminism is) doesn't mean they hate men. We'll leave the hatred and oppression up to "dudes" like you – you have a history of doing it so well….

    • ''Ouch!!''

  29. Well yah, our definition of "pretty" changes over time. A few hundred years ago, plump women were more attractive because they resembled wealth and health rather than malnourishment. But women today still have the primordial instinct of being attracted to muscular guys for they are more likely to be a source of security rather than a weakling would. It's all about reproduction! Better stability and security = prosperity for the offspring of the species. However, there are other factors that come into play such as education and wealthiness which are not passed down through genetics. I wouldn't say that women are necessarily getting prettier, I'd say that the human race is. It's a big assumption but looking at what natural selection tells us, it's quite possible.