Do Looks Matter? Study Sheds Interesting Light

Christie Brinkley and Billy Joel. Paulina Porizkova and Ric Ocasek. Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles. J.Lo and Marc Anthony. What do these couples have in common, other than the fact that they’re all extremely famous? All four couples consist of a gorgeous woman who married a man who was shortchanged in the looks department.

This begs the age old question: Do looks really matter in a relationship?

Benjamin Karney, professor of social psychology and co-director of the Relationship Institute at UCLA went about finding the answer to this question and got some surprising results. He found that the key factor in determining whether couples are happy in their marriages seems to depend on the “relative attractiveness” between the man and the woman. In fact, his research suggests that in cases where attractive women are married to less attractive men, the chances for happiness are fairly high.

The reasoning  behind this is sound: The less attractive husbands seemed to be basically more committed, more invested in pleasing their wives when they felt that they were getting a pretty good deal. But the reverse is not true however!

“For women, that’s not part of the deal. The deal that women get isn’t being with an attractive man. It’s being with a protective man, or a wealthy man, or an ambitious man, or even a sensitive man. So they didn’t care as much about the appearance of their husbands.”

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At the University of Florida, Karney studied the interactions of 82 newlywed couples in their mid-20s. He continued his work after joining UCLA’s Department of Psychology in 2007 and published a paper aptly titled “Beyond Initial Attraction: Physical Attractiveness in Newlywed Marriage” in the Journal of Family Psychology.

One of the team’s findings, which was consistent with just about every other study done on attractiveness in couples, showed that both partners tended to be similar to each other, Karney said. In other words, attractive people tended to be married to other attractive people.




Karney and his colleagues found that less attractive husbands who had more attractive wives had the happiest relationships. In general, they were more effective and more positive when helping their wives with their problems.

Sadly, however attractive men who had married less attractive women were less satisfied in their marriages, and less helpful in the interactions with their wives.

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What’s interesting is that the wives’ own attractiveness didn’t seem to matter — they were more affected by their husbands’ satisfaction, Karney noted. When their husbands were happy, the wives were happy, and when their husbands were unhappy, they were unhappy. They didn’t seem as responsive, or sensitive, to how attractive their husbands were.

While there are certainly exceptions to the rule, as with all things in life, it’s safe to say from this study that it is true that on average, when men are more attractive than their wives — in this sample, at least — it looks like they were less invested. Maybe because they knew that they might have more alternatives — better alternatives, potentially.

“Whereas the men who were with the attractive women said, ‘Woo hoo! I lucked out!’ “

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