Never Call Your Partner a Trophy

couple rocjkingI have recently acquired a television after living the last 6 (peaceful) years without one. I must admit that Jeopardy at 7 has filled a small nostalgic void in my life, but the morning news is an utter disgrace to the myriad of monumentally important and tragic situations that are occurring around the world right now (and always). It did however lead me to this article by James Hamblin, “The Myth of Wealthy Men and Beautiful Women,” published in The Altantic last week.

Hamblin is a sort of modern day Doogie Howser meets Dr. Phil, offering health and relationship advice via regular blog posts and video tutorials on the internet. The fodder for his article comes from new research done by  Elizabeth McClintock published in the American Sociological Review, examining the extent that couples “exchange” desirable traits when pairing up, (i.e. i’m beautiful and your wealthy), or “match” desirable traits (i.e. we are both beautiful or both wealthy).

Hamblin describes her results:

What appears to be an exchange of beauty for socioeconomic status is often actually not an exchange, McClintock wrote, but a series of matched virtues. Economically successful women partner with economically successful men, and physically attractive women partner with physically attractive men.

The study concludes that women aren’t really out for men with more wealth than themselves, nor are men looking for women who outshine them in beauty. Rather, hearteningly, people really are looking for … compatibility and companionship. Finding those things is driven by matching one’s strengths with a partner who’s similarly endowed, rather than trying to barter kindness for hotness, humor for conscientiousness, cultural savvy for handyman-ship, or graduate degrees for marketable skills.

The most interesting part of this study, in my opinion, is the uprooting it has caused of any prior research in the field. McClinktock basically asserts that studies in the past that found an exchange pattern common, particularly that of beautiful women marrying wealthy men, or the “trophy-wife” theory, were biased studies that were poorly executed.

These studies regularly excluded any evaluation of the men’s physical attractiveness, and so didn’t address the simple fact that it might just be two attractive people being attracted to one another, probably in attractive clothes in an attractive place, both perpetually well slept. Any “exchange” was an illusion.

More interesting stuff regarding how we decide who is attractive and who is not, and the connections between ratings of physical attraction and wealth status complicate this study even further. Check out Hamblin’s article for a taste, or if you have access to the American Sociological Review articles, read McClintock’s full piece


-Caterina Gironda, Southern Editor

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