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Weighing Attraction: Wealthy Men, Educated Women Can Weigh More, Still Find Mates, Study Claims

Man Woman On Scale

First Posted: 10/09/11 03:06 PM ET Updated: 12/09/11 05:12 AM ET

When it comes to finding a mate, it’s easy to feel like physical appearance matters most, at least in terms of first impressions. That’s not a misguided view, according to Pierre-Andre Chiappori, a Columbia University economist, but appearance isn’t everything. Chiappora has developed a formula for calculating how men and women can compensate for weight gain when attracting a spouse, the New York Post reports.

According to Chiappori and his co-researchers, whose working paper is titled Fatter Attraction: Anthropometric and Socioeconomic Matching on the Marriage Market, physical and financial attractiveness trump all other factors in the marriage market, but if your appearance diverges from the ideal, specifically if you weigh more than is considered conventionally attractive, other factors can help you remain as attractive to a potential spouse as you were before.

For men, a 10 percent increase in body mass index (BMI), which is calculated by dividing your weight by the square of your height, can be overcome by a 3 percent increase in income. A woman who weighs more can up her level of attractiveness with more education.

"Our findings tell us that physical appearance is not such a big deal, and it’s easy to compensate for,” Chiappori told the Post.

The Post refers to the finding that women are willing to marry wealthy overweight men as “obvious,” citing the pairings of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and socialite Georgina Chapman and “doughy” Donald Trump and “trophy wife” Melania Trump
as examples. But the idea that extra education makes a woman more attractive, to the point that it compensates for physical imperfections, also makes sense in light of recent data. According to GOOD, women are earning more bachelors and graduate degrees than men. Being highly educated is an increasingly female trait. It's not necessarily surprising, then, that men consider women with more education more desirable compared to women with less.

Chiappori's findings may hold true in the marriage market, but they wouldn't in the labor market, according to a spate of recent books arguing that physically attractive people fare better financially: Daniel Hamermesh's "Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People are More Successful," Deborah Rhode's "The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law," and "Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital" by Catherine Hakim. "Beauty is naturally rewarded in jobs where physical attractiveness would seem to matter ... but it also yields rewards in unexpected fields," the Economist reports, and this isn't just the case for women. "Men too, having lost their monopoly of well-paid jobs, are investing in their erotic capital to enhance their appeal to mates and employers."

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Filed by Margaret Wheeler Johnson  |