In 2008, the Journal of Marriage and Family published a study that investigated the relationship between one’s own attractiveness and the attractiveness of their romantic partner.
The study was conducted by Julie H. Carmalt, John Cawley, Kara Joyner, and Jeffery Sobal.
The study predicted that “all else being equal, obese individuals would have a lower probability of matching with a physically attractive partner but that other desired characteristics like education, grooming, and personality would increase the probability of having a physically attractive partner and therefore could potentially offset some of the negative effects of obesity.”
The study analyzed data from Wave 3 of the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health, which collected data about the respondents physical attractiveness, level of education, cognitive ability, grooming, personality attractiveness, weight, emotional supportiveness, income, and relationship status, among other things.
The data used by Carmalt and her colleagues consisted of 1,405 men and 1,405 women who were between 18 to 24 years old and paired with each other in romantic relationships.
“Focusing on body weight, we found that in comparison to their healthy weight counterparts, obese men and women displayed a lower probability of having a physically attractive romantic partner,” according to Carmalt and her colleagues.
More interestingly, Carmalt and her colleagues found that “both women and men trade education for physical attractiveness in a romantic partner; to our knowledge this is the first time that a study has found that young adult women trade their economic status for men’s attractiveness.”
Surprisingly, although it was found that both men and women seemed to trade education for physical attractiveness, they did not seem to trade physical attractiveness for higher income. According to Carmalt and her colleagues, this may be because of the relatively young age of their sample. At 18 to 24 years old, education may be a better predictor of future income than current level of income.
Even though it was found that education could compensate for physical attractiveness, as Carmalt and her colleagues explain, “the probability of having a physically attractive partner was much more strongly correlated with appearance (i.e., BMI, grooming, and physical attractiveness) than with socioeconomic status (i.e., education and income).”
Carmalt, J.H., Cawley, J., Joyner, K. & Sobal, J. (2008). Body weight and matching with a physically attractive romantic partner. Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol 70: 1287–1296