Brains As Important As Beauty, Say Men

Brains and sex appeal are two characteristics people look for in a mate. And according to a new Grand Valley State University study, men are now paying as much attention to a potential spouse's education as they are her looks.

In an analysis of engagement announcements, Grand Valley researchers found that among couples planning to wed in 1980, men had more education than their future wives. But by 2002, the tendency for women to "marry up" with respect to education had declined, said Sonia Dalmia, an assistant professor of economics and author of the study.

The results show that not only have women closed the education gap, they have become the more educated spouse by 0.27 years. "College graduation rates have increased substantially more for women than for men since 1980, and women are now more likely to attend and graduate from college than men," Dalmia said.

Life in a dual-income world has meant that men now have to look to potential partners for support as much as women do. "For women, earning potential has always been important because they have traditionally been the dependent spouse. But for men, the economic earning potential of spouses is becoming more important than ever before," said Dalmia.

The project's objective was to examine if and how marital patterns have changed in West Michigan over 22 years. Using data from engagement announcements appearing every Saturday in the Grand Rapids Press for the years 1980 and 2002, students enrolled in Dalmia's Gender and Economics course compared levels of education and physical attractiveness of couples. To measure attractiveness, four students (two males and two females) were randomly picked to rate the prospective brides and grooms on a predetermined scale of attractiveness. After the judges finished rating all the pictures, the average score of their ratings was used as the attractiveness measurement.

The study's results suggest the percentage of marriages in which the bride is more educated has increased from 21 percent in 1980 to 30 percent in 2002. In 1980, 56 percent of couples were equally educated, compared to 50 percent in 2002. In terms of attractiveness, the study shows that women "married down" in both 1980 and 2002. But the number of marriages in which the bride was more attractive than the groom decreased from 65 percent in 1980 to 59 percent in 2002.

Dalmia noted that physical attractiveness and education are often considered to be substitutable and thus tradable characteristics in marriage choices. In investigating the existence of this exchange, the results of the study confirmed the commonly held belief that beautiful women are able to marry husbands of higher economic status (measured by their education) compared to their plainer counterparts. A women's education, on the other hand, was not found to be beneficial in regard to marrying an attractive spouse.

Even with the changes, the analysis shows that individuals like to choose partners of similar education, attractiveness and race — and that the degree of similarity between partners has increased over time.

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