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'Trophy wife' stereotype is a myth

Updated: June 22, 2014, 2:06 PM IST
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'Trophy wife' stereotype is a myth
Men with highly successful careers and fat wallets may rarely end up with a 'trophy wife', a new study suggests.

Men with highly successful careers and fat wallets may rarely end up with a 'trophy wife', a new study suggests.

Most people marry someone who has a similar degree of attractiveness and success as they do, researchers have found.

The 'trophy wife' stereotype means that attractive women marry rich men, placing little importance on their other traits, including physical appearance, and that men look for pretty wives but don't care about their education or earnings.

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However, the research by University of Notre Dame sociologist Elizabeth McClintock shows the stereotype is largely a myth fuelled by selective observation that reinforces sexist stereotypes and trivialises women's careers.

McClintock resolved the paradox between the trophy wife stereotype and the evidence that couples match on both physical attractiveness and socioeconomic status.

Using a sample of young couples in which both partners were interviewed and rated for physical attractiveness, McClintock was able to control for matching on attractiveness.

"I find that handsome men partner with pretty women and successful men partner with successful women," said McClintock.

"So, on average, high-status men do have better-looking wives, but this is because they themselves are considered better looking - perhaps because they are less likely to be overweight and more likely to afford braces, nice clothes and trips to the dermatologist, etc. Secondly, the strongest force by far in partner selection is similarity - in education, race, religion and physical attractiveness," she said.

McClintock's research shows that there is not, in fact, a general tendency for women to trade beauty for money. That is not to say trophy wife marriages never happen, just that they are very rare.

McClintock said the trophy wife stereotype is most often wrongly applied among non-celebrities.

"I've heard doctors' wives referred to as trophy wives by observers who only notice her looks and his status and fail to realise that he is good-looking too and that she is also a successful professional - or was before she had kids and left her job," McClintock said.

The research also indicates that, contrary to the trophy wife stereotype, social class barriers in the marriage market are relatively impermeable. Beautiful women are unlikely to leverage their looks to secure upward mobility by marriage.

The research appears in the journal American Sociological Review.

First Published: June 22, 2014, 2:06 PM IST
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