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How your country’s health might affect your next date

17 March 2010

Women living in less healthy countries tend to show a preference towards more masculine-looking men, a team of researchers led by Lisa DeBruine at the University of Aberdeen has found.  The study, published this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is one of the first to demonstrate a link between an environmental factor (such as national health) and human mating preference.

Previous studies have suggested that men who possess more masculine features tend to enjoy better long-term health, which might lead one to imagine that women will prefer these partners due to their perceived evolutionary advantage.  However, further research has shown that women don’t show a straightforward preference for macho guys – indeed, as the authors of this study point out: “There is compelling evidence that women ascribe anti-social traits and behaviours to masculine men.  Women perceive masculine men as dishonest, uncooperative, more interested in short-term than long-term relationships, and even as ‘bad parents’.”

So how does a woman decide whether she prefers macho or feminine? The authors suggest that there is a kind of ‘trade-off’, whereby women have to weigh up the perceived disadvantages of a masculine partner with the supposed evolutionary advantages of having children with him.  While other factors (including the age of the woman and her perceptions of how long the relationship is likely to last) certainly affect this choice, the team found that the health of a nation – as measured by various WHO statistics, including life expectancy and impact of infectious diseases – is clearly related to preference for masculine men.

While the authors speculate that women may veer towards the manly type because of the increased importance of healthy offspring in an unhealthy country, they admit that the two factors are not necessarily causally related.  Other factors also correlated with national health, such as wealth distribution or the prevalence of violent crime, may be the true cause of women’s preferences and the researchers suggest that this would be a valuable area for further study.