Beauty and Status: The Illusion of Exchange in Partner Selection?
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Scholars have long been interested in exchange and matching (assortative mating) in romantic partner selection. But many analyses of exchange, particularly those that examine beauty and socioeconomic status, fail to control for partners’ tendency to match each other on these traits. Because desirable traits in mates are positively correlated between partners and within individuals, ignoring matching may exaggerate evidence of cross-trait beauty-status exchange. Moreover, many prior analyses assume a gendered exchange in which women trade beauty for men’s status, without testing whether men might use handsomeness to attract higher-status women. Nor have prior analyses fully investigated how the prevalence of beauty-status exchange varies between different types of couples. I use data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health Romantic Pair Sample, a large (N = 1,507), nationally representative probability sample of dating, cohabiting, and married couples, to investigate how often romantic partners exchange physical attractiveness and socioeconomic status, net of matching on these traits. I find that controlling for matching eliminates nearly all evidence of beauty-status exchange. The discussion focuses on the contexts in which beauty-status exchange is most likely and on implications these results have for market-based and sociobiological theories of partner selection.
McClintock, Elizabeth Aura
American Sociological Review