So it's true: the beauty gap between the sexes IS widening
Last Saturday, I found myself sitting down to lunch in north-eastern Italy with a group of people I had only just met. The conversation moved politely from the weather to Malta, until one of the men there couldn’t resist blurting out something that had been preying on his mind, clearly, since the talk began.
“I’ve been to Malta, and I was really struck by how the men are exceptionally ugly and the women are exceptionally good-looking. Maltese men and Maltese women look like they’re descended from two different races.”
Another man at the table said that he, too, had been to Malta and that he had noticed three things: that it is beginning to look like Miami, that the men are stronzi and that the women are very attractive.
What did I think, they wanted to know?
I said that they were right, and that this is something Maltese women notice and comment on in annoyance. We can’t understand why, given that we have the same genetic inheritance, Maltese men are so very unattractive and Maltese women among the most attractive in Europe.
Maltese men, I said, don’t notice, because like all Mediterranean men even the most stronzo thinks that he’s fabulous and that all the girls are after him.
Well, that raised a laugh. But it’s true.
I have to think really hard to come up with the names of 10 handsome and personable Maltese men. On the other hand, I run out of fingers and toes in no time at all when counting the gorgeous Maltese women of my acquaintance and those I know about only through the media.
I’ve noticed something else, too, as I run through this list. Maltese women tend to have really nice eyes – large, luminous and often sloe-shaped – so that even the slightest hint of eye make-up seems over-the-top because it results in that Cleopatra look. Our eyes are almost certainly one of the reasons why we’ve got ourselves this reputation for better-than-average looks. It is practically impossible for women with small eyes to be thought attractive.
Maltese men, on the other hand, usually have unremarkable eyes that are on the smallish side, and it doesn’t just look that way because they’re not wearing make-up. It really is that way. Think about some of the people you know.
In Italy, on the other hand, it always seems to me to be the other way round: the women are impossibly plain, usually with smaller-than-average eyes, while the men are far, far more personable and stylish than their women. An unfair proportion of Italian men seem to be drop-dead gorgeous, though this is rather ruined by their atavistic attitude towards women (all that charm is really just a way of patronising women and keeping them in their place).
But hey, look at this.
The Sunday Times (London)July 26, 2009
Women are getting more beautiful
Jonathan Leake, Science Editor
For the female half of the population, it may bring a satisfied smile. Scientists have found that evolution is driving women to become ever more beautiful, while men remain as aesthetically unappealing as their caveman ancestors.
The researchers have found beautiful women have more children than their plainer counterparts and that a higher proportion of those children are female. Those daughters, once adult, also tend to be attractive and so repeat the pattern.
Over generations, the scientists argue, this has led to women becoming steadily more aesthetically pleasing, a “beauty race” that is still on. The findings have emerged from a series of studies of physical attractiveness and its links to reproductive success in humans.
In a study released last week, Markus Jokela, a researcher at the University of Helsinki, found beautiful women had up to 16% more children than their plainer counterparts. He used data gathered in America, in which 1,244 women and 997 men were followed through four decades of life. Their attractiveness was assessed from photographs taken during the study, which also collected data on the number of children they had.
This builds on previous work by Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics, who found that good-looking parents were far more likely to conceive daughters. He suggested this was an evolutionary strategy subtly programmed into human DNA.
He cited two findings from the Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a US government-backed study that is monitoring more than 15,000 Americans. The measurements include objective assessments of physical attractiveness.
One finding was that women were generally regarded by both sexes as more aesthetically appealing than men. The other was that the most attractive parents were 26% less likely to have sons.
Kanazawa said: “Physical attractiveness is a highly heritable trait, which disproportionately increases the reproductive success of daughters much more than that of sons.
“If more attractive parents have more daughters and if physical attractiveness is heritable, it logically follows that women over many generations gradually become more physically attractive on average than men.”
In men, by contrast, good looks appear to count for little, with handsome men being no more successful than others in terms of numbers of children. This means there has been little pressure for men’s appearance to evolve.
The findings coincide with the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution first described the forces that shape all species.
Even he, however, might have been surprised by the subtlety of the effects now being detected by researchers looking into human mating.
The heritability of attractiveness is widely accepted. When Elizabeth Jagger became a model, her mother, the former model Jerry Hall, said: “It’s in her genes.”
Women may take consolation in the finding that men are subject to other types of evolutionary pressure.
Gayle Brewer, a psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire, said: “Men and women seek different things in their partners.
“For women, looks are much less important in a man than his ability to look after her when she is pregnant and nursing, periods when women are vulnerable to predators. Historically this has meant rich men tend to have more wives and many children. So the pressure is on men to be successful.”