Rich, portly, men with beautiful women on their arms are no rarity in today's society. In fact, some might even argue it’s the norm. According to a recent study, this coupling can be explained by simple math.
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Pierre-Andre Chiappori, an economics professor at Columbia University, writes in his working paper, "Fatter Attraction: Anthropometric and Socioeconomic Matching on the Marriage Market," that a little extra cushion around the waist on a man is not a big deal to attractive women, as long as he's rich. For women, this model is flipped – men will overlook extra weight in a woman with more education.
The paper says that those looking for a marriage partner think about physical and socioeconomic attractiveness. Chiappori and his co-authors Sonia Oreffice and Climent Quitana-Domeque, created a formula which says that for every 10% increase in a man's Body Mass Index, his salary must increase by 2% in order to continue dating in the same arena. However, women who weigh more by two BMI units compensate with a year of extra education, rather than money.
The paper is part of research being conducted independently on the subject of matching, Chiappori said. Since the 1980s, the "college premium," or return on investment for attending college, has doubled. However women are more willing to go to college for this reason than men, he said.
"When you go to college, you reap two benefits," Chiappori said. "You completely change your marital prospects and are more likely to be in a high-income family."
Education is the best indicator of socioeconomic status, he said. It is used to measure a woman's status rather than wealth, because some women choose not to work.
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Chiappori said using BMI to measure attractiveness may be less than ideal, but it is the only numbers-based physical attribute available to use.
Dallas-based Love Coach Jennifer Styers said she finds the study to be both "shallow and superficial." While these aspects of relationships may be prevalent in dating pools, she does not find they hold true when it comes to marriage.
"This is a dating thing, it's less serious," Styers said. "Women are willing to compensate body mass with money, just like men will not look at (a woman's face) and will look at larger breasts. Women are willing to overlook flab because money is very attractive—there is a lifestyle that comes along with it."
Physicality aside, richer men often have more suitors, Styers said, and also can afford to dress better, both of which can be attractive to women. However, she is not on board with Chiappori's theory on women being fatter and more educated.
"I talk to men every single day, and I can promise you that I have never heard a man say, 'Well she is educated, so it's ok that she doesn't look that good.'"
As education relates to wealth, Styers said she can see why a more educated woman can be more attractive. Today's society is one of dual income, so a woman who is richer may be more attractive in a socioeconomic light, even if she is physically unattractive.
The study findings come down to simple standards of economics and substitution formulas, Chiappori said.
"If people are offended by reality, I would be surprised," he said. "We are trying to describe reality."