Love in our own league: We marry people as attractive as ourselves, study finds

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A recent study brings some good news for our egos: both men and women are pretty accurate at rating their own physical attractiveness.

The study also found that couples tend to be well-matched in attractiveness, suggesting that we usually date and marry people in our own “league” when it comes to looks.

This new analysis comes from research involving nearly 1,300 opposite-sex couples and 27 individual studies.

The study was led by Gregory Webster, Ph.D., the R. David Thomas Endowed Professor of Psychology at the University of Florida. Webster worked with collaborators from Yale University and the State University of New York at Fredonia.

Their findings were published in the academic journal, Personality and Individual Differences.

One of the key takeaways is that both men and women were fairly good at judging their own attractiveness.

Moreover, couples often had similar views about their own beauty. For example, men who considered themselves attractive tended to date women who also rated themselves similarly.

The data for this analysis came from studies where couples rated their own physical attractiveness. Their pictures were then shown to strangers, who provided objective measures of their beauty. This re-analysis by Webster’s team builds on a landmark meta-analysis originally performed in 1988. This older study gathered data from 27 different studies that looked at how attractiveness correlated within couples.

Webster’s team used new methods developed over the past 34 years to analyze data from couples. This provided a perfect opportunity to reassess the previous study with fresh eyes.

“There’s an extensive line of research on meta-analysis and another on how to analyze data for couples. But these haven’t really been put together before,” Webster explained.

The original data dates back even further, to as early as 1972. Despite the age of the data, Webster believes the findings are still relevant in 2024.

“It’s possible that some aspects of attraction have changed over time, especially with the rise of online dating where initial judgments are based solely on pictures,” Webster said. “However, the fundamentals of what humans consider attractive have remained pretty consistent across cultures and time.”

Webster’s meta-analysis allowed the team to explore how self-ratings of attractiveness change over relationships of different durations. Some studies focused on young, dating couples, while others looked at long-married spouses. They discovered that men who had been in relationships longer were more accurate at judging their own attractiveness. This might be because the overconfidence of youth diminishes over time, leading men to view themselves more realistically.

“Men might be getting more realistic,” Webster noted. “Nobody’s usually getting more attractive over time.”

In summary, the study suggests that we generally find partners who match our own level of attractiveness. This might mean that when it comes to love, we naturally look for someone in our own “league.”