Men Agree More Often on ‘Attractive’ Women

July 17, 2009

This article is included in these additional categories:

Analytics, Automated & MarTech | Boomers & Older | Creative & Formats | Men | Women

Men in the US are more likely to judge women to be appealing based on their physical features, and also are more likely to agree with other men on what makes an attractive mate, according to recent research from Wake Forest University, which found significantly less agreement among women about what makes an attractive man.

The study, co-authored by psychology professors Dustin Wood of WFU and Claudia Brumbaugh of Queens College, enlisted more than 4,000 participants (ages 18-70+) and asked them to rate photographs of men and women (ages 18-25) for attractiveness on a 10-point scale ranging from “not at all” to “very.” The photos had been pre-coded by the researchers to reflect how seductive, confident, thin, sensitive, stylish, curvaceous (women) and muscular (men), they appeared.

Among the survey findings:

  • While most men agreed that the same women were attractive, women were less likely to agree about men’s attractiveness. Some women gave high attractiveness ratings to men other women said were completely unappealing. This happened much more often with women than it did with men.
  • Men’s judgments of women’s attractiveness were based primarily on physical features, rating those who looked thin and seductive more highly.
  • Homosexual and heterosexual men gravitate toward similar qualities, including thinness, confidence and a neat appearance.
  • About 60% of heterosexual women showed a preference for thin men, compared with 95% of men who preferred thin women.


  • About 75% of women favored people who exuded confidence, compared with about 90% of men. Most of the men in the study rated photographs of women who looked confident as more attractive.
  • As a group, women rating men showed some preference for thin, muscular subjects, but disagreed on how attractive many men in the study were.
  • Older participants were more likely to find people attractive if they were smiling.

“As far as we know, this is the first study to investigate whether there are differences in the level of consensus male and female raters have in their attractiveness judgments,” said Wood. “These differences have implications for the different experiences and strategies that could be expected for men and women in the dating marketplace.”

The findings suggest that women may encounter less competition from other women if all the women do not find the same men attractive. In contrast, men may need to invest more time and energy in attracting and then guarding their mates from other potential suitors, given that these potential mates are also deemed attractive by many other men.

The study, which also could have implications in marketing and advertising creative execution, “helps explain why women experience stronger norms than men to obtain or maintain certain physical characteristics,” Wood added. “Women who are trying to impress men are likely to be found much more attractive if they meet certain physical standards, and much less if they don’t. Although men are rated as more attractive by women when they meet these physical appearance standards too, their overall judged attractiveness isn’t as tightly linked to their physical features.”

In other evidence of why appearance and attractiveness might be considered important, a study earlier this year found that smarts trump beauty by only a small margin when it comes to earning power.

About the study: The research is published in the June 2009 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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