Many people are familiar with the trophy wife stereotype - a wealthy successful man marries an attractive new spouse and she gets money.
The presumption is that women only care about money while men only care about appearance. But it's selective observation, according to a sociologist, and they should know. In reality, for every Anna Nicole Smith, there are hundreds of examples where that isn't the case.
The stereotype reinforces sexist stereotypes and trivializes women's careers. Ironically, it is most often perpetuated by women
University of Notre Dame Sociologist Elizabeth McClintock used a nationally representative sample of young couples in which
both partners were interviewed and rated for physical attractiveness, McClintock was
able to control for matching on attractiveness. She says prior research in this area has
ignored two important factors.
"I find that handsome men partner with pretty women and successful men partner with
successful women," says McClintock, who specializes in inequality within romantic
partnerships. "So, on average, high-status men do have better-looking wives, but this is
because they themselves are considered better looking--perhaps because they are less
likely to be overweight and more likely to afford braces, nice clothes and trips to the
dermatologist, etc. Secondly, the strongest force by far in partner selection is similarity
— in education, race, religion and physical attractiveness."
McClintock says that there is not, in fact, a general tendency for women to
trade beauty for money. That is not to say trophy wife marriages never happen, just that
they are very rare.
"Donald Trump and his third wife Melania Knauss-Trump may very well exemplify
the trophy wife stereotype," McClintock says. "But, there are many examples of rich
men who partner with successful women rather than 'buying' a supermodel wife. The two men who founded Google (Larry Page and Sergey Brin) both married highly
accomplished women—one has a PhD and the other is a wealthy entrepreneur."
McClintock says the trophy wife stereotype is most often wrongly-applied among non-
"I've heard doctors' wives referred to as trophy wives by observers who only notice her
looks and his status and fail to realize that he is good-looking too and that she is also a
successful professional--or was before she had kids and left her job," McClintock says.
McClintock also says that, contrary to the trophy wife stereotype, social
class barriers in the marriage market are relatively impermeable. Beautiful women are
unlikely to leverage their looks to secure upward mobility by marriage.
American Sociological Review
Source: University of Notre Dame