Many studies have shown, and common sense dictates, that good looks greatly benefit those who have them. Prettier people tend to have more social relationships, and reap the psychological benefits as a result. What may not be so widely known, however, is that the relevance of physical appearance varies based on geography.

According to a study published in Personal Relationships, The importance of attractiveness depends on the social environment where we live. Attractiveness does matter in more socially mobile, urban areas (and from a woman's point of view actually indicates psychological well-being), but it is far less relevant in rural areas.

In urban areas individuals experience a high level of social choice, and associating with attractive people is one of those choices. In other words, in urban areas, a free market of relationships makes attractiveness more important for securing social connections and consequently for feeling good. In rural areas, relationships are less about choice and more about who is already living in the community. Therefore, attractiveness is less likely to be associated with making friends and feeling good.

 Furthermore, urban women need not have below average looks in order to experience a diminished sense of well-being and social life. The research team studied women at mid-life in the U.S. based on data related to their well-being, social connectedness, and their body attractiveness (assessed with a calculation of their waist-to-hip ratio).

Lead author Victoria C. Plaut points out, "In the field of psychology, research results are generally seen as having a natural and universal applicability. This research suggests that this is far from being the case. Rather, the importance of attractiveness varies with certain sociocultural environments, and, if you think about it, urban environments are actually a relatively recent addition to human life."

Citation: Victoria C. Plaut, Glenn Adams, Stephanie L.  Anderson, 'Does attractiveness buy happiness? "It depends on where you're from', Personal Relationships, December 2009, 16(4), 619 - 630; doi: 10.1111/j.1475-6811.2009.01242.x