Rich, ugly men marry hot women, right? It's an age-old formula we all know far too well. Think of Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley or Ric Ocasek and Paulina Poriskova -- or any number of aging multi-millionaires who aren't exactly swimming in the good gene pool who managed to land themselves stunning women. Well hold onto your hats, folks, because I'm about to rock your world with this: It's all a lie.
According to a study that ran last month in the American Sociological Review, the idea of a "status exchange" relationship -- where one partner, usually a man, exchanges his wealth and power for the other partner's beauty -- is largely a myth. Yes, that's right. Everything you think you know, you don't.
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The truth is much simpler. People choose people who exhibit their dominant traits. An attractive man marries an attractive woman. A "nice" man marries a "nice" woman, and a person with a high-powered career looks for someone with the same. Which, by the way, explains Ric Ocasek and Billy Joel. In both cases, their wives are equally successful.
The myth is so pervasive, in fact, that many experts still cite it.
"I find that the old assumption of rich men finding hot women is far from a myth," says Alisa Ruby Bash, a marriage and family therapist in Beverly Hills. "It is alive and well in Los Angeles."
Maybe. Or perhaps those couples have something else in common. Perhaps it is something that is devalued by our society. Study author Elizabeth McClintock, a University of Notre Dame sociologist, told The Atlantic that the "dominant force in mating is matching." The study looked at data from 1,507 couples to prove it.
"[The common myth] is a devaluation of women's accomplishments and also a refusal to acknowledge that women care how handsome men are," McClintock told us. "Believing in the trophy wife marriage -- and especially, using pseudo-biological explanations for it -- dismisses gender inequality as inevitable."
In other words, women might choose those wealthy men because they are better looking. After all, wealthier people are often able to buy a higher level of attractiveness, whether it's through spa treatments, plastic surgery, better clothing, or just the ability to sleep and relax more.
Additionally, women are generally better looking than men. The fact is, in a society as focused on looks as ours happens to be, women do more to maintain their looks and, therefore, are often higher on the attractiveness scale than their spouses.
So why do experts struggle to believe it?
"[There is a] disconnect between anecdotes and data about populations as a whole," says Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology. "Bottom line -- and we have always known this -- people DO choose people similar to them to be partners, especially long-term committed partners."
Looking at the married couples I know, I'd say it is true, too. Most of them are married to spouses who are roughly equivalent to them in terms of level of attractiveness.
"We make the mistake of generalizing from a handful of cases we may know of or what we see on the media of the sugar daddy and his moll," says Dr. Durvasula. "Most old guys like old dames, most young girls like young guys. When I see the exception, it always gives me pause."
Let's give the myth a rest already.
Do you still believe rich men marry hot women?