Do Men Desire, or Dismiss, High-Status Women?
A new study identifies a duality in the way high-status women are viewed.
Posted Mar 30, 2020
Dating is complicated. But for high-status women, it might be even more so.
A team of research psychologists led by Alexandra Fisher of the University of Victoria in Canada proposed that high-status women might be viewed less favorably than low-status women in certain dating contexts.
They found this to be the case. Specifically, they found that moderately attractive women were judged to be less romantically desirable when they held high-status jobs (for instance, accountants or financial managers) versus low-status jobs (book-keepers, sales representatives). This was not the case when women were asked to rate the desirability of other women or men.
"Physical attractiveness influences nearly every phase of human social development and experience," state the researchers. "We propose that physical attractiveness determines whether heterosexual men desire or dismiss romance with high-status women. [...] Our analysis revealed that men were less attracted to a moderately attractive woman when she occupied a high-status compared with a low-status role. This result is consistent with past research demonstrating that men tend to derogate and distance themselves romantically from high-status women, likely because the thought of dating such women induces upward social comparisons that threaten their masculinity."
To arrive at this conclusion, the researchers asked 244 adult men to review a woman's online profile and rate her desirability by responding to the question: “I feel like I would have potential romantic chemistry with this person." The profile varied in two important ways. First, the researchers assigned some men to evaluate the profile of a purportedly high-status female while others evaluated the profile of a low-status female. The researchers also varied the attractiveness of the female. In some cases, men reviewed profiles of highly attractive females and, in other cases, they reviewed moderately attractive female profiles.
They found that men were more attracted to high-status women when they were highly attractive as opposed to moderately attractive. The same discrepancy was not observed for low-status women.
This double-standard appeared in two other experimental contexts — one in which participants were led to believe that they would later meet the women they evaluated and another that employed a real-life, face-to-face interaction.
The researchers interpret these results in line with their "ambivalent attraction hypothesis," which states that men can have a difficult time understanding and relating to women who display traits such as agency and dominance instead of warmth and submission.
They write, "Men's ambivalent attraction to female status is puzzling at first blush. A high-status partner can award a wide range of material and relational benefits that people of all genders can enjoy. We propose that this puzzle can be solved by considering that heterosexual men's romantic reaction to a woman's status may depend on the extent to which she conforms to consensual beauty ideals."
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Fisher, A. N., & Stinson, D. A. (2020). Ambivalent attraction: Beauty determines whether men romantically desire or dismiss high status women. Personality and Individual Differences, 154, 109681.