'Trophy wife' stereotype is largely a myth, new study shows


Don't be so quick to judge. Most people are familiar with the "trophy wife" stereotype that attractive women marry rich men, placing little importance on their other traits, including physical appearance, and that men look for pretty wives but don't care about their education or earnings.

New research, however, by University of Notre Dame Sociologist Elizabeth McClintock, shows the trophy wife stereotype is largely a myth fueled by selective observation that reinforces sexist stereotypes and trivializes 's careers.

In "Beauty and Status: The Illusion of Exchange in Partner Selection?" forthcoming in American Sociological Review, McClintock resolves the paradox between the trophy wife stereotype and the evidence that couples match on both and socioeconomic status.

Using, for the first time, 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 is similarity—in education, race, religion and physical attractiveness."

McClintock's research shows 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 rather than 'buying' a supermodel wife.

The two 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- celebrities.

"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's research also indicates 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.

Explore further

Cupid's arrow: Research illuminates laws of attraction

Journal information: American Sociological Review

Citation: 'Trophy wife' stereotype is largely a myth, new study shows (2014, June 17) retrieved 17 August 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2014-06-trophy-wife-stereotype-largely-myth.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Jun 17, 2014
So casey casem was really in love then eh?

Jun 17, 2014
Should've focused on 2nd (or 3rd, etc) wives... because it's never the 1st one that's the trophy.

Jun 17, 2014
that reinforces sexist stereotypes and trivializes women's careers
The hardcore feminists indeed wouldn't like it, but the attractive women aren't so interested about scientific carrier in nuclear research and programming, when they could become a well secured housewives of footbalists and NBA players. The only problem is, you shouldn't seek the support for this theory between housewives of academics....;-)

Jun 17, 2014
but the attractive women aren't so interested about scientific carrier in nuclear research and programming
@zephir-jantoo troll
so... is that carrier as in air craft carrier?
or is that carrier as in chlamydia, syphilis, anthrax or some other disease?
surely you don't mean carrier in the sense of actual manually carrying something do you? like a manual labor position?
or were you referring to "courier"... which is a carrier of stuff in a way... but more like a delivery person.

please be specific... because I didn't think carriers that were infectious really concerned themselves with looks much....

Jun 17, 2014
that carrier as ... anthrax or some other disease
LOL, what's your point here? Are you trying to imply, the anthrax is sexually transmittable disease lurking for poor NBA housewives in their dark smelly houses or what?

Jun 17, 2014
Now I can see it, the spell-checker glitch career ≠ carrier. Well, we need a bit of fun here...;-)

Jun 17, 2014
This study is inane, why is this new survey on phys.org? I concluded in a blind study, after watching Desperate Housewives of Jersey County whatever, that some women just like money. Also, in a previously published study in Cosmos Magazine, it was determined that women lye in surveys. Also, new science: carrier diet guaranteed to shed five pounds!

Jun 18, 2014
some fields of research are more hazardous than others,
especially when attempting to publish results ;)

the concept of 'trophy wife' occupies a sticky state space ,
including but not limited to 'what kind of wives do rich men buy' and the economics of 'renting instead of buying'

how is the aggregate value of a moth affected by their flame groveling sisters in a world that evolves dung beetles with IQs approaching

Jun 18, 2014
The part that they dont mention is that the study was funded by the 'Wives of the Wealthy' book club.

Jun 18, 2014
With a doubling time of 70/x, where x is the growth rate of the economy, eventually all warm bodies will consumed by The Machine.
Why is anyone surprised by the "liberation" of the female onto the alter of "progress"?
Some are making a virtue of a vice.
The growth must stop.

Jun 18, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Jun 22, 2014
I can tell you and know many others who can tell of utterly brutal stories of elder abuse, estate raiding and injustice regarding how children are treated after geriatric marriages.

American women can be totally disgusting and it surely doesn't take good looks to seal the deal.

Jun 22, 2014
I agree that it's selective observation. However, it's only a myth that it Dominates how things are. It doesn't. But it is there. We just have an exaggerated view of its frequency.

Yes, an ugly rich guy is going to more likely have a trophy wife than a good looking rich guy.

Looks is #1 when one's 100% single. Most guys are going to want an 8 or a 9 in a (younger) woman than a 5 -- even if the woman who's a 5 has a very "established" career. After all, an established career is only something important as far as financial matters are concerned, so it's of no matter to ones who are rich. If the gal has a good personality and isn't stupid -- a not so good looking guy's going to take an 8 or 9 if that's feasible vs a 5, even if the latter's sharper and "whhhhhittay".

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more