New research purports to show that women are getting more attractive, because pretty women have more children and, proportionately, more daughters. Take this news with, as the tabloids say, a boulder of salt.
According to the Times of London, University of Helsinki researcher Markus Jokela has found that attractive women (those rated in the second highest quartile of hotness) had 16% more children their less attractive peers, while very attractive (top quartile) women had 6% more. The Times couples this with previous research by evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa (author of, no joke, Why Men Gamble and Women Buy Shoes: How Evolution Shaped the Way We Behave), which found that good-looking parents were "26% less likely to have sons." If true, I guess this would explain Sasha and Malia. Kanazawa says,
If more attractive parents have more daughters and if physical attractiveness is heritable, it logically follows that women over many generations gradually become more physically attractive on average than men.
So is this true? Let's look at Jokela's study first. Feminist Law Professors points us to the abstract, which says the study was conducted on "1244 women, 997 men born between 1937 and 1940." Feminist Law Profs also reports that the basis for attractiveness was yearbook photos from the 1957 graduating classes at Wisconsin high schools. But people on average married earlier in 1957 and they do now, and had children earlier, so whether you were "hot in high school" may have had much more to do with your "reproductive success" than it does today. The study didn't track the women's attractiveness as they got older, nor did it study women from later generations, who may have had more options to confound the purported link between attractiveness at age 18 and popping out lots of kids.
Now to Kanazawa's study. At least one statistician has called his numbers into question. Razib at Gene Expression links to this critique of Kanazawa's work, which states that if you do the math right, the most attractive parents in his study had "an 8% higher rate of girls," and that the 26% figure "cannot be interpreted in the way suggested in the paper." "This is particularly unfortunate," says statistician Andrew Gelman, "since 26% was the number reported in the press."
Razib also points out that the idea of women getting more attractive over time is complicated by the constant presence of mutations, and that attractiveness difference between the sexes would likely be very slow to emerge, if it emerges at all. But perhaps the most disturbing thing about Satoshi Kanazawa is not his flawed research, but his politics. From an editorial in Pyschology Today (published during the 2008 primary):
Here's a little thought experiment. Imagine that, on September 11, 2001, when the Twin Towers came down, the President of the United States was not George W. Bush, but Ann Coulter. What would have happened then? On September 12, President Coulter would have ordered the US military forces to drop 35 nuclear bombs throughout the Middle East, killing all of our actual and potential enemy combatants, and their wives and children. On September 13, the war would have been over and won, without a single American life lost.
Yes, we need a woman in the White House, but not the one who's running.
That's right — if only we'd had Ann Coulter instead of Bush in the White House, the world would be a better place. But the real question is, who's hotter?
Women Are Getting More Beautiful [TimesOnline]
Are Women Getting Better Looking? [Gene Expression]
The Science Of Sexism [Feminist Law Professors]
Physical Attractiveness And Reproductive Success In Humans: Evidence From The Late 20th Century United States [Evolution and Human Behavior]
Why We Are Losing This War [Psychology Today]