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. But men usually don’t look for pretty wives and 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 women’s careers.
There is a paradox between the trophy wife stereotype and the evidence that couples match on both physical attractiveness and socioeconomic status. Researchers have finally defined matching on attractiveness.
Prior research in this area has ignored two important factors. Handsome men partner with pretty women and successful men partner with successful women. 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 partner selection is similarity in education, race, religion and physical attractiveness.
Contrary to popular belief, 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,” the researchers noted. “But, there are many examples of rich men who partner with successful women rather than ‘buying’ a supermodel wife.
The two men who founded Google (Larry Page and Sergey Brin) both married highly accomplished women — one has a PhD and the other is a wealthy entrepreneur.”
The trophy wife stereotype is most often wrongly-applied among non- celebrities.
Some doctors’ wives are referred to as trophy wives by observers who only notice their looks and the husbands’ status and fail to realize that both are good-looking. Most probably as well, doctors’ wives are successful professionals, or was before they had kids and left their jobs.
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.