How Obamacare Could Change What Turns Women On

Bottom Line: Researchers could predict how masculine a woman likes her men based on her nation’s World Health Organization statistics for mortality rates, life expectancy and the impact of communicable disease.

Furthermore, women from countries with poor health like “manlier” guys:

  • Shorter, broader faces
  • Strong eyebrows
  • Prominent cheekbones
  • Pronounced jaw lines

Conversely, women from countries with excellent health care show a clear preference for men with more feminine features. That’s not been demonstrated before, and it has all sorts of interesting implications. The study included 4,800 white women from 30 countries, mostly in their early- to mid-20s. Women were shown 20 pairs of male faces like this one, where one or both photos had been altered by software:


It took most of the women less than 10 minutes to indicate a clear preference for all 20 face pairs.

What explains the difference? How can a country’s health care policy determine who women want to jump?



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That Old Reliable, Sexual Selection

Why are women choosier about sex? Why are they always the ones who get to say yes or no? Because women assume all of the physical risk of childbearing. A man can theoretically have sex with 100 women (or more) in a single year and father 100 children. A woman can only bear a child once a year. She has much more at stake with each sexual encounter, so if she is rational she will choose a high-quality mate. She is programmed to seek evidence of certain traits that predict longevity for the good of her offspring. Indicators of good health are key.

Testosterone and Goldilocks: How Much is Just Right?

Testosterone is the hormone that we most equate with masculinity, and it is a double-edged sword. What is the perfect amount for sexual attraction? Can a man have too much? Too little? Do women vary in their preferences for the degree of testosterone visible in a man’s appearance?

High testosterone levels =

  • large muscles
  • strong jaw
  • prominent brows
  • facial hair
  • deep voices

What’s interesting is that testosterone is immunosuppressive. Therefore a guy has to be very fit and healthy to tolerate its effects. It’s also linked to other traits:

  • fitness
  • fertility
  • dominance

Essentially, high testosterone is the advertising that tells a woman she should let a guy into her jeans so that she can get access to his genes.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that women want men to stay and help raise that baby, and high-testosterone guys are a lot harder to live with. Women assign the following traits to the most masculine looking men:

  • uncooperative
  • unsympathetic
  • philandering
  • aggressive
  • no interest in parenting

Studies do show a correlation between child-friendliness and testosterone levels, and women are adept at assessing this by viewing photos.

A study of 2,100 Air Force veterans showed that men with T levels one standard deviation above the mean were:

  • 43% more likely to divorce
  • 31% more likely to leave home due to marital problems
  • 38% more likely to cheat on their wives
  • 13% more likely to admit hitting or throwing things at their wives

The question, then, becomes: How good are women at weighing these tradeoffs and choosing a man who will wear well over the long haul? Certainly we see plenty of evidence that the high T bad boy still does pretty well with the ladies. It turns out, though, that he does better in some countries than others.

Who’s Hot in Your Neighborhood?

Researchers found that women who prefer a pretty face to a rugged one live in the healthiest countries: Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Austria. Women who liked macho men came from countries with poor scores on the health care index: Mexico, Brazil, Bulgaria, Argentina. As an aside, it’s interesting that three of these countries have strong cultural machismo stereotypes. What might that say about the possible connection between cultural ideals of masculinity and a nation’s health care policy?

I figured the U.S. would rank high in health care, and therefore low in masculinity, but that turned out to be untrue. We rank 20th out of the 30 countries for health care! Not surprisingly, we scored the fifth highest on preference for masculine features. If health care reform is successful in making Americans healthier overall, then we can expect to see that change as women adapt their preferences.

What’s Making Women Wet is Changing

Personally, I believe that women are capable of adapting their preferences based on observation and experience, so I’m glad to see some scientific evidence for this claim. Previously, I’ve always focused on women’s ability to make good choices despite what turns them on. Here’s evidence that what turns women on can change fairly rapidly, as they adapt to a changing environment. What’s particularly interesting is the way in which women in aggregate can shift. This means there will be new winners and losers in the sexual sweepstakes. If things shift in America, we’ll see evidence of that across the culture, further reinforcing new preferences.

Obviously, there are many other factors at play. As I noted above, there’s the cultural stereotype of what’s manly in many countries, and that will exert considerable influence. The iconic American cowboy, as personified by Clint Eastwood or the Marlboro man, is the embodiment of the American male. Women in violent countries may prefer very masculine men for protection. In countries where women totally oppressed and lack education, a continuing preference for a dominant and aggressive male seems certain.

Researchers point out several other factors which may affect women’s choices over time. In countries where women earn considerable income, women may show less preference for masculinity as a signal of being able to provide. In the current U.S. mancession, many women are experiencing providing for their families. They may find that the qualities that make a cooperative partner are more valuable than skills passed down from the Stone Age. Studies have also shown that as women make more money they get pickier about men’s looks. Time will tell exactly what that means.

The very long-term implications are staggering to contemplate. If women prefer lower-testosterone men over a long period of time, how will sex roles change? Will women become more masculine? Will we reach a point where the difference between the sexes is dramatically reduced? And what might that say about how sexual attraction will work? As men with very high testosterone find themselves with reduced access to sex, how will their dominant and aggressive traits manifest? Will violence against women increase?  Can marriage as an institution be saved by women selecting men with less aggressive tendencies?

If mate selection is adaptable as rapidly as this new study suggests, I just may live long enough to learn the answers to these questions.