What Do Men Find Attractive in Women? It May Depend on How Healthy His Home Country Is

I'm sure you've wondered what makes women attractive to men. We’re often led to believe it’s a collection of facial features that can generally be described as “girlish”: Heart-shaped faces, big eyes, delicate bone structure, and so on. But as a new study demonstrates, this isn’t always the case; in fact, what a man finds attractive largely depends on how healthy his country of origin is. Huh?

As Science AAAS points out, previous studies have found that women who live in harsh conditions — communities with high homicide rates and low incomes, for example — find super masculine men more attractive. Urszula Marcinkowska of the University of Turku in Finland wanted to find out whether exterior conditions affected what men find attractive in women, too. So, she and her team got to work: To get to the bottom of the issue, they conducted an online survey in 16 different languages, presenting 1,972 heterosexual males between the ages of 18 and 24 from 24 different countries with 20 pairs of Caucasian female faces. Each pair of faces consisted of one with extremely feminine traits — larger eyes, fuller lips, and so on — and one with more androgynous features, like thinner lips and a wider chin. Each participant was asked to select which face in each pair they found more attractive.

What the researchers discovered was striking: Although the men largely did prefer the more feminine faces, how much they preferred them varied from country — based on the national health indices of the countries from which the men hailed. Men from Japan, for example, chose the feminine face more than 75 percent of the time; men from Nepal, however, chose the feminine face only just over 50 percent of the time. Other countries that showed a preference for feminine features include Australia and the U.S, while countries like Nigeria and Colombia were less drawn to them.

The one thing Marcinkowska isn’t sure of, though, is why this is the case. Business Insider notes that previous studies have found women with feminine features to be more fertile; from a purely biological perspective, then, men are more likely to accomplish the “must reproduce as much as possible!” directive ingrained in them if their preferences skew towards the most fertile members of their group. But at the same time, Marcinkowska also writes that “women with more feminine features have, in the past, been found to be less socially dominant and less effective at competing for resources.” It’s possible that men may have evolved to choose the less feminine women in harsher conditions — thus giving them a better chance of survival. Marcinkowska regrets that the survey-based method employed for her study couldn’t measure the testosterone levels of its participants; perhaps this might be a direction in which future studies could go.

The takeaway from all this? Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.