Menus Subscribe Search

Thinner Wife, Happier Marriage

• January 12, 2011 • 2:00 PM

Researchers find marriages tend to be more satisfying for both spouses when the wife is thinner than the husband.

Ladies: Are you nervously watching your weight to stay attractive for your husband or boyfriend? Well, put down those salad forks. It turns out you don’t have to starve yourself — unless he’s doing so, too.

A study just published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science finds a correlation between weight (as measured by body mass index, or BMI) and marital satisfaction. But the key variable is the relationship between the spouses’ BMIs.

It seems a couple is more likely to experience marital bliss when the wife is at least somewhat thinner than her husband.

A research team led by University of Tennessee psychologist Andrea Meltzer followed 165 newlywed couples for four years. The couples, most in their mid- to late-20s, filled out questionnaires every six months to measure their level of marital satisfaction.

The trends over time were clear. “Husbands were more satisfied at the time of marriage, and remained more satisfied over time, to the extent that their wives had lower BMIs than their own,” the researchers report.

“Wives who had lower BMIs than their husbands remained more satisfied over time,” they add, “whereas wives who had higher BMIs than their husbands demonstrated steeper declines in their satisfaction over time.”

This held true even after researchers controlled for several factors that could skew the results, including income, education and levels of depression. What’s more, they were independent of the partners’ actual weight. Extra pounds did not prove to be a problem, so long as hubby was slightly more chubby.

Meltzer and her colleagues believe their findings reflect a difference in priorities between men and women. “Several studies indicate that partner thinness is more important to men than to women, possibly because BMI is more strongly correlated with women’s physical attractiveness than it is with men’s,” they write.

“In contrast, because partner BMI is relatively less important to women, relative BMI may affect them only through its effect on men,” they add. “That is, women who have lower BMIs than their partners should maintain higher levels of satisfaction with the relationship because their partners are more satisfied.”

This leads to an intriguing question: Is there an equivalent spousal-satisfaction factor that works the other way, which women care about deeply and men not so much? The answer will have to await further research.

In the meantime, these results may help in the treatment of women with eating disorders. If they’ve internalized the belief that they’ll never be loved unless they’re fashion-model skinny, this data provides strong contradictory evidence.

“Educating women about these findings may alleviate the pressures to be extremely thin that plague women today,” the researchers conclude. Women of any size can be happy in their relationships, they write, “if they find the right partner.”

In other words, size matters — but everything is relative.

 

“Like” Miller-McCune on Facebook.

Follow Miller-McCune on Twitter.

Add Miller-McCune.com news to your site.

Subscribe to Miller-McCune

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 19 • 4:00 PM

In Your Own Words: What It’s Like to Get Sued Over Past Debts

Some describe their surprise when they were sued after falling behind on medical and credit card bills.



September 19 • 1:26 PM

For Charitable Products, Sex Doesn’t Sell

Sexy women may turn heads, but for pro-social and charitable products, they won’t change minds.


September 19 • 12:00 PM

Carbon Taxes Really Do Work

A new study shows that taxing carbon dioxide emissions could actually work to reduce greenhouse gases without any negative effects on employment and revenues.


September 19 • 10:00 AM

Why the Poor Remain Poor

A follow-up to “How Being Poor Makes You Poor.”


September 19 • 9:03 AM

Why Science Won’t Defeat Ebola

While science will certainly help, winning the battle against Ebola is a social challenge.


September 19 • 8:00 AM

Burrito Treason in the Lone Star State

Did Meatless Mondays bring down Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples?


September 19 • 7:31 AM

Savor Good Times, Get Through the Bad Ones—With Categories

Ticking off a category of things to do can feel like progress or a fun time coming to an end.


September 19 • 6:00 AM

The Most Untouchable Man in Sports

How the head of the governing body for the world’s most popular sport freely wields his wildly incompetent power.


September 19 • 4:00 AM

The Danger of Dining With an Overweight Companion

There’s a good chance you’ll eat more unhealthy food.



September 18 • 4:00 PM

Racial Disparity in Imprisonment Inspires White People to Be Even More Tough on Crime

White Americans are more comfortable with punitive and harsh policing and sentencing when they imagine that the people being policed and put in prison are black.



September 18 • 2:00 PM

The Wages of Millions Are Being Seized to Pay Past Debts

A new study provides the first-ever tally of how many employees lose up to a quarter of their paychecks over debts like unpaid credit card or medical bills and student loans.


September 18 • 12:00 PM

When Counterfeit and Contaminated Drugs Are Deadly

The cost and the crackdown, worldwide.


September 18 • 10:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Molly Crabapple?

Noah Davis talks to Molly Crapabble about Michelangelo, the Medicis, and the tension between making art and making money.


September 18 • 9:00 AM

Um, Why Are These Professors Creeping on My Facebook Page?

The ethics of student-teacher “intimacy”—on campus and on social media.


September 18 • 8:00 AM

Welcome to the Economy Economy

With the recent introduction of Apple Pay, the Silicon Valley giant is promising to remake how we interact with money. Could iCoin be next?



September 18 • 6:09 AM

How to Build a Better Election

Elimination-style voting is harder to fiddle with than majority rule.


September 18 • 6:00 AM

Homeless on Purpose

The latest entry in a series of interviews about subculture in America.


September 18 • 4:00 AM

Why Original Artworks Move Us More Than Reproductions

Researchers present evidence that hand-created artworks convey an almost magical sense of the artist’s essence.


September 17 • 4:00 PM

Why Gun Control Groups Have Moved Away From an Assault Weapons Ban

A decade after the ban expired, gun control groups say that focusing on other policies will save more American lives.


September 17 • 2:00 PM

Can You Make Two People Like Each Other Just By Telling Them That They Should?

OKCupid manipulates user data in an attempt to find out.


September 17 • 12:00 PM

Understanding ISIL Messaging Through Behavioral Science

By generating propaganda that taps into individuals’ emotional and cognitive states, ISIL is better able motivate people to join their jihad.


Follow us


For Charitable Products, Sex Doesn’t Sell

Sexy women may turn heads, but for pro-social and charitable products, they won't change minds.

Carbon Taxes Really Do Work

A new study shows that taxing carbon dioxide emissions could actually work to reduce greenhouse gases without any negative effects on employment and revenues.

Savor Good Times, Get Through the Bad Ones—With Categories

Ticking off a category of things to do can feel like progress or a fun time coming to an end.

How to Build a Better Election

Elimination-style voting is harder to fiddle with than majority rule.

Do Conspiracy Theorists Feed on Unsuspecting Internet Trolls?

Not literally, but debunkers and satirists do fuel conspiracy theorists' appetites.

The Big One

One in three drivers in Brooklyn's Park Slope—at certain times of day—is just looking for parking. The same goes for drivers in Manhattan's SoHo. September/October 2014 new-big-one-3

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.