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Say “Cheese!”

September 2, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Using data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, Markus Jokela (2009) has found an association between the rated attractiveness of yearbook photos and reproductive success in a contemporary industrial/technological population. This study is significant because it offers real data suggesting that attractiveness in humans can pay-off in tangible evolutionary terms in the modern world. The estimated pay-off, in this case, was at about half the rate of the average selection gradient reported in a review of non-human natural selection. Assuming no change in correlation rates and no correlations with other reproductively relevant traits (both are questionable assumptions), modern humans living in industrial/technological societies should be getting more beautiful at the rate of about 0.02 standard deviations per generation. For comparison, Dr. Jakela points out in his blog that an equivalent change in height would be about 0.08 inches (about .20 cm) per generation.


  • The least attractive quartile of men (bottom 25%) had 13% fewer children (at age 53-56) than did all other men, though the lowest p level was .07. This suggests that for modern men, not being unattractive may be more important than being attractive.
  • Attractive women (third quartile or those in the 50th-75th percentiles) had 16% more children on average than did the least attractive 50% of women while the most attractive women (75th to 99th percentiles) had 6% more children than did the least attractive 50%. These relationships were statistically significant. This suggests that the most attractive (beautiful) women may use different reproductive strategies than attractive women or that beautiful women have a preference for smaller family size or….


  • Large sample
  • Long-term, longitudinal data


  • WLS data include mostly white subjects (from one US state only)
  • Attractiveness ratings of yearbook photos taken in 1957 were made by students in 2004
  • No inter-rater reliability data reported
  • Attractiveness ratings were primarily of headshots like those above
  • Attractiveness was rated at only one point in the life-span
  • There are no non-high-school graduate subjects

Wayne Hooke

Photo courtesy of Jay Hernandez: Wikipedia Commons

ResearchBlogging.orgJokela, M. (2009). Physical attractiveness and reproductive success in humans: evidence from the late 20th century United States☆ Evolution and Human Behavior, 30 (5), 342-350 DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2009.03.006

  1. September 2, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    Did they stratify by ethnicity? Because an alternative explanation of these results is that the (I assume mostly white) raters rated the non-white faces less attractive, and non-white people have fewer children than whites (I don’t know if that’s true but I guess it is for some ethnicities).

  2. whooke
    September 2, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    Sorry about the lack of clarity: the mostly white group is not the rater group but the ratee group.

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