Ben Karney is a Professor of Social Psychology at UCLA, and an adjunct behavioral scientist at the RAND Corporation. He is an expert on interpersonal relationships, especially marriage, and has done extensive research on how relationship processes and interactions are constrained or enhanced by the contexts in which they take place.
Abstract: Among strangers, no variable has as much power to predict interpersonal judgments as physical appearance. In particular, more physically attractive people are judged as more desirable romantic partners, and generally males have been found to be more affected by a partner’s physical appearance than females. But does physical appearance continue to play a role in established relationships? We addressed this question across several studies of the early years of marriage. Drawing upon observational data on newlywed’s marital interactions, and longitudinal data on the trajectory of their marital satisfaction over time, these studies examined how the facial attractiveness of each partner (as rated by objective observers) and the body mass index (BMI) of each partner accounted for relationship processes and outcomes. In general, these results suggest that, in established relationships, the absolute level of each partner’s attractiveness matters less than the relative attractiveness of partners within the couple. Moreover, we observe consistent gender differences, such that outcomes are more favorable in couples wherein wives are more attractive than their husbands, and less favorable in couples wherein husbands are more attractive than their wives.