Marriages are happier when wives are thinner than their husbands, according to a new study. Researchers at the University of Tennessee studied the BMI (body mass index, a common measure of obesity) of nearly 170 newlywed couples, along with their marital satisfaction over time.
Andrea Meltzer, the lead author and a doctoral candidate at UT, told Discovery News that "We found this effect initially on husbands' satisfaction at the beginning of marriage… husbands were more satisfied at the time of marriage to the extent that their wives had a lower BMI than themselves."
The fact that men tend to be happier with a thinner wife may not be surprising, but Meltzer and her colleagues also found that women who had a lower BMI than their husbands were significantly more satisfied with their marriage over time. Thinner wives make both spouses happier.
"Wives are happier to the extent that their husbands are happy," Meltzer explained. "If we were looking at another quality that was more important to women than men — say, economic resources — we might see opposite effects. Women might be more satisfied to the extent that their partners are making more money than they are."
"This study is important because it demonstrates that women of any size can be happy in their relationships with the right partner. It's not necessarily striving for thinness per se, but striving to be thinner than their partner," Meltzer said.
Thus overweight or obese women (which, statistically, is the majority of women in America) seeking a happy marriage might choose a heavier husband, or else choose an average-weight partner and lose enough weight that they are thinner by comparison.
Body size is only one of many factors that contribute to overall marriage satisfaction, though it does seem to be important to both men and women.
The preference for thinner partners goes both ways, of course. It's not just guys looking for a thin girlfriend or wife: Studies show that both men and women across the board express a strong preference for thinner partners. Another possible factor behind the findings (besides attractiveness) is that marital satisfaction is also correlated with partner health.
"Couples are more satisfied to the extent that their partner is healthy," Meltzer noted. Thinner women will, on average, be healthier than overweight or obese ones, thus improving the marriage for both partners. The study was published in the July issue of Social Psychological and Personality Science.