trophy wife stereotype
June 18, 2014

Stereotype Of Trophy Wife Is All But A Myth

Alan McStravick for - Your Universe Online

We've all seen the outwardly-appearing successful man with a pretty piece of arm candy standing by his side. The trophy wife, that stunningly attractive female who trades her natural aesthetics for a life of comfort and leisure, is perceived to occur on more than just a semi-regular basis. However, a new study out of Notre Dame explains how, in this case, perception hasn't necessarily become reality.

The stereotype of the trophy wife requires both the male and the female to be willing to make certain sacrifices and compromises. The woman, in order to simply find and marry a rich man, sacrifices the importance of other traits like the general attractiveness or common age of their eventual partner. The man in a trophy wife scenario, in order to simply have an attractive wife, sacrifices a partner who is accomplished in the areas of education and earnings.

Sociologist Elizabeth McClintock, a sociologist out of Notre Dame, explains how her research shows the stereotype of the trophy wife is, in reality, a widespread myth that has been fueled by selective observation which reinforces sexist stereotypes and actively trivializes women's careers.

The study, titled “Beauty and Status: The Illusion of Exchange in Partner Selection?” is scheduled to be published in a forthcoming edition of the journal American Sociological Review. In her paper, McClintock shows how her evidence obliterates the stereotype of the trophy wife by painting a picture of a more equitable match on both physical attractiveness and socioeconomic status in the relationship.

The study sought participants meant to be a nationally representative sample of young couples in which both partners were interviewed and rated for physical attractiveness. According to McClintock, assembling a participant grouping based on these criteria represents a first for this type of study. She was able to control for matching on attractiveness. Research conducted before this study ignored two important factors, she noted.

"I find that handsome men partner with pretty women and successful men partner with successful women," says McClintock, who specializes in inequality within romantic partnerships. "So, on average, high-status men do have better-looking wives, but this is because they themselves are considered better looking--perhaps because they are less likely to be overweight and more likely to afford braces, nice clothes and trips to the dermatologist, etc.” She continued, “Secondly, the strongest force by far in partner selection is similarity — in education, race, religion and physical attractiveness."

While the trophy relationship does sometimes occur, it does so infrequently it could be considered an anomaly. McClintock's research clearly shows that a general tendency for young, attractive women to trade beauty for money simply does not exist.

Picking on everyone's favorite real estate mogul to hate, McClintock explained how the examples of trophy wife relationships that can be found are outliers to the norm. "Donald Trump and his third wife Melania Knauss-Trump may very well exemplify the trophy wife stereotype," McClintock says. "But, there are many examples of rich men who partner with successful women rather than 'buying' a supermodel wife.”

She goes on to say, “The two men who founded Google (Larry Page and Sergey Brin) both married highly accomplished women—one has a PhD and the other is a wealthy entrepreneur."

Other examples of trophy wife pairings can be found if, perhaps, one turns their attentions to Hollywood. But McClintock states the stereotype of the trophy wife is most wrongly-applied among non-celebrities.

"I've heard doctors' wives referred to as trophy wives by observers who only notice her looks and his status and fail to realize that he is good-looking too and that she is also a successful professional--or was before she had kids and left her job," McClintock says.

Another barrier to the trophy wife being a reality is that of social class. As noted in McClintock's own research, the variable of social class is, excepting for Anna Nicole Smith, relatively impermeable. One might see this man as being unwilling to date and marry outside of his social station. McClintock's take is that attractive women in a lower social strata were unwilling to leverage their looks to secure upward mobility by marriage.

But perhaps the greatest unintended consequence of McClintock's look into the myth of the trophy wife is that a faith in our humanity can be restored on some level. It is redeeming to think that there are far fewer individuals out there who are really so shallow that they would make mate selection solely on the criteria of physical attractiveness at the exclusion of any and all other criterion.