The "trophy wife" stereotype is largely a myth fueled by selective observation that reinforces sexist stereotypes, claim researchers, adding that it also trivializes women's careers.
Using, for the first time, a nationally representative sample of young couples in which both partners were interviewed and rated for physical attractiveness, University of Notre Dame Sociologist Elizabeth McClintock, was able to control for matching on attractiveness. She says prior research in this area has ignored two important factors.
McClintock, who specializes in inequality within romantic partnerships, said she finds that handsome men partner with pretty women and successful men partner with successful women.
She said that 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. Secondly, the strongest force by far in partner selection is similarity - in education, race, religion and physical attractiveness.
McClintock's research shows that there is not, in fact, a general tendency for women to trade beauty for money. That is not to say trophy wife marriages never happen, just that they are very rare.
"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.
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."
The study has been published in the American Sociological Review.