A simple theory of where the women are beautiful

by on November 5, 2006 at 6:37 am in Economics | Permalink

For a few weeks twice a year, after Ramadan and before Christmas,
thousands of Lebanon’s young men return from jobs abroad – and run
smack into one of the world’s most aggressive cultures of female
display.  Young women of means have spent weeks primping and planning
how to sift through as many men as possible in the short time
available.  The austere month of Ramadan ended a week ago.

country’s high rate of unemployment pushes the young men to seek work
elsewhere, sometimes in Western countries like France and Canada, but
mainly in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and the other oil states on the Persian Gulf.  The women, inhibited by family pressures, are generally left behind.

MR readers will not be shocked to learn these women strongly prefer the Lebanese men with foreign jobs and foreign incomes; here is the full story of competition and rent exhaustion.

My simple theory of where the women are attractive has two variables: income inequality, and the willingness of wealthier men to marry beautiful women from the lower income and social classes.  Women then compete for lucrative marriage prizes.  That puts Cuba (the wealthy men are the tourists) and Brazil near the top of the list, where they belong.  New York City isn’t bad, and this mechanism won’t hurt China either.

1 RWB November 5, 2006 at 9:17 am

In the mid-80s, when I was in my early 20s, I worked for an oil exploration company that was doing offshore seismic surveying in Nigeria. My job required that I work outside under the equatorial sun pretty much all day long. The ABs we had working for us were Filipinos, who worked on longterm contracts (9 months at a stretch).

I would work all day in a Speedo, trying to get as dark as possible. Therefore when I went on break in Europe, I had a beautiful dark tan (and completely bleached hair).

The Filipinos, on the other hand, wore long track pants, long sleeve Tshirts, and wrapped another long-sleeve Tshirt around their faces so that only their eyes were visible. I asked them why they wore this hot outfit.

The told me that their salaries for working as ABs were very good by Filipino standards, and even better given that they could not really spend any of the money while they were on board ship for 9 months (in other words, room and board was free). So when they went home, they had lots of cash to spend on the ladies–but they didn’t want to have the dark tans that women would associate with manual laborers. They wanted to look like pale, prosperous office workers. Having money was important, but being pale was an important signal that said to women, “I have money.”

On reflection, my tan served the same purpose–instantly signalling to women that I had plenty of leisure time, and therefore probably had decent money.

2 Bruce Webb November 5, 2006 at 11:10 am

But? But? But? I thought women were attracted to the funny, sensitive guys!

(Funny sensitive guys the world over busting a gut laughing. Have you ever seen a really good looking guy with a nice car lonely no matter what a dick he is? Or any guy with a really fat wallet not having plenty of company no matter how old or homely he might be? Maybe money can’t buy happiness, maybe it can’t buy you love, but it can sure as hell make sure you are not sitting by yourself on the barstool at closing time.)

3 Jake November 5, 2006 at 12:06 pm

Iceland, home of the most beautiful women in the world (just ask the Ford Agency) doesn’t fit the model (no pun intended).

4 Yan Li November 5, 2006 at 1:40 pm

What makes China different from many other countries is that for every 100 girls born, there are 121 boys waiting in line. Women could afford to slack on their looks just a bit.

5 Don November 5, 2006 at 4:25 pm

Yan Li,

That ratio probably doesn’t matter as much as you think. Yes, there are 121 boys for every 100 girls. But the 100 girls are competing with one another to be the most attractive in order to attract the best mate among those 121 boys. Unless the collude (unlikely), they’ll be as concerned about their looks as the rest of us.

6 Nancy Lebovitz November 5, 2006 at 8:21 pm

Mike, in case your question wasn’t rhetorical, I suspect it’s because this sort of discussion is exceedingly impersonal–there’s no hint that people might match up because they like or love each other.

7 Peter Schaeffer November 6, 2006 at 12:10 am

Iceland? I have spent some time in Iceland and I wasn’t particularly impressed by the women. The women in Sweden, France, and Italy (in no order) came off better.

The women are not mostly blonde, at least in my observations. The prettiest girl I saw was a brunette at a movie theatre.

Of course, I spent almost all of my time in very, very remote rural parts of Iceland and virtually none in upscale urban areas.

I should say that Iceland itself is stunningly beautiful and visiting is highly recommended. Note that to appreciate Iceland you do need to be interested in hiking, climbing, volcanoes, waterfalls, glaciers, etc. Spending a day or two around Reykjavik (Blue Lagoon, the Geyser) does not do justice to the place.

No one should attach too much credence to my comments about Icelandic women†¦ Too much potential selection bias and possible random variation. However, I have more than enough data points to be confident about the beauty of the place.

8 Steve Sailer November 6, 2006 at 4:16 am

Anthropologist Peter Frost has put forward a persuasive theory for why fairer-skinned females are preferred in almost all cultures, and were favored even before European contact:


9 bartman November 6, 2006 at 8:21 am

Here in the UAE, the suntan lotion (for the westerners) is right beside the skin bleaching cream (for the Arabs and Indians) on the drugstore shelves.

10 Steve Sailer November 6, 2006 at 12:53 pm

There are sex differences in skin color. Women really are “the fair sex” by about 10%. That was clearly visible to medieval Europeans, but it was forgotten, at the conscious level, when society became multiracial, which swamped sex differences in skin color.

However, that helps explain why almost all love scenes in Hollywood movies feature a woman whose skin tone is at least as fair as the man. A fair skin is subconsciously seen as a feminine secondary sexual characteristic. Indeed, that helps explain why Nicole Kidman works so much — it’s impossible to match her with a fairer leading man. Strikingly, she is often paired with leading men who are substantially shorter than her, such as her ex-husband Tom Cruise, but height is less important these days in casting romantic leads than skin tone.

11 Stephen November 6, 2006 at 11:20 pm

The most beautiful are the Nubians of southern Egypt. To my western eye they are stunning – both the women and the men.

I asked one local about all the *western* women dressed up to the nines and sitting alone in the street coffee shops. He said that they have come from the west
looking to marry a Nubian man (rolling his eyes as he spoke in an ‘As If’ kind of way). I understood him – the western women may have been comparatively rich but were plain compared to the Nubian women.

12 Seb January 9, 2007 at 8:26 pm

I was amazed at the all the beautiful women when i visited Denmark 🙂

13 amazed January 19, 2007 at 11:01 am

I’m shocked at all the stereotyping, prejudice, and ignorance I’ve encountered in many of those replies. What is it that makes the color of the skin, being it pale or whatever, a “superior” trait of beauty in a woman? This is so ethnocentric and clichéd, because living in Europe(all you have inside your mouths), I haven’t ever seen one woman that could slightly compare to the Latin American beautiful women I’ve seen(it could be the mix of so many ethnicities) and anyhow, Southern Europeans and people from the Mediterranean are not exactly white.
Of course that if in South Africa, in a continent where most people are black, paler skin is preferred, it’s quite obvious and logical to assume that people will always be attracted to what sticks out of the masses, what is different to them, which doesn’t mean white skin is objectively” more beautiful or not” (that’s what national socialists in the middle of the last century thought and had some “whitening” policies 😉 ).

Scandinavian women? I guess one finds beautiful women all over the world, from Canada to Tierra del Fuego, to Egypt, China, simply everywhere, also beauty as anything, is relative.

14 anchorcheck December 23, 2007 at 6:36 pm

Well, I read the article of Frost’s theory of the origin of blond hair, light eyes, and fair skin in northern and eastern europe, and have to say that it is an elegant theory, and very convincing.

I have been interested in pre-historic man and how he evolved, and also in the differences in the races.

This question of how the unusual eye, hair and skin color of the Europeans came about has always intrigued me. Now I think I understand it. Of course, there also had to be a genetic mutation to begin the whole process. There had to be mutations to select for.

15 Anonymous October 14, 2008 at 2:28 am
16 tutor June 3, 2009 at 10:50 am


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17 valuethinker September 3, 2009 at 12:38 pm

the most striking women I have seen in the world were West Africans with skin black as coal. Some of those tribes in Nigeria or Ghana where the average height seems over 6′ tall. And there is a tremendous sense of poise and an almost aristocratic grace.

This is all so ethno-centric. 50 years ago, i, as a white male, could never voice that opinion.

Another place I have seen many, many beautiful women is Ireland. All pale white skin and black hair and blue-green eyes, or red-haired beauties with freckles.

Of Caucasian women, off hand I would say Elle McPherson is about the most attractive model out there. Tall, not blonde (depends on which week we are in), extremely athletic.

None of the 3 examples conforms to the tall, blonde, stereotype. Elle Macpherson does, but she has far more physical attributes than your average top model nowadays== who looks like a starved teenage boy (and is thus appealing, perhaps, to gay men working in fashion?).

So it seems to me this is all ethno-centrism at work. What is ‘beautiful’ is a consequence of time and place.

18 pravin September 4, 2009 at 7:39 am

beauty is not the color of the skin. it is the health of the skin.dark skin tone of a healthy person is preferable over a blonde unhealthy one.a beautiful woman or man has more symmetrical features (the 1.68 rule).so it is health and symmetry that render someone beautiful.not simple skin color.eg say naomi campbell vs err janet reno?

19 Todd September 27, 2009 at 11:52 pm

I’ve been to 29 countries, including Iceland. I spent a whole summer in Reykjavik and I’m here to tell you that there is a very high percentage of gorgeous women in that wonderful country. And there is a logical reason why it is that way. When the Vikings raided Europe, Russia, the Mid East, and some say America, they brought back to Iceland captives from their conquests. The most beautiful women from each village were taken back to Iceland which over the course of a thousand years has made for one incredible gene pool!

20 Keri Maude December 12, 2010 at 1:38 am

So, what you are saying is that there are a lot more beautiful women in poorer countries because they have a better chance of a wealthy marriage to some rich tourist. But how can there be so many beautiful women in these countries if they can’t afford cosmetics and skin products that would help them expose their beauty?

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