An article posted about “Women Are Getting More Beautiful” at Times Online which we wrote about earlier apparently misrepresented the research of Markus Jokela. (You can read his original article here [PDF].) Here’s what he has to say about it:
Having your study publicized by the media is nice. Having your study misrepresented and misinterpreted in the process is not. The media coverage of my paper on physical attractiveness and having children had a bad start and even worse follow-up. The origin of the problem: Times Online news article sexing up the finding a bit too much (I wasn’t interviewed for this article at all and heard about it only after it had been published).
He goes on to make several clarifications and corrections to the misrepresentations of his research published in the press. We will list a summary here, but the reader is encouraged to read all the details for a complete understanding of the issues.
- The main point of the study was to see whether attractiveness predicts fertility in a contemporary American population, not whether people are becoming more or less attractive over time. Such a slow process would be observed only over several generations, say, at least 5-10 generations to get an observable effect. In other words, the finding says nothing of comparison of people’s attractiveness in the 1950s vs. the 1970s vs. the 2000s!
- The association between attractiveness and fertility was observed in women and men. Most stories have mentioned only women or have even claimed that there wasn’t an association in men (“Women more beautiful but men remain Neanderthal, study finds”). This is incorrect!
- According to some news reports, my study found that attractive women were more likely to have daughters than sons. This is not true! TimesOnline presented the earlier work of Satoshi Kanazawa together with my study and it was Kanazawa’s study which found evidence for such an association. No, I am not Satoshi Kanazawa and this study was not carried out by Kanazawa.
- Several commentators have dismissed the study because they think that the standards of beauty vary so much over time and across cultures. However, there is substantial agreement between individuals and between different cultures on some aspects of attractiveness, e.g., facial attractiveness (which was the measure of attractiveness in the present study).