Nov 4, 2011

Male Attractiveness Over Time

UPDATE Jan. 2013: All three graphs are somewhat optimistic in assuming that a man more or less has his life together. If this is not the case (early weight acquisition, bad attitudes, poor career prospects, etc.), the peak could come as early as 25.

I am also dissatisfied with the idea of "attractiveness" in the first place. Attractiveness for a short-term relationship, longer-term, or marriage? It's also not that practical to readers other than giving some older guys hope:) It's more practical to realize that there are things you can do to increase your individual attractiveness, and to try to do them.

I've attempted to model male attractiveness over time by looking at how 3 sets of qualities and their sum evolve over a person's life. Naturally, this model is somewhat arbitrary, but it seems to fit my observations well. The basis of this model is:
  • observation of countless actual men and their attractiveness to the opposite sex
  • research and reflection on the evolutionary basis of qualities feeding into attractiveness
I've divided qualities determining male attractiveness into 3 groups:
  1. Physical qualities: sexual maturity and potency, physical maturity, health and fitness level, probability of surviving through critical years of childraising
  2. Psychological qualities: self-confidence, charm, mental sharpness
  3. Ability to support a family materially: income, financial independence, social status and standing, capacity for work, ability to focus on productive activity
"Attractiveness" shall be defined as the sum of these three qualities.

Instead of comparing different people to each other, I've chosen to look at an individual male's level of attractiveness over his lifespan. To do this, the number 100 shall represent a person's peak level of a given set of qualities.

At some point in life a man will reach his physical peak, psychological peak, and peak ability to support a family — often at different moments. Generally, the physical peak comes first, followed by a psychological peak and later a peak in his ability to work for and feed others. Obviously this differs from person to person, but there are some general patterns.

In the first example we'll look at a man who enjoys professional success and good health and takes good care of himself. Here's the graph generated:

As you can see, this person reaches peak attractiveness at 40-45 years of age and enjoys a 15-year-long "hump" from 35 to 50 years of age.

It's possible to imagine a "rich celebrity" version of the above with a peak of wealth, fame, and ability to provide for a family as late as age 70. Presumably, such a meteoric rise in wealth would also powerfully affect the person's confidence level (psychological qualities), leading to a later peak in those as well. This would delay the period of peak attractiveness to 55 years in this model, with a broad hump from age 45 to 70. At age 80 the man would be just as attractive as at age 25 despite a substantial loss in physical strength and sex drive. Here's the graph for that:

Next we look at someone who doesn't take care of himself and/or has health problems and thus has an earlier peak in physical attractiveness. This might affect psychological attractiveness as well, as confidence may be on the decline from an earlier age, and mental sharpness might be affected. We'll assume also that this man has a relatively "aimless" career whose success depends not so much on building upon what has come before, but the person's energy level and ability to jump into new jobs. This implies an earlier peak in ability to provide for others. On the whole, such a man "burns out" more quickly than the previous cases and reaches peak attractiveness at 30-35. Here's the graph for that:

The above graph might also be close to the typical pattern for men in subsistence economies where surviving and thriving depends in a much greater measure on physical strength and health, and yet the physical conditions of life may take a greater physical toll. In such a situation a man's peak ability to provide for others might come a bit earlier than in the graph above — say, at age 30-35. This would shift the man's hump of overall attractivess to 25-40 years of age, which seems to fit with my experiences of traditional subsistence cultures.

In complex societies with developed economies a man's peak attractiveness generally comes later in life since it takes more time to acquire the experience and skills to be effective in a complex system. In general, the more successful a man, the later in life his peak occurs. This holds true in societies of any degree of complexity.

In summary, we've looked at 4 different situations with broad peaks in overall sexual attractiveness occurring at different times — 35-50, 45-70, 25-45, and 25-40 years of age.

As I reread this post I noticed that on each of the 3 graphs peak attractiveness was reached at the same time as the person's peak psychological attractiveness. This was inadvertent and led me to consider whether psychological qualities might not be an independent factor, but basically derived from physical qualities and material success. Perhaps a man's attractive psychological qualities rise and fall in complete sync with his overall attractiveness and depend almost entirely on his internal gauge of how desirable he is as a mate? Something to think about.

Additional publicity
One of my graphs was discussed at a more popular blog. The comments there may be of some interest. And here's another blogpost that will make older guys feel good about their prospects but really only applies to successful guys. 


V. J. said...

Wow, amazing! Thanks for this!

Andrew said...

Nice post. I was linked here from Hooking Up Smart, but was surprised to find how similar your post is to one I wrote about a year ago, but about female attractiveness. Here is a link:

Your Age and Your Attractiveness

You or your readers might find it interesting.

Rick said...

Andrew, that is a remarkable coincidence! I found your post very interesting. Have you read my one for female attractiveness?
I think some differences in our results can be explained by differences in what we mean by "internal traits" or "psychological attractiveness." In my case, I was basically looking at readiness to engage men emotionally through flirtation and sexually attractive behavior. This capacity or desire varies widely from woman to woman and mustn't not decline with age (post-30 or post-40), but it generally does (I think...).

Andrew said...

I hadn't seen that, no, but I'll go take a look now. I'll leave comments on that post if I have any.

Rick said...

Great. Notice also the "update" comment I just tacked onto that post.