DeBruine et al have done an interesting study in which 4500 women from 30 different countries in Europe and the Americas went to a Web site (faceresearch.org) and noted their preferences between pairs of 20 different white male faces, some of them digitally manipulated to increase or decrease masculine features. They wanted to test the evolutionary psychology suggestion that women may prefer tough-looking guys because their offspring are more likely to survive. (The downside is that manly men tend not to be the best dads, investing fewer resources in their offspring.) The less healthy a woman's country was, the more likely she was to prefer the masculinized faces. Those at the high end of the macho-preferring scale came from Brazil, also ranked as having the worst health. Those who tended more toward the girly men were from Belgium and Sweden, the healthiest. Here is their abstract:
Recent formulations of sexual selection theory emphasize how mate choice can be affected by environmental factors, such as predation risk and resource quality. Women vary greatly in the extent to which they prefer male masculinity and this variation is hypothesized to reflect differences in how women resolve the trade-off between the costs (e.g. low investment) and benefits (e.g. healthy offspring) associated with choosing a masculine partner. A strong prediction of this trade-off theory is that women's masculinity preferences will be stronger in cultures where poor health is particularly harmful to survival. We investigated the relationship between women's preferences for male facial masculinity and a health index derived from World Health Organization statistics for mortality rates, life expectancies and the impact of communicable disease. Across 30 countries, masculinity preference increased as health decreased. This relationship was independent of cross-cultural differences in wealth or women's mating strategies. These findings show non-arbitrary cross-cultural differences in facial attractiveness judgements and demonstrate the use of trade-off theory for investigating cross-cultural variation in women's mate preferences.