October 24, 2006

Why I don't care if my wife is smart or not

[Justine Pasek, Miss Universe 2002, was born to a Polish software engineer and a Panamanian homemaker. She plans to become an engineer as well. This could be my daughter someday.]

I was recently directed to an opinion piece on whether smart or high-status guys these days are continuing to look for a trophy wife as they have been doing for the past.... well, the past. If the piece is to be believed, then smart or high-status guys have begun to seek an intellectual / status equal. I'll bet that a significant cause of this trend is that there has finally been reached a threshold value of the proportion of the female population that is both hot and smart. Let's face it: guys care more about looks than brains, or else they would chase 40-something CEOs, senators, and private practice doctors, rather than the best-looking girl they can manage. On Bizarro-World, there may exist a lucrative franchise called "Senators Gone Wild," but here on Planet Earth, it's college coeds and MILFs that guys salivate over.

So why the shift toward marrying an intellectual or status equal? It must be that there is no longer such a difficult trade-off of looks vs brains when choosing a wife: you can have your cake and eat it too. Of course, these traits are pretty much independent of each other, so in order for the looks-brains correlation to increase, there must be a strong degree of cross-assortative mating between hot wives and smart or high-status husbands. This will tend to shuffle alleles predisposing to high intelligence and those predisposing to good looks into the same families: though there will be variance, we expect that the daughter of a trophy wife and nerd or alpha male will be both prettier and smarter than the population average, despite regression toward the mean. If this continues long enough, the looks vs brains dilemma will diminish, and smart or high-status guys can both go with their bestial instinct by choosing a hot babe while also maintaining plausible deniability in the face of censorious feminazis by choosing a smart girl. Not long ago, I wrote a post at GNXP on how this is especially pronounced among upper caste South Asians, which of course drew lots of boos from the blondes-uber-alles contingent.

But even if I don't amount to an alpha-male by the time I marry -- and I doubt I will -- I'll still be smart enough to offer brainy genes to a potential wife, though not genes for the alpha-male personality and physique. So I probably won't be able to get a girl who's both hot and smart -- I'm back to the trade-off -- but that's no worry, since it's the easiest decision in the world. If I married a smart but homely girl, my kids would be pretty smart but not very outgoing or good-looking. The daughters would be cursed, and the sons would only have the longshot that I currently have of attracting a hottish girl based on brains alone, not high status. I want to make sure my kids have it as easy as possible, though, so if I chose a hot but not exceptionally smart wife, my kids would have the best of both worlds. They wouldn't be as smart as me (that sounds arrogant, but you know what I mean), and not as hot as their mom, but being hotter than average and smarter than average will make them more desirable as mates than being nerdy and dull-looking. To be more exact, consider the Breeder's equation:

This tells you how far above average the children will be for some trait, based on the average of the parents. R is the response to selection, or how high above the population average the kids will be. S is the selection differential, and it says how high the parents' average is above the population average. Then h^2 is the narrow-sense heritability, which is a measure of how much variation in a given trait is accounted for by the additive effect of genes. In plain English, it says how much the kids will "snap back" to the population average. And clearly R is just the expected value of the children's phenotype: non-additive effects of genes and chance factors may buffet it this way or that, but when you're planning, you can really only go with what's predictable ahead of time. The h^2 for "physical attractiveness" is about 0.64 -- but like height or IQ must actually be a bit higher (only one study has attempted to quantify it), and h^2 for adult IQ is at least 0.7.

Now, I've never had my IQ properly tested, but from the SAT-to-IQ conversion scales I've seen, and the few unofficial online IQ tests I've taken, I'd say a conservative lower-bound would be 130, or 2 SD above the mean (hardly mind-blowing), while a conservative upper-bound would be 145, or 3 SD above the mean. Though rare in the population, this level is probably average for academics and intellectual blogger types, in the same way that a height range of 6'3 to 6'6 is probably average in pro basketball, though rare overall. Let's say I really trade off looks against IQ and choose a wife whose IQ is a perfectly average 100. Then our mean IQ would be from 115 to 122.5, or 15 to 22.5 points above the population mean of 100. So take this S of 15 to 22.5 and multiply it by the h^2 for IQ of 0.7 and you expect our kids to be 10.5 to 15.75 points above the mean, i.e. have IQs of 110.5 to 115.75. Rough estimates of the IQ needed to complete university-level education clock it in at about 115, so our kids could probably graduate college, even if they couldn't become partners at law firms or win a science Nobel Prize. Also recall that the h^2 used was a lower-bound; it's probably closer to 0.8, in which case our kids would be from 112 to 118, again good enough to go to college.

Turning to physical attractiveness, I'm not chopped liver, but I recognize I'm no handsome devil either. I notice younger girls looking at me as if they liked what they saw (though girls my own age focus more on height and status than looks, so not so many glances from them), and when I uploaded a body pic to craigslist out of curiosity, one girl said I was above-average, another said "I wouldn't kick you out of bed," and a gay guy thought I was hot (then again, guys will tell anyone they're hot if they think it'll increase their chances of getting laid). Seems an extreme thing to have done, but if you want to plan things out, you have to know what you have to offer rather than be self-deluded. So, no salivating, but no rude awakening either -- then I figure I'm at about the 70th percentile, which is about +0.525 SD. Since I sacrificed IQ, let's assume my wife is +2 to +3 SD -- we're not talking a one-in-a-million babe here, but literally a 1-in-43 babe or at most a 1-in-1000 babe. Then our mean is from +1.26 to +1.76 SD, multiplied by the more reasonable h^2 for looks of 0.7 gives an expected value of +0.88 to +1.2 SD, or between the 81st to 89th percentiles.

In conclusion, then, our kids would be expected to reach +1 SD for both IQ and physical attractiveness, meaning they could graduate college and be good-looking enough to attract the opposite sex when they're adolescents, when looks make a hell of a difference in determining one's social status (or as we called it then, one's "popularity"), which will tend to give them a huge confidence boost at a key point in development. Good looks will continue to be valuable to daughters, and though they won't be valuable to sons past their college years, the confidence they receive from being looked at will serve them well even when females stop paying attention to looks and focus more on height and status. And while they probably won't cure cancer or compose a symphony, they'll likely be smart and educated enough to get white-collar jobs and marry others whose IQ and attractiveness level is close to their own.

It all sounds horribly superficial, but hey, we all want the best for our kids, and I might as well be smart enough to know what matters in being a father to smart, good-looking children -- screw all those Baby Einstein toys and $30,000 per year pre-schools, it's genes that matter (plus uncontrollable environmental noise). Obviously this is the case with good looks. I'll cover the brains part of the equation, and she'll cover the good looks part. However, this plan does make a crucial assumption -- that the female in question is focused more on children and a family than on herself. I couldn't take this approach with someone who didn't want kids or wanted to delay child-rearing as long as possible, preferring instead a tall, rich trophy husband whom she could show off to her girlfriends to incite their envy, thus inflating her own self-esteem. I couldn't seal the deal with someone who was concerned more with status and living a glamorous lifestyle, mostly at my expense. I need someone who will say, "OK, so he didn't use his noggin to become a rich doctor or executive, and thus he doesn't earn enough for me to buy whatever furniture I desire, but I want kids now, and I want the best for them -- imagine my looks and his brains!"

That pretty much excludes the educated classes of Western Europe and the Anglo offshoot countries, since these females are more concerned with status and glamor than raising kids. That's fine, their business and all, but not my target audience. Enter the Third World bride! Ha, am I actually going to become one of "those guys"? There was a recent NYT article on foreign brides, and just look at this guy. He's not that smart, rich, young, or good-looking, and he managed to find a Colombian fiancee who's hotter than he could ever dream of here (not to mention that at 40 years old, he definitely couldn't hope to find a 23 year-old that attractive here). You figure if, compared to the average guy using these services, I'm 10-15 years younger (at 26), 15-30 IQ points smarter, better-looking (again, this isn't arrogance if you look who I'm comparing myself to), and though currently low-status, I'll be halfway respectable as an academic or other researcher someday. And once I imbibe a little alcohol, which counteracts my introversion, I can actually cut a little rug.

So you figure it wouldn't be out of the question to become engaged to one of the prettiest girls in a Colombian town, a country known for hot girls. The big concern, of course, is the average IQ of the country. Lynn's estimate of the mean IQ of Colombia is 89 (and 90 for Peru), but as a developing country, the "true" mean is probably a bit higher -- the non-white Hispanic American mean is somewhere in the low 90s -- and would be revealed if they were transplanted to a more hospitable environment like the US. But again, because I'd have quite a leg up on the competition, I could likely find a girl who was above-average in smarts for her country, namely the white American average of 100 I used in the calculations above. Hell, given the awful state Colombia is currently in, there might be some pretty, 110 IQ girl who wants something better for herself and any kids she wants to have. If she were 110, me 145, and h^2 = 0.8, the expected IQ of our kids would be 122 -- good enough to enter an intellectual or smarmy jerk profession or the arts! Also, if she were from Colombia, her looks would probably be at the upper-bound I used above of +3 SD -- and that's not even to speak of potential hybrid vigor effects our children might enjoy. Hey, the kids wouldn't have to look as good as Jessica Alba or Freddie Prinze Jr. -- anything close would work as well!

So am I totally nuts? Note: you can't argue with the numbers, since the equations are not controversial, and I chose realistic values. I mean, as concerns the rationale of targeting groups who want families rather than a sexy zip code, and so on.


  1. Maybe you should post pictures of yourself working with children, and catch the attention of women who would favor signals of that kind.

  2. Be careful with the foreign brides. I've seen a few divorces, abandonments, and immigratuion frauds perpetrated on their sucker American husbands. Don't forget that the FOB wears off quickly once they're here. A girl who is enterprising enough to run off with a stranger to a strange country can be enterprising in other ways too.

    I wonder if your odds of finding a pretty and smart girl whose expectations aren't stratospheric wouldn't be better somewhere in smalltown South or some mid-Western city.

    Chandler Bing in a Friends episode: "So you're saying that in Oklahoma I'm sexy?"

  3. This post seems like an extremely long and elaborate rationalization to justify why you'd stoop to any measure to sleep wit... sorry, sire children by, an attractive woman.
    I think the odds are more stacked against you than you seem to think. A girl who is 1-in-1000 in attractiveness but attracted to you and compatible with you in other areas is probably on order of 1-in-100,000. Compatability, of course, is a quality that's difficult to find among people who significantly differ in IQ. I'm assuming, naturally, that the idea here is to get married and have kids and have a stable family life in order to maximize the potential of your children. In the long run I think it's probably better to stop worrying about things like this, as it seems you're selecting yourself out of the gene pool.

  4. Wow. Just don't try to use this post as your pick-up line. :-)

  5. Not to mention the fact that you can give your kids all the advantages of money... including plastic surgery, which will surely continue to improve over the next few decades.

  6. jsbolton -- I do enjoy working with kids: I work at a tutoring center and I tutor privately as well. That's a good idea!

    pa -- what you suggest is what I thought about first, i.e. just moving to "fly-over country," but from what I can tell, I wouldn't be a big hit there. Also, most academic hot-spots are not located in said regions.

    anon -- no rationalization is necessary, since I openly admit that I want someone pretty. Only someone shamed by feminazi tut-tutting would try to rationalize their preference for an attractive person. (Note that feminazis feel no shame in only dating tall, high-status guys.) As for compatability, that's not very relevant. Many people worry about being complementary soulmates -- whatever, part of social life is learning how to deal with people who occasionally get on your nerves. As long as "chemistry" is there, who cares if she likes what I do?

    You're right that IQ difference can make people be unable to relate to each other, but recall that I'm choosing someone with at least a 100 IQ, not trailer-park or ghetto girls. Also recall that I placed the lower-bound of the girl's hotness at +2 SD, which is only 1 out of 43. And what might be +2 SD in the US might only be +1 or +1.5 SD in a country with prettier girls, like Colombia or Brazil.

    The only way I'd weed myself out of the genepool is if I married someone who wasn't interested in kids (especially if they were actively hostile to the idea), or who mistakenly believes that bearing several kids in one's mid-30s is as likely / healthy as doing so in one's mid-20s.

  7. It seems to me that if you're being so methodical in finding the "perfect" wife, you may miss out on opportunities that present themselves - opportunities which involve women that may not be perfect according to your standards, but who would be more than adequate. Spend too much time looking for perfection and you might end up with nothing.

    Iron Rails & Iron Weights

  8. Oh, regarding "Senators Gone Wild" ... it might have some erotic value if it involved Maria Cantwell, Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln or Lisa Murkowski :)

    Iron Rails & Iron Weights

  9. Guess that depends how it works. Maybe a hot wife will only end up giving you an ugly, effeminate son.


    "Sexy males sire dowdy daughters and attractive females bear insipid sons – in fruit flies, at least. . .

    The paradox arises because many of the traits that enhance a male's reproductive success are detrimental to female success, and vice versa."

  10. Peter -- re: favoring plans vs serendipity, I was too Romantic when I was in high school and college, and I no longer believe in large chunks of that stuff, though I sympathize. I keep my eye open, for sure, but when people emphasize serendipity, they're really just making themselves slaves to outrageous fortune, rather than try to steer their ship toward their preferred destination.

    Jason -- the fruitfly stuff doesn't carry over to humans. "A trait that benefited one sex would be a cost to the other" only holds for noticeably dimorphic species -- bulky antlers on a doe or ornate plumage on a peahen, for example. Humans are dimorphic, but much less so than almost all other apes, and compared to deer or lions or peafowl, we're indistinguishable.

    My smarts wouldn't harm a daughter any more than a son (there'd be fitness costs to both, assuming that smarties in my kids' generation don't want to have kids). When guys complain about smart or high-status girls, it's mostly personality they're complaining about.

    Since personality & IQ are orthogonal, then there's probably some cross-assortative mating for antagnostic, bitchy personalities and high IQ / high-status. Makes sense: how do you expect the daughter of a trial lawyer to behave? I'm pretty low on Agreeableness, so I might also have to make sure she'd score high on it, just to minimize the chance she'd act like, well, I'll say it, a bitch. I wouldn't want a son to act like a smarmy douchebag either, for the same reason: it's unattractive.

    Same is true for good looks -- it won't harm daughters, nor would it harm sons. Again, if we're sticking with "fitness," good-looking people in my kids' generation may not want to have kids for some reason, but what I'm really talking about isn't fitness but their happiness and well-being. If ugly, stupid people bear more kids, I wouldn't want to ensure my kids were this way out of a desire to boost their fitness. I just want them to have it as easy as possible and be as happy as possible. Smart and good-looking what more of a leg up could you give them?

    Now, the fruitfly people would've been correct if they compared different races or species of fruitfly -- it's expected that, where environments differ, what's fitness-boosting in one group won't boost it in the other.

  11. thats all very well but remember what George Bernard Shaw replied when an American starlet suggested that they breed for eugenic reasons ( what could the children not do with his brains and her looks) he replied that they might have her brains and his looks, and so demurred.


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