Thursday, June 6, 2013

Men Feel More Physically Attractive After Becoming a Father - But Why?

Well, who woulda thunk it? In a study from the recent issue of Journal of Gender Studies, an interesting study asking, Why do men feel more attractive after childbirth?

It never would have occurred to me that men felt more physically attractive after becoming a father, especially considering the prominence of Paternal Postnatal Depression.

On the other hand, it only seems to apply to the first year of marriage. Weird.

Men feel more physically attractive after becoming a father

Hey good looking!

Never mind the sleepless nights and domestic disarray, new fathers think they're hot stuff. The finding comes from a survey of 182 heterosexual couples by Alicia Cast and her colleagues. The couples were quizzed three times - just after they got married, a year later, and again a year after that.

Whereas women who had a baby in the first year of marriage experienced a subsequent dip in their feelings of physical attractiveness, new fathers showed the opposite pattern. The feel-good effect was short-lived, however, as the men's raised feelings of physical attractiveness returned to normal levels by the end of the study.

For some reason, men who became a father for the first time in their second year of marriage did not enjoy a spike in physical self-appreciation, although there was a slight trend in that direction. New mothers in the second year did however experience a dip in their self-perceived beauty, just the same as the women who became mothers in the first year.

"Our research indicates that women believe that they are less physically attractive after the birth of a child," said the researchers, "but that men believe they are more physically attractive."

Unfortunately the study provides little evidence for why the participants felt differently about their appearance after having a baby. The researchers speculated that mothers may feel less attractive because of physical changes to their body, or because they have less time to pay attention to their appearance. Perhaps fathers feel more attractive because of an increased sense of masculinity. The researchers were able to rule out another suggestion - that participants' changed feelings of attractiveness were due to any change in their spouse's view of them.

Although this new research has only just been published, the data were actually collected in the early 90s, which places a question mark over whether the findings would replicate today. Moreover, the sample was predominantly White, US middle class and the results may only speak to that group. Indeed, Cast and her colleagues highlighted past research that suggested African American women perceive their bodies more positively after childbirth than White women.

Full Citation:
Cast, A., Stewart, S., and Erickson, M. (2013). Why do men feel more attractive after childbirth? Journal of Gender Studies, 1-9 DOI: 10.1080/09589236.2012.750239

Alicia D. Cast, Susan D. Stewart, and Megan J. Erickson.  


A great deal of research has examined women’s bodily experiences with respect to pregnancy, childbirth, and the postnatal period. Men’s experience of this significant life event is less scrutinized. Using longitudinal data from 182 newly married couples in the United States, we examine the effects of childbearing on wives’ and husbands’ feelings about their bodies. Our results suggest that whereas wives’ perceived physical attractiveness declines after the birth of a child, husbands’ perceived physical attractiveness increases. 


Contemporary research has argued that individuals’ social experiences with the body are especially important under modernity, where the body becomes a ‘project’ (Giddens 1991, Brumberg 1997), reflecting who the self is to the outside world. This is an important component in how individuals evaluate themselves and are evaluated by others. Pregnancy, childbirth, and the postnatal body provide an opportune context in which to examine the relationship between the body and the self (Giddens 1991). While a great deal of research has examined how the newly acquired social status of ‘mother’ transforms how a woman thinks about herself, as well as how she is perceived and subsequently treated (see, for example, Cowan and Cowan 1992), there is less research examining how becoming a mother changes how she thinks about her body (Bailey 2001, Upton and Han 2003). We assess here the effect that having a child has on one’s perceived physical attractiveness. 
The physical changes in a woman associated with having a child (such as weight gain) may have a negative effect on perceptions of physical attractiveness. Alternatively, some new mothers report feeling more ‘feminine’ following childbirth (Strang and Sullivan 1985, Bailey 2001). 
Becoming a parent, however, is more than just a physical event – it also has symbolic meaning within society. As such, it is also likely to have consequences for fathers, but little is known about how having a child affects men’s perceptions of their bodies. Although fathers do not experience the same physiological changes as mothers, they have reported symptoms typical of pregnancy (tiredness, backache, depression) during their partners’ pregnancy (Fawcett and York 1986, Drake et al. 1988). Similar to mothers, fathers may experience a decline in perceptions of physical attractiveness. Alternatively, having a child may heighten feelings of masculinity for men, which may lead to more positive perceptions of physical attractiveness (Antonucci and Mikus 1988, Belsky and Kelly 1994). 
Read the whole article for free online

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