Recent formulations of sexual selection theory emphasise 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 hypothesised 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 judgments and demonstrate the utility of trade-off theory for investigating cross-cultural variation in women’s mate preferences.
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