It should first be made clear that the recent study linking comparative weight (actually BMI) to marital happiness was conducted with newlyweds as subjects, who are younger in general (all under 35) than the average married person and obviously have not been married as long. Thus, whether the findings would hold true for couples who have been married for a considerable time is unknown.
The results of this University of Tennessee study published this month in Social Psychological and Personality Science are being cited far and wide. However, for the most part, press releases are brief or–if Twitter is used to get the word out—less than a sentence, focusing on only one general finding: that “marriages are happier when a wife is thinner than her husband.” But there is more to the research than this single observation.
For instance, look at the specifics of that oft-cited finding: The husband’s satisfaction with marriage is great at the beginning of the marriage if his wife’s BMI* is lower than his. And the wife’s satisfaction seems greater over time (after 4 years of marriage) if her BMI* is lower than her husband’s. Strangely, wives were not concerned about anything related to husbands’ BMI initially, even though the male/female BMI ratio was already important to the men. Why, then, does husbands’ BMI (weight & fitness) relative to their own become so important to them as time passes?
Questions generated by this study are screaming for further research on the issues. The lead author, Andrea Meltzer, posed her theory that (1) attractiveness is more important to men than to women and (2) men seem to equate attractiveness to weight/fitness indicators. That’s why they may choose spouses with those characteristics and show satisfaction at the outset of marriage. Does this mean that, when the woman’s weight or BMI is affected by pregnancy, childbirth, and the rigors of raising children and possibly continuing careers as working moms—tipping the marital BMI balance in the other direction, husbands become discontented with the marriage? Is marital unhappiness of the wife whose BMI increased more than did her husband’s due to displeasure with her own body, or is the husband’s dissatisfaction “rubbing off?” Do you think she can see the disfavor in his eyes, which in turn affects the way she feels about the relationship?
Another general finding seldom mentioned in news releases is that happiness with marriage appeared to decline steadily over the 4-year period. Not a very cheerful outcome; is it? Meltzer, who led the research, cautions readers that only one factor of marital happiness was thoroughly examined and that there are many others that have an impact on how satisfied each partner is with a marriage. The investigators say the chief finding is good news for women. Why? Because it means the key to marital bliss is relative BMI (weight/fitness), not simply how thin or fat the wife may be. Is that how you see it?
* body mass index = frequently used indicator of body fat