On the first episode of The Big Bang Theory, not many people foresaw that Leonard and Penny would get married like they did in Season 9. After all, Leonard looks plain and is somewhat socially awkward, while Penny is hot, outgoing, and admired by many guys. Her ex-boyfriend Kurt, who is tall and masculine, seemed to be a better match than Leonard.
Why do we think Kurt looks more attractive than Leonard? And why did Penny choose the less attractive guy when it comes to selecting a lifetime partner?
Evolutionary theory can give us some insights. According to evolutionary psychologists, for example, Kanazawa, mate choice is all about reproductive success. Women look for men who can provide security and resources for children in long-term relationships, and traits that can imply this ability are therefore preferred. In ancient times strength was crucial, but now, it’s socio-economic status.
When our ancestors were surviving in the Savannah, men who were strong and robust were more likely to stay alive, defeat male rivals, and offer protection and food for their families. Because strength was highly desirable, characteristics that imply physical power were favored. Women who preferred men with masculine traits were more likely to pass on their genes, and therefore the preference for these characteristics is wired in our brains. For example, researchers point out that narrow-shouldered males have older ages of first sex and fewer sexual partners. Moreover, taller men are confirmed to be more attractive by a study with 650 participants. In the long history of human evolution, masculinity has been a symbol of a good husband. As a result, it is almost an instinct for women to find masculine men more attractive.
However, as hunter-gather societies became structured civilizations, strength became less essential for competing over a mate or protecting family; providing security and resource has been requiring good socio-economic status instead. Nowadays, the ability to earn money is strongly related to intelligence. In other words, smartness leads to wealth and this, in turn, increases a man’s value on the dating market. Smart, as a result, is the new sexy.
The tech boom has created a new middle-class of brainy techies, who also have the potential of becoming millionaires from their equity shares. According to glassdoor.com, software engineers have an average annual salary of $95,195 nationwide, and the salary is even higher in the SF Bay Area. A few months ago, a grandma commented under Mark Zuckerberg’s FB post that she “keeps telling her granddaughters to date the nerd in school. He may turn out to be a Mark Zuckerberg!”
Given that research scientists at Caltech pull in an average of $89,981, it’s no surprise that Penny chose Leonard as her husband. Besides being financially stable, Leonard is smart, kind, caring, and reliable. All these good qualities have made techies like Leonard desirable. Thinking into the future, when the preferred type of men has entirely changed from brawn to brains, will standards of beauty shift as well? Well, we have all seen the black rim glasses go from nerdy to geek chic. Are nerds actually defining beauty?