Do Men Really Stay Attractive Longer Than Women as They Age?

There is a wide body of research that explores the social, anatomical, and psychological factors that influence perceived attractiveness; age and gender have been identified as two of the most important. However prior studies investigating the link between age progression and attractiveness have been limited in their ability to accurately mimic age progression. In our latest research, we utilized a machine learning model of facial age progression to directly study the impact of aging on attractiveness.

The new study included 20 participants between the ages of 20-29 that had neutral headshots taken. These images were then processed through a machine learning model to create artificial images of what each subject’s expected appearance would be in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. The model was trained using a mugshot database and celebrity database that had over 200,000 images for reference.

A total of 315 laypeople then completed a survey where they were asked to rate the attractiveness and masculinity or femininity of each image using a sliding scale from 0 to 100. We found this model to display excellent accuracy, with 85 percent of survey respondents accurately predicting the target age of the person in the image being displayed.

On average, women were found to have a decline in attractiveness by 10.4 points per decade and a decline in femininity by 7.59 points per decade. The most precipitous drop was found over the age of 40 for women. Male attractiveness and masculinity were relatively preserved until age 50, when attractiveness scores started to decline.

To understand these findings, it is useful to consider attractiveness from an evolutionary biology standpoint. Many studies have demonstrated that facial attractiveness and fertility are closely associated. The greater and earlier decline for women as compared to men may be related to their perceived childbearing capabilities.

There may also be a hormonal component to these findings resulting from specific bony facial anatomical changes that occur to both men and women over time. Males have been shown to have a relatively constant aging rate of the mandible or jawbone, whereas females show an earlier and more marked age-related shape change. Both men and women undergo bony changes that render a more masculine appearing jawbone over time, resulting in an enhancement to a man’s perceived masculinity and a decline in a female’s perceived femininity.

It is also important to highlight these findings from a social psychology standpoint. The large difference in attractiveness and femininity for women as compared with men highlights an inherent inequity in the perception of aging based on gender. Interestingly, this difference is seen regardless of the gender of the individual rating the photos.

Taken together, these findings reinforce the notion that aging and attractiveness are related and demonstrate the aging penalty by decade, and the differences in the aging penalty between genders. As with any study, these findings do not apply to every individual. We hope this study will help better inform patients on when to seek surgical and non-surgical interventions to help preserve attractiveness and gender perception.

See the original article, posted on Psychology Today, co-authored by Dr. Amir Hakimi.


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