Dienekes has reported two new studies on sexual attractiveness, one from China and another from Cameroon. Both are by the same research team and seem to be part of a large international project on sexual attractiveness in different cultures.
In addition to male and female preferences for other physical characteristics (somatotype, chest and abdominal hair, penis length, waist-to-hip ratio), the research team studied male preferences for different shades of female skin color. In Xi'an, China, men expressed a marked preference for a wife who would be lighter-colored than average, as compared to an average or darker-colored one. But in Bakossiland, Cameroon, men expressed no consistent preference.
As more findings come in, I suspect they will show that men generally prefer women with lighter-than-average skin. But there will be one big exception: the agricultural peoples of sub-Saharan Africa and New Guinea. There, male preference will be much more ambivalent, especially if the question is "Which woman do you most want to marry?" and not "Which woman do you find most attractive?"
These "hoe farming" societies have high rates of polygyny and correspondingly low levels of paternal investment. To feed their families, women end up doing most of the fieldwork. Thus, when a traditional African man chooses a wife, he may feel attracted to lighter-than-average skin, but this aesthetic preference has to compete with more pragmatic considerations.
Finally, is it just coincidence that these "hoe-farming" populations are so dark-skinned? They are, in fact, quite darker in color than many other populations that face a similar intensity of solar radiation, e.g., Austronesians (Malays, Polynesians), tropical Amerindians, and Khoisans. These other peoples, however, have much less polygyny and much higher paternal investment.
More in my next post.
Dixson BJ, Dixson AF, Li B, Anderson MJ. 2006. Studies of human physique and sexual attractiveness: Sexual preferences of men and women in China. Am J Hum Biol. 19(1):88-95 [Epub ahead of print]
Dixson BJ, Dixson AF, Morgan B, Anderson MJ. 2006. Human Physique and Sexual Attractiveness: Sexual Preferences of Men and Women in Bakossiland, Cameroon. Arch Sex Behav. [Epub ahead of print]