The Science of Large Breasts, and Other Evolutionary Verities

I blogged nearly a year ago about a study by the evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa which argued that beautiful women sometimes marry unattractive men because of the following supply/demand gap: there are simply more good-looking women than there are good-looking men. One reason, Kanazawa said, is that beauty is a more valuable trait for a female, and is therefore accentuated in females via natural selection. Kanazawa and Alan Miller have now co-authored a book called Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters: From Dating, Shopping, and Praying to Going to War and Becoming a Billionaire — Two Evolutionary Psychologists Explain Why We Do What We Do, to be published in September.

First of all, whoo!, long subtitle.

Second of all, there is a sizable excerpt of the book in the current Psychology Today, which includes ten bite-size “politically incorrect truths about human nature” that make the book sound like a blend of Why Do Men Have Nipples, Survival of the Sickest, and maybe … Mad magazine?

Here are the ten topics:

1. Men like blond bombshells (and women want to look like them);

2. Humans are naturally polygamous;

3. Most women benefit from polygyny, while most men benefit from monogamy;

4. Most suicide bombers are Muslim;

5. Having sons reduces the likelihood of divorce;

6. Beautiful people have more daughters;

7. What Bill Gates and Paul McCartney have in common with criminals;

8. The midlife crisis is a myth-sort of;

9. It’s natural for politicians to risk everything for an affair (but only if they’re male); and

10. Men sexually harass women because they are not sexist

In the excerpt, some of the explanations are far more compelling than others. I will chalk this up to the limitations of excerpting. Here, for instance, is Kanazawa and Miller’s explanation of why men like large-breasted women:

Until very recently, it was a mystery to evolutionary psychology why men prefer women with large breasts, since the size of a woman’s breasts has no relationship to her ability to lactate. But Harvard anthropologist Frank Marlowe contends that larger, and hence heavier, breasts sag more conspicuously with age than do smaller breasts. Thus they make it easier for men to judge a woman’s age (and her reproductive value) by sight-suggesting why men find women with large breasts more attractive.

Large breasts as a helpful indicator of age? Really?

I would think that, even during the Stone Age, if a man had to resort to judging a woman’s age by the relative sag of her breasts instead of a number of other signifiers, he probably wasn’t the kind of fellow who was going to successfully reproduce anyway.

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  1. Alsadius says:

    How about going with the really obvious answer – evolutionarily successful men prefer women. Large breasts are the most obvious sign of a woman, since they’re one of two obvious external differences between the genders(the other being male levels of hair, especially in eras with low levels of shaving). There are psychological tie-ins too, since men prefer women that look like women. It also explains why there’s an upper limit on most guy’s desired breast size, which the author’s explanation does not. It’s really not that hard to figure out.

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  2. Alsadius says:

    How about going with the really obvious answer – evolutionarily successful men prefer women. Large breasts are the most obvious sign of a woman, since they’re one of two obvious external differences between the genders(the other being male levels of hair, especially in eras with low levels of shaving). There are psychological tie-ins too, since men prefer women that look like women. It also explains why there’s an upper limit on most guy’s desired breast size, which the author’s explanation does not. It’s really not that hard to figure out.

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  3. discordian says:

    I’ve always judged a woman’s age by her hands.
    Tightness of skin, veins, wrinkles on hands, spots… a lot harder to modify through surgery.

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  4. discordian says:

    I’ve always judged a woman’s age by her hands.
    Tightness of skin, veins, wrinkles on hands, spots… a lot harder to modify through surgery.

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  5. prosa says:

    I’ll avoid matters of a mammary nature to point out that the “most suicide bombers are Muslim” claim is incorrect. Japanese kamikaze pilots were the original suicide bombers and probably still hold the record for the most deaths caused by their activity (shouldn’t Satoshi Kanazawa know that?) Today, the most active and by far the deadliest suicide bombers are the mostly Hindu Tamil separatists in Sri Lanka. I have read, though I do not remember the source, that over the past couple decades Muslims have accounted for well under half of all suicide bombers.

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  6. prosa says:

    I’ll avoid matters of a mammary nature to point out that the “most suicide bombers are Muslim” claim is incorrect. Japanese kamikaze pilots were the original suicide bombers and probably still hold the record for the most deaths caused by their activity (shouldn’t Satoshi Kanazawa know that?) Today, the most active and by far the deadliest suicide bombers are the mostly Hindu Tamil separatists in Sri Lanka. I have read, though I do not remember the source, that over the past couple decades Muslims have accounted for well under half of all suicide bombers.

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  7. econ2econ says:

    It’s not that breast-size is tied to lactating ability, but rather it is indicitave of femininity, as #1 pointed out. Men are usually drawn to women who exhibit the strongest properties of femininity, which equals larger breasts, larger hips, softer features. Women are drawn to men who exhimit the strongest properties of masculinity, such as broad shoulders, square jaws, more body hair (brows and arms, with chest hair not so much anymore), tall frames, etc. These are the best outward indications of strong female/male hormones, which are desirable in reproductive terms.

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  8. econ2econ says:

    It’s not that breast-size is tied to lactating ability, but rather it is indicitave of femininity, as #1 pointed out. Men are usually drawn to women who exhibit the strongest properties of femininity, which equals larger breasts, larger hips, softer features. Women are drawn to men who exhimit the strongest properties of masculinity, such as broad shoulders, square jaws, more body hair (brows and arms, with chest hair not so much anymore), tall frames, etc. These are the best outward indications of strong female/male hormones, which are desirable in reproductive terms.

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