Are Intelligent Men Luckier in Love?

Is there a link between a man’s intelligence and his likelihood of marrying?

He seems like a clever chap. Eileen Rivard/Flickr

It pays to be smart. Many of the highest earning professions — such as medicine and law — are open only to those with the fiercest intellects. But does intelligence have positive effects on other aspects of our lives? Are smarter people luckier in love?

Some evolutionary psychologists have theorized that humans’ big brains may partly have evolved through a process called “sexual selection”. In other words, smart people may find it easier to attract partners, keep their relationships stable, and have kids. Over time, the genes that code for intelligence would spread through the population, enhancing our species’ brain power.

There is evidence that more intelligent men are more likely to be married. However, this isn’t very strong evidence for the psychologists’ theory because, as we know, intelligent people tend to be higher earners. Perhaps intelligent men marry in greater numbers not because they are smarter but because they have greater access to resources? After all, we have known for some time now that, compared to men, women value a partner who is ambitious, industrious, and has good financial prospects.

Is intelligence an important driver of relationship success, or simply a proxy for wealth?

Jaakko Aspara led a team of researchers from Finland and the US to find out. He made use of Finland’s famously detailed national statistics, linking IQ data collected by the Finnish armed forces (into which all young men are conscripted), with data from the national Population Register Center and the Finnish Tax Authority. The result: a dataset including the IQ, marital status, and income of almost 190,000 men.

Aspara found that men were more likely to be married (and to still be married four years later) if they were higher in intelligence, confirming the results of earlier studies.

This was true even when Aspara controlled mathematically for the influence of a man’s income on his marriage prospects. A man’s wealth had an important effect on his likelihood of marrying. In fact, wealth was more influential than intelligence. But, an intelligent man was still more likely to have married and to have stayed married, regardless of his wealth.

In further analyses, Aspara split the IQ scores into three components: verbal, logical, and numeric. Verbal intelligence was by far the most important form of intelligence when it came to getting married. Arithmetical skill had no effect at all. This makes sense given that verbal skills are the most easily observable form of intelligence during courtship. So, a man with a quick wit may well be seen as a catch.

Other possible explanations for Aspara’s findings are that verbally fluent men are more able to persuade a woman to enter into a relationship, or that they are better able to outwit their male rivals.

Aspara, J., Wittkowski, K., & Luo, X. (2018). Types of intelligence predict likelihood to get married and stay married: Large-scale empirical evidence for evolutionary theory. Personality and Individual Differences, 122, 1–6. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2017.09.028

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