Men’s preferences for big breasts linked to their desire for a large family

The media has done much to promote the idea that there’s only one type of attractive woman, namely size zero with breasts as big as the Hindenberg.

But research has shown that, depending on circumstances, men prefer women with different body types. Variation in men’s preferences usually makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. For example, men from societies where food is scarce tend to prefer women with greater fat reserves, because these women are more likely to give birth to big, healthy babies. Likewise, subsistence farmers prefer women with larger breasts, because women with larger breasts have higher oestrogen levels are therefore more fertile.

Nevertheless, evolutionary theory can’t account for every aspect of human mating behaviour, and it’s powerless to explain why some men choose to remain childless, which they undoubtedly do, and to predict the kind of woman that a man who’s uninterested in children would find most appealing.

Christopher Burris and Armand Munteanu of St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Canada, recruited 67 men who weren’t sterile and who hadn’t fathered any children. They asked these men whether they intended to have a child at some point in the future, and measured their reactions to imagined scenarios, such as discovering that they or their partner were sterile. The men were then presented with line drawings of a female body, which could be adjusted in size and shape using on-screen clickable sliders. The men adjusted the images until they had the most attractive body shape.

The results of the experiment showed that men who were reluctant to have children of their own tended to prefer a female body shape that was different to that preferred by men who were eager to have kids. Men especially unenthusiastic about reproduction found women with smaller breasts and a less skinny waist more attractive.

Why might this be? Well, it’s possible that men who don’t want children are less interested in women who possess cues to fertility – namely, a skinny waist and large breasts. That would make sense because we know these women tend to be broodier, and a man who wants no children at all is unlikely to be happy with a woman who wants lots.

Or cause and effect could be operating in the opposite direction: men who prefer women with wider waistlines and smaller breasts may have had more relationships with women who don’t want kids. This might have rubbed off on the men, reducing their willingness to have children too.


Burris, C. T., & Munteanu, A. R. (in press). Preferred female body proportions among child-free men. Archives of Sexual Behavior. Read summary

The content of this post first appeared in the May 2012 episode of The Psychology of Attractiveness Podcast.

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