Why attractive people you date tend​ to be jerks

28 Aug, 2019 at 10:17 | Posted in Statistics & Econometrics | 2 Comments

The Book of Why_coverHave you ever noticed that, among the people you date, the attractive ones tend to be jerks? Instead of constructing elaborate psychosocial theories, consider a simpler explanation. Your choice of people to date depends on two factors, attractiveness and personality. You’ll take a chance on dating a mean attractive person or a nice unattractive person, and certainly a nice attractive person, but not a mean unattractive person … This creates a spurious negative correlation between attractiveness and personality. The sad truth is that unattractive people are just as mean as attractive people — but you’ll never realize it, because you’ll never date somebody who is both mean and unattractive.

The spurious correlation — ‘collider bias’ — is here induced because the outcome of the two variables is ‘controlled for’.  Mean people are not necessarily attractive, and nor are nice people. Looking only at people that do date, you would however probably guess that the mean ones are attractive. In order to date lack of nicety has to be compensated with attractiveness.

If anything this should be a helpful reminder for economists who nowadays seem to be more than happy to add lots of variables to their regressions ‘controlling for’ omitted variables bias. In this case, dating someone is a collider of multiple causes — attractiveness and personality — that gives the false impression that there is a trade-off between the two variables.


  1. On behalf of the not so beautiful, people who don’t look wonderful are highly conscious of this in an appearance-obsessed society. So they tend to adjust their behaviour by working on their personality (listening more, learning humour). Meanwhile, gorgeous folk can coast on their looks and charm, knowing that many superficial individuals will forgive them for personality issues. Over time, adjustments made by both groups may mean that there is a trade-off. Even if there is not, if you want to make more friends hanging out with a less attractive person will make you look better. So there are two potential advantages associated with dating based on personality rather than appearance.

    • Yes, I think there are general social/societal issues that are being ignored, at least relative to the point of unattractive and attractive people being equally mean. This probably true initially, but does change as one ages.

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