How Your Partner's Income Level May Affect Their Attraction Toward You

Money is an interesting subject. As much as it may be a taboo topic and doesn't allow for many questions, the fact remains that everybody loves it (or at least needs it), and many of us can be fairly judgy about who has it and who doesn't. We are products of capitalism, after all, whether we like it or not.

But in relationships, money isn't just about dollars and cents. It's about so much more — things that can complicate even the strongest romantic partnerships. "Traditionally speaking, money equals power," relationship expert Susan Winter tells Insider. "And the one with the power is the one who controls the relationship." While it would be nice if relationships could be equal across the board, that's simply not the case when money is involved. Money's influence on relationships reaches deep, so much so that it can even affect one partner's attraction to the other, in both positive and negative ways.

It's no secret that the gender pay gap is still very much alive and well. As of March 2022, women in the U.S. were earning only 82% of what men earned, having jumped merely two percentage points since 2000, according to the Pew Research Center. This ongoing disparity, especially in the salaries of same-sex couples, just adds fuel to the very powerful fire that is money. If you thought the link between income level and attraction was only something for the movies, you were mistaken. It's a real-life phenomenon, too, and one that isn't always pretty.

Men with more money have higher physical standards for their partners

We've all seen the rich old guy who parades around his young, painfully beautiful partner, and we've all collectively groaned. It's so cliché that there really are no words for it. But, not to defend these older dudes, they're actually acting on instinct.

According to a 2016 study published in Frontiers in Psychology, the more money a man has, the less attractive he finds his partner. Infuriating, yes, but why this happens is pretty interesting. The researchers primed 183 participants (121 women and 61 men) to feel either wealthy or poor, then asked them to rate their partner's looks. While the women in the group were unaffected by their economic status in regard to partner satisfaction, the men who were primed to have a substantial amount of money found themselves less satisfied with their partner's appearance. With the money came power and the inherent belief that these men deserved something "better" than what they had. The researchers concluded that this choice was based on their evolutionary programming: A woman's attractiveness equates to her "reproductive value," which, when it comes to keeping the species going, is technically essential.

Women have lower physical standards for men with money

Men aren't the only ones listening to evolution's whispers. According to a 2018 study in Evolution and Human Behavior, women find men with money more attractive. As the researchers stated in their report, "ratings of attractiveness were around 1000 times more sensitive to salary for females rating males, compared to males rating females." In other words, high economic status goes much further in the eyes of women than physical appearance because, based on evolution, we desire a partner with resources. "A man can move himself two points higher on the attractiveness scale we used if his salary increases by a factor of 10," study author John Speakman tells The Times. "For a female to achieve the same two-point effect, her salary would need to be increased by 10,000 times." 

But for women, it isn't always just about the amount. For some, it's how that money is acquired. A 2012 study in Personality and Individual Differences found that when it comes to serious relationships, 90% of women want a partner who makes their own money, as opposed to inheriting it or coming into it by other means (via Western Sydney University). According to study author Dr. Peter Jonason, although it was already known that money makes men more attractive to women, he wanted to examine if the source mattered. "It is rational for women to prefer mates who earn their income over those who simply have money," says Jonason. "The ability to acquire a steady supply of income through direct effort reflects certain underlying qualities such as intelligence and a strong work ethic."

Money's influence on attraction isn't a guarantee

Despite the findings that men with money have higher standards for attraction and women are attracted more to money than looks, a 2015 study published in Interpersonal Communication throws a wrench in all that. Although the researchers found an initial link between economic status and attraction, they removed gender from the equation and had the 307 participants meet face-to-face in a setup similar to that of speed dating. What they found was that when the interactions are IRL, evolutionary theory doesn't exactly hold much water, meaning what we've been programmed to see as valuable becomes secondary in a "live interaction context."

What's important to keep in mind with these studies is that a few hundred, or even a couple thousand people can't speak for an entire species. While how we choose will always be somewhat reflective of evolution, that doesn't mean there isn't wiggle room in there to make decisions based on other factors. Your partner's income level may affect their attraction to you just as much as what you make may affect how you see them, but that's just one small piece of the whole pie. A yacht can be sexy as heck, but if the owner of it can't tell a funny joke or two, then that may be the real dealbreaker.