The looks and sex appeal of Latvian and Russian women. (Picture above is Marlene Dietrich, a German. But she was playing a Russian in that film.)
Alex Tabarrok (entire post):
Recently a colleague returned from a trip to Latvia and remarked on how beautiful the women were. A discussion ensued at which it was agreed that women in a number of other countries were also very beautiful but markedly less outgoing than the Latvians. As you may recall, beautiful Latvian women like to parade their beauty. My colleague further informed us that the latter event was not unique, having witnessed something similar himself.
Is my colleague’s observation a mere statement of prurient preference? Does this kind of thing belong in a family blog? Don’t worry, at Marginal Revolution we never serve our prurience without a little theory.
Sociosexuality is a concept in social psychology that refers to how favorable people are to sex outside of commitment. It can be measured by answers to questions such as “I can imagine myself being comfortable and enjoying “casual” sex with different partners” (agree strongly to disagree strongly) or “Sex without love is ok,” as well as with objective measures such as the number of sexual partners a person has had. A low score indicates subjects who favor monogamous, long-term, high-investment relationships. A high score indicates subjects more favorable to sex for pleasure’s sake alone. with less regard to commitment. On average, males have higher sociosexuality scores than females but sociosexuality scores for females vary widely across countries.
Why might female sociosexuality scores vary? One hypothesis is that in cultures with low operational sex ratios (the number of marriageable men/number of marriageable women) female sociosexuality will be higher. The argument is that when the relative supply of males is low, competition for mates encourages females to shift towards the male ideal, i.e. when supply is scarce the demanders must pay more. (Note that this theory can also explain trends over time, e.g. Pedersen 1991).
Ok, where does this get us? Well in Sociosexuality from Argentina to Zimbabwe, Schmitt (2005) surveyed some 16,000 people on sociosexuality and he correlated female sociosexuality with the operational sex ratio. Here are the results:
Notice that Latvia has one of the highest rates of female sociosexuality in the 48 nations surveyed and the lowest sex ratio.
Thus, the theory is that Latvian women appeal more strongly to the male ideal because the number of marriageable men in Latvia is low relative to the number of women. Is it any wonder that my colleague found the Latvian women beautiful?
The lower the National Sex Ratio on the x-axis, the more women there are relative to men. If we look at where the countries appear as we move from left to right, it seems that you get more economic freedom.
So, what might be the story to explain my casual observation that after correcting for income and population, economic freedom is inversely correlated with Miss Universe success? My working hypothesis now is that men could be more likely to leave countries with low economic freedom, which drives down the sex ratio, which increases female sociosexuality, which translates into Miss Universe success.
Believable? Comments are open if anyone has an alternative theory, the time to actually run the numbers, or has a good understanding of the research on immigration and economic freedom.
On a related note, this was recently reprinted in Slate, an old Anne Applebaum article:
There was a particular historical moment, round about 1995 or so, when anyone entering a well-appointed drawing room, dining room, or restaurant in London was sure to encounter a beautiful Russian woman. Though the word beautiful doesn’t really capture the phenomenon. The women I’m remembering were extraordinarily, unbelievably, stunningly gorgeous.
These women were half-Kazakh or half-Tartar with Mongolian ancestors and perfect skin; dressed in the most tasteful, most expensive clothes; shod in soft leather boots; and perfectly coiffed. They were usually accompanied by an older man, sometimes much older, to whom they were perhaps married, or more likely not. They spoke in low, alluringly accented voices and towered over the lesser mortals in the room. I distinctly remember gazing upon one such creature while in the company of a friend, an old Russia hand who’d spent much of the previous decade in the Soviet Union. He stared, shook his head, and whispered, “But where were they all before?”
Where were they all before?
Though this is a fairly frivolous question (OK, extremely frivolous), I am convinced it has an interesting answer. To put it bluntly, in the Soviet Union there was no market for female beauty. No fashion magazines featured beautiful women, since there weren’t any fashion magazines. No TV series depended upon beautiful women for high ratings, since there weren’t any ratings. There weren’t many men rich enough to seek out beautiful women and marry them, and foreign men couldn’t get the right sort of visa. There were a few film stars, of course, but some of the most famous—I’m thinking of Lyubov Orlova, alleged to be Stalin’s favorite actress—were wholesome and cheerful rather than sultry and stunning. Unusual beauty, like unusual genius, was considered highly suspicious in the Soviet Union and its satellite people’s republics.
This doesn’t mean there weren’t any beautiful women, of course, just that they didn’t have the clothes or cosmetics to enhance their looks, and, far more important, they couldn’t use their faces to launch international careers. Instead of gracing London drawing rooms, they stayed in Minsk, Omsk, or Alma Ata. Instead of couture, they wore cheap polyester. They could become assembly-line forewomen, Communist Party bosses, even local femmes fatales, but not Vogue cover girls. They didn’t even dream of becoming Vogue cover girls, since very few had ever seen an edition of Vogue.
What’s missing from the article is that after the fall of the Soviet Union, Western cultural values became accepted in Eastern Europe. The article gives all the credit to capitalism, forgetting imperialism.
Capitalism succeeded in creating a more potent spectacle than the Soviet Union, and part of that had to do with the way women are judged in Western society. The reason why Applebaum thinks capitalism caused hot women is because Applebaum herself was socialized into a society dominated by capitalist conditions of production, including the production of image: when Russian production became interconnected with Western production, Applebaum, like so many – you could call them “global gentrifiers” – could not tell the difference between capitalist penetration and cultural imperialism.
And because the West is both capitalist and imperialist, when Westernization causes women around the world to look – not surprisingly – “Western”, she assumes it’s because of an economic transformation.
Okay, okay. So it sounds like I’m trying to leave capitalism out of it. Capitalism certainly played a role in speeding up the process of Westernization. But my argument is that Applebaum, and other people too, are thinking that – because Russian women are being exploited and made to look like American models – she assumes that they are becoming sexier than before. But, of course, Applebaum is an American and from a particular time-period in American history. She’s completely sidestepping ‘cultural relativity’ and replacing it with naivete.