DEBUNKED: Black Women are Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women

May 17th, 2011

By Katryna Starks

Satoshi Kanazawa recently posted an article on the Psychology Today website titled “Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women? Why Black Women But Not Black Men?”

 Now, as a Black Woman, I’ll be the first to say that this is offensive, I’m also offended that this is considered valid research. The article itself is printed below, with my comments explaining the bad research design appearing after.

If you’ve already read the article want to skip to the analysis, click here.

“Psychology Today” posted:

Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women? Why black women, but not black men?
Published on May 15, 2011 by Satoshi Kanazawa in The Scientific Fundamentalist

There are marked race differences in physical attractiveness among women, but not among men. Why?

Add Health measures the physical attractiveness of its respondents both objectively and subjectively. At the end of each interview, the interviewer rates the physical attractiveness of the respondent objectively on the following five-point scale: 1 = very unattractive, 2 = unattractive, 3 = about average, 4 = attractive, 5 = very attractive. The physical attractiveness of each Add Health respondent is measured three times by three different interviewers over seven years.

From these three scores, I can compute the latent “physical attractiveness factor” by a statistical procedure called factor analysis. Factor analysis has the added advantage of eliminating all random measurement errors that are inherent in any scientific measurement. The latent physical attractiveness factor has a mean of 0 and a standard deviation of 1.

Recall that women on average are more physically attractive than men. So women of all races are on average more physically attractive than the “average” Add Health respondent, except for black women. As the following graph shows, black women are statistically no different from the “average” Add Health respondent, and far less attractive than white, Asian, and Native American women.

In contrast, races do not differ in physical attractiveness among men, as the following graph shows. Men of all races are more or less equally less physically attractive than the “average” Add Health respondent.

This sex difference in the race differences in physical attractiveness – where physical attractiveness varies significantly by race among women, but not among men – is replicated at each Add Health wave (except that the race differences among men are statistically significant, albeit substantively very small, in Wave III). In each wave, black women are significantly less physically attractive than women of other races.

It is very interesting to note that, even though black women are objectively less physically attractive than other women, black women (and men) subjectively consider themselves to be far more physically attractive than others. In Wave III, Add Health asks its respondents to rate their own physical attractiveness subjectively on the following four-point scale: 1 = not at all, 2 = slightly, 3 = moderately, 4 = very. As you can see in the following graphs, both black women and black men rate themselves to be far more physically attractive than individuals of other races.

What accounts for the markedly lower average level of physical attractiveness among black women? Black women are on average much heavier than nonblack women. The mean body-mass index (BMI) at Wave III is 28.5 among black women and 26.1 among nonblack women. (Black and nonblack men do not differ in BMI: 27.0 vs. 26.9.) However, this is not the reason black women are less physically attractive than nonblack women. Black women have lower average level of physical attractiveness net of BMI. Nor can the race difference in intelligence (and the positive association between intelligence and physical attractiveness) account for the race difference in physical attractiveness among women. Black women are still less physically attractive than nonblack women net of BMI and intelligence. Net of intelligence, black men are significantly more physically attractive than nonblack men.

There are many biological and genetic differences between the races. However, such race differences usually exist in equal measure for both men and women. For example, because they have existed much longer in human evolutionary history, Africans have more mutations in their genomes than other races. And the mutation loads significantly decrease physical attractiveness (because physical attractiveness is a measure of genetic and developmental health). But since both black women and black men have higher mutation loads, it cannot explain why only black women are less physically attractive, while black men are, if anything, more attractive.

The only thing I can think of that might potentially explain the lower average level of physical attractiveness among black women is testosterone. Africans on average have higher levels of testosterone than other races, and testosterone, being an androgen (male hormone), affects the physical attractiveness of men and women differently. Men with higher levels of testosterone have more masculine features and are therefore more physically attractive. In contrast, women with higher levels of testosterone also have more masculine features and are therefore less physically attractive. The race differences in the level of testosterone can therefore potentially explain why black women are less physically attractive than women of other races, while (net of intelligence) black men are more physically attractive than men of other races.

Ooh! Scientific words! Pretty graphs! Completely wrong.

The entire study isn’t worth the pixels it’s written in.

1 – Satoshi Kanazawa, the author of the study, has had several statements and studies debunked by professional researchers who have pointed out errors in statistical analysis, so this guy has a reputation for creating dubious, if not downright invalid research. (

2 – The main objective measure of attractiveness that is true for all races and cultures is symmetry. Nowhere in the study does he say that Black women tend to have asymmetrical features more often than others.

 3 – Without regard to symmetry (which apparently wasn’t measured in the study), you’re left with opinion – which this study appears to be based on. In that case, you need a random sampling of people from around the world who have minimal exposure to other ethnicities in order to have a proper representation of opinions. This is the only way to see if there is an attractiveness consensus. In general, Asians will find Asians more attractive, Africans will find Africans more attractive, and people in Western societies (i.e. America, Britain, etc.) will find people with Caucasian features more attractive. In this study, although he appears to ask several races about attractiveness, he doesn’t say where they live, so I presume they are in London where he is. If that is the case, regardless of the race of the individual respondents, they would have a Western/Caucasian standard of female beauty. So, if he’s asking a bunch of Westerners their opinions on attractiveness, you’ll end up with results that rate Caucasian features as most attractive in women, and African features as least.

 4- Racial prejudice exists, and wasn’t specifically factored out. In other words, he would have needed to have the respondents take another survey unrelated to this one where he tests for racial bias in general either for or against certain races. Then, he would have to evaluate the results of the attractiveness study while using the results of the racial bias study as a variable so he could see if the “attractiveness” level was merely a reflection of inherent racial bias instead of an actual objective attractiveness rating. It could very well be that the responders have a latent bias against Black people. This could be a factor unknown to them (they don’t think they are prejudiced, but they are) and, this bias could even be held by Blacks (they could see themselves as highly attractive while still holding a culturally inherited bias against Black people). Without specifically testing for and ruling out racial bias, it becomes a confounding variable in the attractiveness study.

In essence, the research design appears to be flawed, making the results of the study worthless.

* The actual article has been removed from the Psychology Today website.

One Response to “DEBUNKED: Black Women are Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women”

  1. destiny Says:

    Also, if you merely look at the raw stats, you will see that Kanazawa over exaggerated his findings of black women being SIGNIFICANTLY less attractive. If you look at the NUMBERS on the graph, not the actual graph itself, you will see that the average scores for all the women were relatively close (within .10 to .20 of a point apart from each other.) This does not prove in anyway a significant rating of unattractiveness for black women. If black women had a 2.7 average compared to a 3.7 average for white women, then you can make a case for the respondents VEIWING them as unattractive, However, a mere tenth of a point difference is clearly being overly highlighted by a stretched graph giving the illusion of significantly greater unattractiveness. Also, beauty has never been ‘objectively’ even in regards to facial features. Its funny how Kanazawa says the while the respondents OBJECTIVELY viewed blacks as unattractive, that blacks SUBJECTIVELY viewed themselves as attractive. Why would the respondents’ view on attractiveness be any more OBJECTIVE than the views of blacks on their own attractiveness? Why does the opinion of other races matter more than those of blacks!

Leave a Reply

Filled Under: Think Well