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KNOXVILLE—Could a thinner wife be the key to a happy marriage?

A study by University of Tennessee, Knoxville, doctoral candidate Andrea Meltzer and psychology Associate Professor James McNulty shows married couples are happier when wives are thinner than their husbands.

Meltzer and McNulty tracked the marital happiness of 169 newlywed couples. The couples indicated their height and weight and then independently and privately completed marital satisfaction questionnaires every six months for four years.

Controlling for factors such as depression, income level, and education, the study found that husbands were initially more satisfied in their marriages if their wives had lower body mass indexes (BMIs) than their own and initially less satisfied if their wives had higher BMIs than their own. Wives were more satisfied over time if they had lower BMIs than their husbands and less satisfied over time if they had higher BMIs than their husbands.

“We believe that the discrepancies between partners’ BMIs affected women only through their effects on men, which takes time to emerge,” Meltzer said. “In other words, we believe that the wives are happy because their husbands are happy.”

This may be because weight and physical attractiveness are more important to men than women, Meltzer said. If the study had examined another quality that was more important to women than men, such as earning potential, the effects may have been reversed.

However, Meltzer said women don’t have to fit into size-zero clothes to have a happy marriage. They just have to be thinner than their husbands.

“Our study does not show that women have to be ‘thin’ in absolute terms,” Meltzer said. “Rather, it shows that women of any size can be happy as long as they are with the right partner. It’s relative weight that matters, not absolute weight.”

The study is published in the July issue of the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. Contributing authors include Sarah Novak from Hofstra University; Emily Butler from the University of Arizona, Tucson; and Benjamin Karney from the University of California, Los Angeles.

C O N T A C T :

Whitney Holmes (865-974-5460,