Michelle and Barack Obama have it. Carla Bruni and David Beckham have it. Jordan and Paris Hilton made a career from it. Erotic capital is the implicit but powerful commodity that can count just as much as educational qualifications in the labour market, politics, media or the arts, finds a new report published today by a sociologist at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
'Beauty and sex appeal have become more important personal assets in the sexualised cultures of our liberal, modern societies, often just as important as educational qualifications' says Dr Catherine Hakim in the study.
She coins the term 'erotic capital' to refer to this difficult-to-define but crucial combination of physical and social attractiveness which makes some men and women agreeable company and colleagues, attractive to all members of their society and especially to the opposite sex.
She says: 'People who possess an above-average amount of erotic capital are more persuasive, are more often perceived as honest and competent. They find it easier to make friends, get jobs, get married, and tend to earn 15 per cent more on average as well'.
Erotic capital should be recognised as a new fourth category of personal asset which each of us possess to some degree (along with economic, cultural and social capital), argues her paper published in the European Sociological Review.
Dr. Hakim identifies six elements of erotic capital – or seven for women in countries where fertility is valued. The other six are: beauty, sexual attractiveness, social graces, liveliness, social presentation and sexuality performance. [See the short factsheet below for a full explanation of each category]
She finds that women have the edge over men in these areas, partly because women work harder at being physically and socially attractive, and at dressing well. However, another reason is the large sex deficit that affects more men than women, universally. Recent national sex surveys show that, around the world, men's sexual interest greatly exceeds women's sexual interest and activity, especially among people aged 35 and over. So women are in greater demand as sexual partners, a dramatic reversal of men's advantage in courtship and marriage markets.
Dr Hakim said: 'Of course it has long been known that beautiful women could use that advantage to get on in life. But it has been assumed that was a tactic to make up for their lack of economic or social power, which would become irrelevant when men and women became more equal. Instead, I argue, erotic capital is something all of us trade on and we should see it as a major constituent of our social lives. It has growing importance in the workforce.'
Catherine Hakim's report, 'Erotic Capital' appears in the European Sociological Review, published by Oxford University Press, and will appear online at http://esr.oxfordjournals.org/papbyrecent.dtl
For more information contact:
Catherine Hakim on 0207 955 6655 and C.Hakim@lse.ac.uk
LSE press office 020 7955 7440 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The six (or seven) components of erotic capital
Beauty Though it varies across times and cultures, great beauty is always in short supply and highly-prized by all societies. The modern emphasis on photogenic features means that men and women with large eyes and mouths and sculpted faces are valued. Conventionality, symmetry and an even skin-tone also contribute to attractiveness.
Sexual attractiveness This can be quite separate from classic beauty. Beauty is mainly about facial attractiveness while sexual attraction is largely about a sexy body. However sex appeal can also be about personality and style, femininity or masculinity, a way of being in the world. Beauty tends to be static and easily captured in a photo while sexual attractiveness is about the way someone moves, talks and behaves so it can only be captured on film.
Social attractiveness Includes grace, charm and social skills – the ability to make others feel at ease and happy, wanting to know you and, possibly, desire you.
Liveliness A mixture of physical fitness, social energy and good humour. As illustrated by those who are 'the life and soul of the party'
Presentation This includes the way you dress, style your hair, wear make-up or perfume and jewellery. People who are skilled at these accomplishments are more attractive.
Sexuality itself A category that includes sexual competence, energy, erotic imagination, playfulness and all the things that constitute a sexually satisfying partner. Not the same thing as having a strong libido, although those that do are more likely to acquire these qualities through experience. The only one of the six which usually only applies in private, rather than social, situations.
All six categories apply to some extent to both men and women However for women, in some cultures, there is a seventh category – of fertility. In many cultures a fertile woman is regarded as having extra attractions, especially if her children are healthy and beautiful.
22 March 2010