Are Women Attracted to Athletes? Sports and Attractiveness Study


Q: It seems like a cliché or stereotype that women are more attracted to athletes, but is this true? And does it matter what sports I play?

A: One study suggests that yes, sports are attractive to women. Which sports? Does physical attractiveness matter? Read on for the details!

Do Women Like Athletes – Introduction

girl attracted to athletic man

It’s a well-known cliché that women like athletes, but does this observation hold up scientifically?

If it’s true, why do women like men who play sports?

Also, does it matter what kinds of sports the men play? Does it matter if they’re individual or team sports?

These are all questions that were investigated by a team of Canadian researchers and published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology in 2010.

The researchers had a theory. The theory was that women like athletes because women want to be involved with healthy men. Athletes also show motivation, strength, determination, and teamwork.

Also, because of the “halo effect,” men who prove themselves in sports are assumed to be more competent and have better qualities in other areas as well.

The researchers were particularly interested in team sports versus individual sports. They wondered whether team athletes were more attractive, because playing on a team shows that they can collaborate and work together.


First, the researchers recruited 125 females and 119 males from a Canadian university.

The participants ranged in age from 18-25 and came from a variety of academic disciplines.

In a small previous study, people rated a large group of opposite-sex, non-smiling headshots of various people.

The highest and lowest-rated photographs were chosen for the larger study.

Each participant in the larger study was shown a picture with a description. The picture was either of the low- or high-attractiveness person.

The description on the picture described one of three types of sports involvement:

  • Team sport athlete
  • Individual sport athlete
  • Club member (no sports involvement)
  • Then, the person was described as either:
  • Regarded highly by other group members
  • Not regarded highly by other group members

To sum up, the photograph and description randomly shown to the participant varied in:

  • Attractiveness
  • Sports involvement
  • Status
Man working out

Then, participants answered questions about the hypothetical person. These included questions regarding whether the hypothetical person seemed to have the following characteristics:

  • Committed
  • Good financial prospects
  • Dependable character
  • Pleasant
  • Impulsive
  • High status
  • Social skills
  • Ambitious/industrious
  • Quick temper
  • Intelligent
  • Lazy
  • Healthy
  • Confident
  • Insecure
  • Competitive
  • Selfish
  • Emotionally stable
  • Promiscuous
  • Would want children

Then, participants indicated their own demographic characteristics.


We’ll focus our reporting on WOMEN’S perceptions of MEN.

Did individual vs. team sports matter? Sometimes, but not much.

Team athletes were seen as:

  • Slightly better with social skills.
  • Slightly more competitive.
  • More promiscuous.
  • Individual sport athletes were seen as:
  • Slightly better with emotional disposition.
  • Slightly healthier.
swimming in a pool helps to fix bad posture

OVERALL, when individual and team athletes were combined, they beat non-athletes in every area. Athletes (team and individual) were seen as:

  • Better emotional disposition.
  • Better social skills.
  • Less lazy.
  • Healthier.
  • More confident.
  • More competitive.
  • More promiscuous.

(The last two may or may not be positive traits – I’ll let you decide)

How did sports involvement compare to attractiveness and status?

Attractiveness of the photograph and status both increased perceptions of positive personal characteristics.

However, sports involvement was just as strong as attractiveness in predicting positive traits.

High status (being regarded well by peers) resulted in the strongest boost of all to positive personal traits.

Do Women Like Athletic Men – Conclusion/Interpretation

What can we learn here?

Being an athlete does boost perceptions of a guy’s positive, attractive traits.

Individual vs. team sports actually didn’t seem to matter all that much.

The biggest boost was between athlete vs. non-athlete.

Having an attractive mug increased perceptions of positive traits.

This is part of the “halo effect.”

But being an athlete provided the same strength of a boost to positive traits as being attractive.

In other words, if you are a less attractive guy, get into sports. It’s a way to boost perceptions of your positive traits to the same degree as physical attractiveness.

It actually doesn’t matter so much what sport you choose. It could be a team sport OR an individual sport.

However, the biggest boost to perceptions of positive traits was high social regard.

This means that being well-liked and well-respected by your peers is the most attractive thing of all.


Schulte-Hostedde, A. I., Eys, M. A., Emond, M., & Buzdon, M. (2010). Sport participation influences perceptions of mate characteristics. Evolutionary Psychology, 10(1), 78-94. Link:


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