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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 May 2006, 12:54 GMT 13:54 UK
Unhappy home link to appearance
Women whose parents had poor relationship look more masculine (left) compared with women  whose parents had a good relationship (right)
The woman on the left was rated less attractive
Girls from broken homes may grow up to be less attractive, research published by the Royal Society shows.

Two studies from a team at St Andrew's University suggested that women whose parents had separated or had a poor relationship looked more masculine.

Researchers assessed facial features and body shape in 229 women and found those from stable homes appeared more feminine and healthy.

The results may be linked to levels of testosterone - the male sex hormone.

However, it is unclear if increased testosterone in the offspring of parents who separate is genetic or caused by stress of an unhappy family life.

Researchers took photographs of psychology students who had completed a questionnaire about their family background.

The pictures were rated for attractiveness, feminity, and healthiness.

I wonder if all of these things are down to a particular set of hormone changes or genetics
Study leader, Dr Lynda Boothroyd

Women whose parents had a good relationship were found to be significantly more attractive than women whose parents had separated.

Women whose parents had stayed together but had a poor relationship were rated the least attractive of the three groups and were also judged to be the least healthy.

In a second study of 87 of the same young women, researchers assessed body mass index, waist-hip ratio, and waist-chest ratio.

Growing up with parents who had a poor relationship was associated with increased weight around the waist, producing a more masculine figure and an increased body mass index.

The findings are published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society.


Previous research has shown that girls whose parents split up are more likely to start their periods earlier, start having sex sooner and have a higher rate of teenage pregnancy.

Study leader, Dr Lynda Boothroyd who has since moved to the University of Durham said the new results and previous findings could be explained by hormones - particularly testosterone.

"I wonder if all of these things are down to a particular set of hormone changes or genetics.

"If we can say that part of the reason may be something to do with their hormones, that helps us to understand what is going on and helps us to address that behaviour."

"It could be that children inherit higher testosterone from their parents, which could have caused the problems in their parents relationship. But also our bodies release hormones to cope with stress and that might have a knock on effect."

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23 Apr 03 |  Health

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