He may not sound like a dream date. But when the economy is in trouble, women are drawn to a wimp, research shows.

It said rich, alpha males who might once have caught a girl’s eye, pale into insignificance beside more sensitive sorts during a downturn.

And it claimed women think gentler men will be less likely to cheat on them and so are a better bet to ride out the economic storm.

The finding could help explain why Legally Blonde star Reese Witherspoon, whose first husband Ryan Philippe was her co-star in film Cruel Intentions, made a lower-profile match second time round.

She and talent agent Jim Toth married last year and are expecting their first baby together.

The researchers at Southampton Solent University showed more than 150 women a series of online dating profiles, before asking them which men they would like to date and which seemed marriage material.

The fictitious profiles contained information about the men’s earning potential and how dominant they were. Half the women also looked at words related to financial hardship.

The British Psychological Society’s annual conference heard those primed to think of recession then went on to choose more reliable, gentler sorts.

However, when told to assess the men as husband material, money was all-important.

As a rule of thumb, women usually favour macho men for a fling but prefer chaps who are better father material to settle down with.

In the context of this study, this means they should have chosen flashy, high-earners for a date.

Instead, those primed to think of economic hardship said they’d rather be entertained by more reliable sorts who shy away from taking command, don’t like to take risks and are generally happy to do what they are told.

Asked if these men might be described as boring, researcher Dr Fay Julal said: “He wouldn’t necessarily be boring. He might be very interesting but just comply with what the woman says.”

His fear of being in command means that he is also unlikely to be an extremely high earner.

Julal said: “It is telling us that all men may be attractive at some time, given different economic settings.

“But the women rated the men who had high earning potential as having the best marriage appeal. We could understand it was once important to be financially supported but nowadays women are in the labour force.”

Previous research has found that male perception of what makes a woman attractive also changes with the economic climate.

When times are prosperous, men apparently set their sights on younger, girlish- looking women with big eyes and softer features.

But when the economy is in decline and social conditions are threatening, men seek solace in curvaceous women with more comforting maternal figures.

In other words, men don’t go for busts in a boom. – Daily Mail