Scientists discovered the link after comparing the measurements of popular actresses, and Playboy Playmates, to annual economic data.
When the US economy suffered, the top beauty icons tended to display features such as being older, taller, or heavier, with larger waists or smaller eyes. For men these traits were believed to signify strength and independence.
The late model Anna Nicole Smiths fuller figure was particularly popular to men during troubled times in the 1990s while as the US stock market soared in the mid-2000s the popularity of younger, more petite actresses like Reese Witherspoon grew.
Researchers also suggested actress Sandra Bullock's maturity at the age of 45 may have contributed to her popularity at the box office during a financially precarious 2009. Her film The Blind Side won her an Oscar for Best Actress.
By contrast in prosperous times the most popular actresses, such as Rita Hayworth and Judy Garland, had youthful features including large eyes, small chins and plump cheeks, while favourite playmates had extreme hourglass figures.
But studies looked at the facial features of famous actresses between 1932 to 1995 and playmates of the year between 1960 and 2000. The bust, waist, hip, weight and height measurements were also recorded. Figures were compared to economic data including unemployment rates, death rates and consumer prices.
Researcher Dr Terry Pettijohn, a psychologist at Coastal Carolina University, told the LiveScience website: "When you feel more threatened or insecure you will gravitate toward finding friends or partners that look stronger."