Want More Success? Just Get Better Looking

Most people would probably agree that good looks pay off in the job market. Studies have found that fat people earn less than slimmer workers, for example, and that taller men find it easier to climb the executive ladder. But what about people who are regarded as attractive or beautiful compared with those with average looks and those deemed homely?

In a new study, economists Daniel S. Hamermesh of the University of Texas and Jeff E. Biddle of Michigan State University seek to answer that question by analyzing data from several household surveys taken in the U.S. and Canada in the 1970s and early 1980s. Along with information on respondents' job histories and earnings, the surveys contain interviewers' opinions of their physical appearance, with ratings ranging from very attractive to ugly.

The results of the analysis are revealing. In general, it found that very attractive men and women earn about 5% more than their average-looking counterparts, after adjusting for other factors that might affect earnings, such as education and marital status. But whereas homely women earned about 5% less than women with average looks, the wage differential for homely men was almost twice as large--about 9%. These results held up even when the data were adjusted for the possible effects of height and weight.

The researchers rejected the theory that attractive people earn more because they get favorable attention in their early years and thus develop the self-esteem and confidence that enhances productivity. Looking only at people with high self-esteem, they found that those with good looks still earned more. The bottom line, says Hamermesh, "is that the job market clearly tends to favor beautiful people and to penalize those unlucky enough to be born plain."

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