Do ‘beautiful’ employees really get paid more?

by John Hilton20 Feb 2017
Economists have often talked about the ‘beauty premium’ in terms of salaries.

For instance, some research in the US and Canada shows people who are perceived as more comely earn more than those that aren’t.

But it's not as simple as that, according to Satoshi Kanazawa of the London School of Economics and Political Science and Mary Still of the University of Massachusetts.

Their research found that those who were paid more were healthy, conscientious, intelligent and extroverted, as opposed to beautiful.

Kanazawa and Still analysed the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health, a nationally representative sample from a US data set that had very precise measures of physical attractiveness.

It measured physical attractiveness of respondents on a five-point scale at four different points in life over 13 years.

The findings showed that people are not necessarily discriminated against because of their looks.

Indeed, the beauty premium theory was dismissed when the researchers took into account factors such as health, intelligence, and other major personality factors.

"Physically more attractive workers may earn more, not necessarily because they are more beautiful, but because they are healthier, more intelligent, and have better personality traits conducive to higher earnings, such as being more conscientious, more extraverted, and less neurotic," said Kanazawa.

Interestingly, their research found that those who fell in the ‘very unattractive’ category always earned more than those rated as merely ‘unattractive’.

Moreover, this was sometimes even the case when the income of the ‘very unattractive’ was measured against their ‘average-looking’ or even ‘attractive’ co-workers.

The methods used in other studies might explain why the findings in the current research are contrary to many current thoughts about the economics of beauty, according to Still.

On the one hand, few other studies have taken into account aspects of health, intelligence (as opposed to education), and personality factors.

On the other, in most studies the so-called ‘very unattractive’ and ‘unattractive’ categories are grouped together to form a ‘below-average’ category.

"Thereby they fail to document the ugliness premium enjoyed by the very unattractive workers," said Still.

The study is published in Springer's Journal of Business and Psychology.

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