beauty and success

Beauty and Success



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Beautiful People Earn More

University of Texas labor economist Daniel Hamermesh has done much research on the relationship between physical beauty and success in life.

In his book, Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful, he presents data he has collected and analyzed on this subject.

Hamermesh’s main finding: not-so handsome males earn 17% less on average than those considered handsome, while not-so beautiful females earn 12% less than their more beautiful counterparts (taking into account different factors such as education, age, race, family background, etc).

Over the span of a career, good-looking workers earn a total of $230,000 more than those who are less good-looking, using an average wage of $20 an hour. Applied to higher income bracket such as hedge fund manager and investment banker, the gap is even wider.

What about weight and height? Multiple studies have shown that height also boosts earnings, particularly among men. Obese people on the other hand earn less, an effect especially pronounced among women.

Attractiveness in Different Industries

Beauty it is most rewarded in industries where physical attractiveness is a major selling point, such as fashion, TV and entertainment.

In the vast majority of occupations however, intelligence and skills are more highly valued (especially in areas such as astrophysics and internet maintenance).

Nevertheless the beauty factor in the labor market is far more pervasive than at first glance.

Hamermesh’s book contains numerous case studies.

One involved 400 economics professors in Ontario, Canada. It looked at their “hotness” based on their student ratings using chili-pepper symbols on

Those considered “hot” earned at least 6% more than their otherwise academically identical counterparts.

Another study found that professional football quarterbacks with good-looking facial features earned almost 12% more than their less attractive colleagues despite having the same athletic performances.

But it doesn’t stop there: handsome salesmen earn more than their plain-looking colleagues. The same holds true for teachers, waitresses, auto mechanics and so on through a long list of occupations.

Cause and Effect

But why would this be the case? Why do employers pay more to workers who are simply more beautiful?

There is evidence that attractive workers bring in more customers, business and profits, so firms have an incentive to hire them — and compensate them accordingly, relative to their more average-looking coworkers.

Or it may be that beautiful workers simply make the work environment more pleasant and fun.

Hamermesh looks into the possible interconnections between beauty, self-esteem, intelligence and earning power.

Question: do good looks make people more confident, and thus more effective at work thereby boosting their wages? Self-confidence could also give people the courage to demand better raises and seek better jobs in the labor market.

A Canadian study showed a correlation between looks and self-esteem, but only a slight one.

A counterargument may be that confidence, intelligence and high-achievement may actually make individuals seem more attractive. Smarter, more ambitious people also tend to smoke less, eat healthier and exercise more.



Good Looks in Society

Beauty Pays notes that the beauty bias holds true in other markets as well.

In marriage, women have traditionally traded looks for financial support. A Chinese study found that the husbands of “unappealing” women earn about 10% less than those with “attractive” wives.

Attractive people also have a better chance of obtaining a bank loan than the plain-looking, even if their credit ratings are not as high.

In legal proceedings, the pretty are less likely to be judged guilty, and receive milder prison sentences when they are.

And a 2008 study of a Dutch TV game show noted that unattractive team members were consistently voted off, even though they were just as good at answering questions.

But beauty does not always confer advantages, and can sometimes work against a person: good-looking women seeking high-flying careers in traditionally male-dominated fields may be stymied by the “bimbo effect” until they prove their competence.

Legal Matters

Hamermesh’s book also includes a section on legal matters.

In America more people say they have felt discriminated against because of their appearance than their age, race, religion or political beliefs.

That being the case, the ugly may want to know their rights. It turns out that there aren’t many, except in some state and local ordinances in places like San Francisco, where the human rights commission explicitly protects against discrimination based on weight and height.

The Washington, D.C. municipal code also makes it illegal to discriminate “on the basis of outward appearance.” On the federal level, the Americans with Disabilities Act offers protection for people who are morbidly obese.

In his book’s conclusion, Hamermesh reassures (unattractive) readers that bad looks are not “a crucial disadvantage . . . whose burden should be so overwhelming as to crush our spirit.”

In other words, the beautiful may have an advantage over the rest of us, but in the long-run, other human qualities matter more.

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1. On average, beautiful and plain-looking people earn the same amount of money. True or false? Is the difference insignificant or significant?

2. The bigger a person, the more successful he or she will become. Is this correct or incorrect?

3. Is beauty directly correlated to success in some occupations and indirectly correlated in others?

4. Why might handsome people in academia and technical areas (professors, salesman, auto mechanics, teachers, waiters) earn more than their less-handsome colleagues?

5. Could there be a relationship between wealth, beauty and marriage?

6. Are banks, courts and contests completely impartial and unbiased?

7. Can there be some disadvantages to being too beautiful?

8. Do many people feel that discrimination based on looks is just as serious and bad as discrimination based on race, gender, religion?

9. Ultimately, the most beautiful are always the most successful; and the least attractive are the least successful. Yes or no?


A. In your department, company, field or industry, do looks count or it doesn’t matter, or does it have some influence? In which areas?

B. Who is the most “successful” person in your company? Who is the most attractive? Are they the same person(s)?

C. What can you say about school? Who were the best students? Who were the most beautiful?

D. Is this whole thing about beauty and success unfair? How should people think and behave?

E. What will happen in the future?

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