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Do Good Looking People Make More Money?

As a society, we love to think that we have transcended judging others by their looks and beauty has absolutely nothing to do with how successful we are in the pursuits of our careers.  However, economists seem to think that our society is still as vain as ever and how well we do occupationally is still dependent on how good-looking we are.


According to economist Daniel Hamernesh, an average person will earn $1.6 million over a 40 year career, whereas a good-looking person will make about $200,000 more.   Economists call the extra wages earned from good looks the “beauty premium.”  When broken down, the most attractive of workers earned, on average, $42,000 a year. Average-looking people earned $40,000 a year. And “ugly” people earned $36,400 per year, almost $6,000 less per year than attractive employees. If you notice, the difference between ugly people and average-looking people is wider than the gap between average-looking people and good-looking people. Average-looking people tend to get promoted less than their more attractive counterparts.

The latest into the “beauty premium” largely comes from research by Daniel Hamernesh, and publicized in his book Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People are More Successful.   

The role of physical attractive has been well-documented in other studies as well. For instance, an Italian study found that attractive women and men get call backs for interviews quite a bit more. In order to do this study, the researchers sent out 10,000 resumes—using the same ones and only changing the photo, name, and address. They found that across the 10,o00 resumes, the call back rate was 30%. But what was shocking was that attractive women got called back over 50% of the time (54% to be accurate) while attractive men got called back 47% of the time. And sadly, unattractive women only got called back 7% of the time and unattractive men got called back 25% of the time. Being unattractive is a definitive drawback; but according to the Italian study, being an unattractive woman is a much bigger drawback than being an unattractive man.

“Good looks” is largely a function of facial symmetry.  Generally, the more symmetrical a face is, the more attractive a person is.  In doing research for the book, Daniel Hamernesh relied on both the ratings of others and his own ratings to define beauty—and the ratings were largely similar.  So although beauty is in the eye of the beholder, most people have no trouble differentiating between someone who is good-looking and someone who is unattractive. Although looks do matter in many countries and societies, the statistics show that they matter a lot more in the United States than in other countries.  And surprisingly, the most affected were men, and not women.

As for why men are more affected by the beauty premium than women, Daniel Hamernesh gives two distinct reasons.  First, men work more than women.  The BLS shows that 59% of women hold paying jobs in the workforce compared to 73% of men.  The second reason is that women in general, are paid less than men.

So Looks Matter…So What Do You Do If You Are Unattractive

So now that economists have established that looks in fact do matter a whole lot, what can you do if to mitigate the looks discrimination if you are unattractive?  Mr. Hamernesh suggests doing a few things.  First, he suggests that looks is only one component of what people use to judge your employment and earning potential.  Other things matter as well, including education, age, health, company size, and so on.  So the first thing you should do is that you need to make sure that you are more qualified than a more attractive competitor in those other attributes (health, education, etc).  Second, do not go into an occupation where looks matter, such as modeling, acting, or tv broadcasting.  Instead, go into field that you have a passion for and you enjoy.  Lastly, pick fields that focus on your strenghts, fields where your strengths are needed and where your strengths bring you a competitive advantage.

What about plastic surgery?  According to Daniel Hamernesh, plastic surgery is not a good investment as, statistically, it pays back less than $1 for each $1 spent.  This is because plastic surgery to fix one part of the face will only bring minor improvements.

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