How beauty (unfairly) affects salaries and election results

According to a new study, attractive people earn higher wages and receive preferential treatment regardless of their talents

Beauty matters. We all know that attractive people are more successful when it comes to the art of seduction. Advertisements constantly remind us of this. It is estimated that men on average spend 32 minutes a day on grooming, while women spend around 44 minutes, according to Daniel Hamermesh, a professor at the University of London, and one of the leading experts on the impact of beauty in business results.

In the US, men who aren’t considered good looking earn 13% less than the average

A huge sum of money is spent on cosmetics, clothing, cosmetic surgery or “miraculous” anti-aging products. The importance of beauty isn’t something new. In fact, at digs of ancient civilizations it is common to discover beauty tools. There’s no doubt about it – beauty matters to us as a society and as individuals, so how does it affect the business world, wages and political candidates?

In economics, it is said that good-looking men and women have a “beauty premium,” in other words they earn a higher salary just because they are attractive. In the world of politics, they also have a higher chance of being elected. And this, simply put, is unfair. As Hamermesh points out, beauty is not an indicator of talent, nor of greater performance or of work ability (except in a small percentage of professions that deal with the public; and not because they are better, but rather because clients prefer to be served by someone attractive).

According to Irish Bohnet, a professor at Harvard University in the United States, attractive men earn 5% more than the average. However, men who aren’t as good looking earn 13% less. These discrepancies also occur with women, but they are not as pronounced – at least not in the West. However in the East, women who are not considered attractive are heavily penalized. Chinese women who are thought unattractive earn 31% less than the average, while the most attractive earn 10% more. Less-attractive Chinese men earn 25% below the average, compared to attractive men, who earn 3% more.

Politicians also have a “beauty premium.” According to Bohnet, if only images of candidates are shown to observers, some of whom are foreigners, they are able to predict who will get elected solely based on their degree of attractiveness. At least, that is what has been proven in Finland, Germany, France, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

We have to evaluate professional performance based on data and not on emotions

But is it always an advantage to be good-looking? Even the attractive have their fair share of “problems,” according to a study carried out by researchers Andreoni and Petrie from the University of California. In their study, a number of participants were asked to choose partners for a collaborative exercise. Initially, the most attractive were selected. After the exercise, the participants evaluated the level of collaboration. Attractive or not, both partners performed equally, but the more attractive ones were penalized for a simple reason: the expectations on them were higher because of their appearance.

What should we do then, if we like beauty but it unfairly affects our judgment? To begin with, we can stop adding photos to our resumes. According to Bohnet, when you look over people’s CVs, the most-attractive candidates jump out and land an interview, even though they may not be the most talented. Secondly, we have to evaluate professional performance based on data and not on emotions. When human resources becomes more professional, the differences in gender, race, culture and beauty will be reduced and companies will treat talent more fairly and be less swayed by image.

English version by Asia London Palomba.


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