The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

11 April 2005

I wind up owing

This surprises me not a whit:

A study by economists Daniel Hamermesh and Jeff Biddle uses survey data to examine the impact that appearance has on a person's earnings. In each survey, the interviewer who asked the questions also rated the respondents' physical appearance. Respondents were classified into one of the following groups: below average, average and above average.

Hamermesh and Biddle found that the "plainness penalty" is 9 percent and that the "beauty premium" is 5 percent after controlling for other variables, such as education and experience. In other words, a person with below-average looks tended to earn 9 percent less per hour, and an above-average person tended to earn 5 percent more per hour than an average-looking person. For the median male in 1996 working full-time, the respective penalty and premium amounted to approximately $2,600 and $1,400 annually. The corresponding penalty and premium for the median female worker are $2,000 and $1,100.

One might think that for certain professions, appearance is more important. Indeed, occupations that require more interpersonal contact have higher percentages of above-average-looking employees. However, Hamermesh and Biddle showed that the plainness penalty and the beauty premium exist across all occupations.

Some possible rationales:

While appearance might seem unrelated to job performance, some explanations behind these wage differentials are based on unmeasured productivity. Certain characteristics, such as appearance, might affect productivity in ways that are not as easily measured (or as obvious) as are other characteristics, like education or experience. Appearance, for example, can affect confidence and communication, thereby influencing productivity. A study by economists Markus Mobius and Tanya Rosenblat estimates that confidence accounts for approximately 20 percent of the beauty premium. Further, employers might believe that customers or co-workers want to interact with more-attractive people. Biddle and Hamermesh found support for this view based on a higher beauty premium in the private sector since private attorneys need to attract and keep clients. [They ran a separate survey for lawyers.]

On the other hand, I can't imagine a group of seriously unattractive people filing a class-action suit in this matter: for one thing, they'd never get any television coverage.

(Via Steph Mineart.)

Posted at 6:26 AM to Dyssynergy