Beauty and the Worker - Part 3

We need to discover how it affects people's choices of what work to undertake; and we need to see how companies' sales and profits relate to their employees' looks.


To begin answering these questions, take the most important: To what extent does beauty affect the earnings of the typical worker? On its face this seems to be a simple task: Find a large group of individuals, randomly chosen from a country's population; get measures of their looks, by one of the methods we have discussed; obtain information on their earnings; and compare their earnings to their looks.

This is not so easy to do for the United States as one might think or hope — the most recent nationally random data that provide this information are from surveys collected in the 1970s — the data underlying. Regrettably, no nationally representative set of data since the 1970s contains information on earnings and also ratings of the respondents' beauty. This means that these effects are best described as what were the effects of beauty on earnings. But using these data we can get an initial picture of how beauty and earnings are related in the general population.

Using these large random samples of women and men, we can compare their earnings to the ratings of their looks. Compared to the average group (people rated as 3 on the 5 to 1 scale), below-average looking women (rated 2 or 1 on the scale) earn 3 percent less, while below-average looking men earn 22 percent less. Above-average looking women (rated 4 or 5 on the scale) earn 4 percent more than the average-looking, while above- average looking men earn 3 percent more. There is a premium for good looks, a penalty for bad looks. Except for the penalty for the 11 percent of men whose looks are rated as below-average, these differences in earnings are not large; but they are in the directions that you would expect.

These simple differences are interesting; but are they genuine, or do they merely reflect the strong possibility that beauty and other things that increase one's earnings are related? The number of “other things” is potentially huge; but a thorough approach would take anything that has repeatedly been shown to affect earnings, and would then adjust for its impacts in order to isolate the effect of beauty on earnings. These other factors include:

• Education (increasing earnings) — what if better-looking people are better educated?

• Age (increasing earnings up to some point, perhaps to the mid-fifties for a typical worker, then reducing earnings) — we know that age and beauty are related

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