Beauty and the Worker - Part 7

Americans are remarkably willing to make these relatively harsh judgments when they interview respondents or evaluate their photographs. This too might cause the estimated effects of beauty elsewhere to differ from those in the United States.

I have found studies for Australia; Canada; Shanghai, China; Korea; and the United Kingdom. They show that in other countries too there are significant negative impacts on earnings of being below-average in looks. In most cases there are also positive effects of being above-average. No generalizations about cross-country differences in the effects of beauty on earnings are possible. But the negative effects of being below-average in looks typically exceed the positive effects of being above-average. One explanation is that so few people are classified as below-average in these studies that being called “below-average” indicates seriously deficient looks.

Although making comparisons of these effects to those shown in for the United States is difficult, the effects of beauty in other countries do not seem that different from those in the United States. The effects in the United States may be somewhat larger, but not hugely so. As in the United States, so too in most of these countries, good looks are rewarded, and bad looks are penalized, even after accounting for a large variety of other factors that affect earnings.

The American data clearly are somewhat outdated. With current data would we find the same effects? Perhaps Americans are no longer so concerned about looks when they react to co-workers, employees, or people selling them a product or a service. Perhaps the opposite has occurred, so that, given the preoccupation with looks in the American media today, with the rise of celebrity magazines, and with the growth of the social networking Internet site, Facebook, the effects are even greater than they were in the 1970s.

The absence of data makes it impossible to obtain updated estimates of the impact of beauty on earnings for the general population, but beauty ratings from a national survey of young adults in the early 2000s have been used to examine this question. Looking only at male high school graduates, going from “unattractive” (rating of 2 on the commonly used 5 to 1 scale) to “very attractive” (rating of 4) generated an increase in earnings of close to 11 percent among young women, and 17 percent among young men. These effects are remarkably close to those in, offering a hint that perhaps the effects of beauty on earnings remain substantial and substantially unchanged.

Add comment

Security code