Beauty and the Worker - Part 9

The constancy of the beauty effect suggests that its impacts on earnings do not arise because beauty enhances a worker's self-esteem.

Yet another possibility is that beauty and the attractiveness of one's personality are positively related, and that it is the general sparkle of one's personality, not one's beauty, that increases earnings. Measuring the attractiveness of someone's personality is more subjective than measuring someone's beauty, but both have been measured for the same group of young Americans early in the twenty-first century. Asking whether adjusting earnings for the attractiveness of personality affected the implied impacts of beauty, researchers found only a slight impact on young American adults. The British study of beauty did adjust for measures of a person's sociability at age sixteen, and that adjustment didn't affect the estimates of the impact of beauty on earnings in adulthood either. Generally, the impact of beauty on earnings is essentially independent of any relation between beauty and personality.

It might be that the beautiful are more intelligent too, so that what we attribute to beauty is more appropriately attributable to intelligence. This is possible; but in light of popular discussion (the ugly nerd?), the opposite seems just as likely — that failing to account for differences in intelligence means that we might be under-estimating the impact of beauty on earnings.

None of the studies of random samples of Americans or people in other countries contains a good measure of intelligence, so we can't be sure about this. But the data on young adults in the United States in the early 2000s do contain a measure of intelligence. Adjusting for differences among individuals in both intelligence and beauty, those data show that the effect of beauty remains substantial even among people with similar intelligence. Interestingly, the premium for beauty is greater if you are smarter, as is the penalty for being unattractive.

Looking at the same question in the context of a particular occupation, the data on attorneys included a partial measure of intelligence (the score on the Law School Aptitude Test — LSAT). There was no relation between a student's LSAT and his or her looks. This supports my guess that there generally is at most a tiny correlation between beauty and intelligence; so failing to account for intelligence doesn't affect the estimated impact of beauty on earnings.

In all the studies summarized so far, the assumption has been that the interviewers' ratings of beauty are based on the interviewees' faces.

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