Beauty and the Worker - Part 10

We made that assumption in, arguing that observers can assess the beauty of a face independently of the weight and height of an individual. This is an important problem, for if they can't, and if weight and/or height affect earnings, then all the inferences made here so far would be confounding the effects of beauty on earnings with those of height and weight. So the first question is whether weight and height, or some combination of the two, even affect earnings.

Fortunately, a lot of research by economists and others over a long period of time, both in the United States and other countries, has looked at this. The answers seem fairly clear, for both weight and height. Obesity lowers earnings, all else equal, and that is especially true among women. So if people judge the appearance of obese people as being below average — if obesity equals ugliness — the apparent negative effect of bad looks on earnings could just be masking the effect of being obese. Studies on the impact of height on earnings have also used data from many countries, including the United States, Britain, and China. The general result is that height also matters, with the difference being that, unlike weight, the positive effects of height on earnings are larger among men than among women.

To disentangle the effects, we need to look at studies that include both beauty and weight/height to describe interpersonal differences in earnings. The American data underlying, and the British study, included information on both height and weight. Adjusting for differences in the height and weight of the interviewees hardly changed the estimated effects of beauty on earnings. A study of job applications in Sweden similarly suggested that the impacts of beauty on the chance of a person getting a job interview were mostly independent of the effects of the applicant's weight.

How can weight and height not change the impacts of beauty on earnings, if they themselves affect earnings? The answer is very clear and also encouraging: Observers are able to separate beauty from physique — the relationship between ratings of beauty and height/weight is very weak. Physiognomy and physique both affect earnings, but they are mostly independent of each other. A face on a tall or overweight body is judged about the same as the identical face on a short or thin body. Beauty is, within bounds, more or less independent of physique.

One might also wonder whether it is a person's beauty that is affecting his or her earnings, or whether beauty is just rated higher among those who are better dressed.

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