Beauty and the Worker - Part 17

The magnitude of her loss depends on the severity of the impairment to her beauty. If she went from being above-average to below-average, the loss will be greater — because the difference in the impact on earnings of this change is larger than if she went from average to below-average. In her case, depending on how one views the severity of the impairment to her beauty, the present value of the lost earnings over her remaining working life is between $24,000 and $66,000.

In each case the size of the losses will vary. It is larger if the beauty impairment is greater, which is unsurprising. It is greater for men than for women, because the average unimpaired man earns more than the average unimpaired woman, and because the effects of differences in beauty on earnings are larger among men. The losses are lower for a seven-year-old than a fifteen-year-old, because the latter's lost earnings are in the nearer future. The thirty-six year-old woman's losses are not much bigger than a teenage girl's losses, because her injury occurred after she had already had the benefit of her looks over a substantial part of her career.

Is it worthwhile thinking about the economics of beauty in the context of injury-based lawsuits? Are these earnings losses really worth arguing about? By the criterion of net benefit to the plaintiff, the answer is a clear yes. The settlement or jury award might include one-half of the projected earnings loss from the impaired beauty. With my small fee, and the one-third of the settlement that is typically claimed by the plaintiff's attorney, even the smallest of the losses incurred by the thirty-six-year-old woman would net her about $7,000 beyond what would she have received had the economic effect of her impaired beauty been ignored.


The most heavily researched issue in the economics of beauty involves measuring the effects of looks on earnings. How much more do better-looking people earn than average-looking people? How much less do bad-looking people earn? The evidence on these questions is by now abundantly clear. Being in the top third of looks in America generates around 5 percent more earnings as compared to the earnings received by the average person who, except for beauty, is identical. People whose looks are in the bottom seventh earn perhaps 10 percent less than the otherwise identical average person.

In other countries, the impacts of looks on earnings may be smaller or larger than in the United States — it's hard to say.But that worse-looking workers earn less than their good-looking fellows appears to be a characteristic of industrialized countries generally. The same may also be true in less developed countries, and I think it is. But there just have not been enough studies of the impact of beauty in poor countries to confirm my suspicion. The effects differ across countries; but it is fair to say that the impact of looks on pay is universal.

Add comment

Security code