Do attractive people earn more while those who are not so gorgeous are paid less? It’s not as simple as that, according to Satoshi Kanazawa of the London School of Economics and Political Science in the UK and Mary Still of the University of Massachusetts in Boston. People’s earnings are influenced by more than just physical attractiveness, and individual differences count too. Their research found that healthier and more intelligent people, and those with more Conscientious, more Extraverted, and less Neurotic personality traits earn significantly more than others.
Economists have widely documented the “beauty premium” – or, conversely, the “ugliness penalty” – on wages. Population-based surveys in the US and Canada for instance showed that people who are physically attractive earn more than the average man or woman, while those who are aesthetically compromised earn less. More attractive lawyers and MBA graduates are also said to earn more.
Kanazawa and Still analyzed a nationally representative sample from a US data set that had very precise and repeated measures of physical attractiveness – the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health (Add Health). It measured physical attractiveness of all respondents on a five-point scale at four different points in life over 13 years.
Their analysis showed that people are not necessarily discriminated against because of their looks. The beauty premium theory was dispelled when the researchers took into account factors such as health, intelligence, and major personality factors together with other correlates of physical attractiveness. Healthier and more intelligent respondents, and those with more Conscientious, more Extraverted, and less Neurotic personality traits earned significantly more than others.
“Physically more attractive workers may earn more, not necessarily because they are more beautiful, but because they are healthier, more intelligent, and have better personality traits conducive to higher earnings, such as being more Conscientious, more Extraverted, and less Neurotic,” explains Kanazawa.
- Kanazawa, S. & Still, M.C. (2017). Is There Really a Beauty Premium or an Ugliness Penalty on Earnings? Journal of Business and Psychology.