Looking Good Pays


The Rules of Attraction

The world is governed more by appearance than realities
so that it is fully as necessary to
seem to know something as to know it.

- Daniel Webster

Nothing succeeds like the appearance of success.

- Christopher Lasch

Men are forever moaning about the time and money women spend slapping on make-up, dieting and shopping for clothes.  Yet, according to two new studies by American economists, it is a worthwhile investment: looking good yields big financial returns.

Susan Averett and Sanders Korenman (in a paper entitled "The Economic Reality of the Beauty Myth") have examined the link between pay differentials and weight for 23 to 31-year-olds, after adjusting for differences in social class.  The hourly wage of fat women is, on average, 20% lower than the pay of a woman of average weight.  But slimmers be warned: underweight women also take home slimmer pay packets than average women do.  However, skinny women make up for this in the marriage market: they marry men with the highest earnings.  Husbands of skinny women earn on average 45% more than those of fat ones.

Men, it seems, are different.  Underweight men take home by far the lowest earnings, while slightly overweight men enjoy the fattest pay-packets - 26% more than their underweight colleagues.

A second study by Daniel Hamermesh and Jeff Biddle (in a paper entitled "Beauty and the Labour Market") considers how workers' earnings are affected by their overall looks, rather than just their weight.  The authors used household surveys from America and Canada, which along with information on earnings also included interviewers' ratings of the appearance of those they interviewed - from strikingly attractive to ugly.

The job market clearly rewards beauty.  Very attractive men and women enjoy hourly earnings about 5% higher than those with average looks, even after adjusting for factors such as education.  Plain women earn 5% less than average lookers, plain men 10% less.

Can't think what to buy your husband for Christmas?  Make-up, of course.

Source: The Economist 11 Dec 1993

The next study found the statistics had worsened...

Fat Is a Financial Issue

The most common error made in matters of appearance is the belief that one should disdain the superficial
and let the true beauty of one's soul shine through.
If there are places on your body where this is a possibility, you are not attractive - you are leaking.

- American humorist Fran Liebowitz
Metropolitan Life

Fit for a fat salary

Many women spend a fortune on gym fees, dieting magazines, health farms and new clothes in order to make themselves look slimmer.  Their aim is usually to feel better or to attract a man.  Yet, according to a new study, this may also be an astute financial strategy: slimmer women earn more over their lifetime than their obese sisters.

The study* (carried out by four female researchers at the University of Michigan) analysed data on more than 7,000 men and women born between 1931 and 1941.  In 1992, the individual net worth of an obese woman (defined as having a "body mass index" of more than 35) was, on average, 40% lower than that of a woman of "normal" weight, after adjusting statistically for factors such as age, education, professional status, marital status and health.  By 1998, the economic penalty for being fat had increased: the net worth of the obese woman was 60% less than that of her slimmer sisters.  For men, however, the study found no statistically significant link between weight and wealth.

One explanation for the findings might be that low-earning women have boring jobs which induce them to munch biscuits and toffees all day.  But the research tried to adjust for differences in professional status.  And why should this affect women more than men?

The sad conclusion is that obesity carries a large economic cost for women.  As a result of discrimination (their bosses are more likely to be men), fat women are less likely to get good jobs or to win promotion.  For male fat cats, in contrast, chunky evidence of years of business lunching often goes hand in hand with financial success.  Expect there to be further weighty research on the matter.

Source: The Economist 25 November 2000

* "Economic and Employment Outcomes of Obesity in Middle-Aged Women and Men", by Stephanie Fonda, Nancy Fultz, Laura Wheeler and Linda Wray.

Ugly Defendants "More Likely to Be Found Guilty than Attractive Ones"

Good looks could help guilty defendants dodge justice, researchers have said.  They reported that in an experiment jurors were more likely to convict suspects deemed ugly than those seen as attractive.  It is thought that the principle applies elsewhere in life, with beauty being associated with kindness, intelligence and sporting ability.  The researchers at Bath Spa University came to their conclusions after asking 96 volunteers to read a transcript of a fictitious mugging case.  Half of the participants were given a picture of an attractive suspect, the others one of a supposedly ugly defendant.  The script was the same in either case.  The volunteer "jurors" were then asked to decide whether the suspect was innocent or guilty.  In the latter case they also had to decide on a sentence.

Analysis of the results revealed that attractive suspects were more likely to be acquitted, despite there being no extra evidence in their favour.  Sandie Taylor, the psychologist who conducted the study, said: "We set out to consider the influence of physical attractiveness and ethnicity of a defendant depicted in a photograph on mock jurors' decisions of verdict, extent of guilt and sentencing.  Our findings confirm previous research on the effects of defendant characteristics - such as physical attractiveness - on the deliberations of jurors.  Attractive defendants are, it seems, rated less harshly than homely defendants, so perhaps justice isn't blind after all.  People who are physically attractive are assumed to be clever, successful and have more friends - it is tragic in a way."

Dr Taylor said Ted Bundy, who murdered more than 30 young women in the US in the 1970s, was a good example of a criminal who tried to use his looks to his advantage.  "He was quite an attractive person physically and he had the gift of the gab and that is how he lured his victims into his car and killed them in the end," she said.  "He wanted to represent himself in court and I think a few people might have been duped by his character and how he came across.  The hard-core forensic evidence was against him, but if that forensic evidence hadn't been there, he might well have got off, because he was quite charming and knew how to work people."

The study showed that while the jurors were swayed by attractiveness, they did not let race cloud their judgment.  Black and white suspects were treated equally.  When black suspects were convicted, however, they were given longer sentences.  "It is interesting that being an unattractive black defendant only had an impact on sentencing and not on a juror's verdict of guilt," Dr Taylor told the British Psychological Society's annual conference in York.  "However, it is a positive finding that neither black nor white participants showed a bias towards their own ethnic group."  She pointed out that in British law sentences are decided by judges rather than juries.

Previous research by Dr Taylor showed that gender can also be important in the courts.  Women jurors treat female suspects more harshly, especially when they think they might have used their looks to their advantage.  Men, on the other hand, tend to give attractive women the benefit of the doubt.  The phenomenon, known as the "halo effect", is thought to extend far beyond the courtroom, with looks affecting an individual's exam marks, job prospects and even ability to make friends.

"People are constantly making judgments of other people," added Dr Taylor.  "That is the way we make sense of a socially chaotic world - we use stereotypes to try to make sense of it all."

Source: thisislondon.co.uk 21 March 2007

See also:

bulletEven at Work, Pretty People Advance Faster than Plain - For decades, psychology research has shown that attractive people have a better chance at getting hired, getting promoted, getting the permission of bosses to embark on ambitious projects, landing more clients and getting a fatter paycheque...
bulletBad News for the Plain and Ordinary - With every man vying for the attention of the most beautiful women, an averagely attractive man was almost as likely to be lumbered with Miss 900 as he was to get Miss 200 in his top 1,000 list...
bulletHouston, We Have a Big Problem - "Yes, Houston is fat, but so is every other city.  We are a fat society.  Period."  In fact, 61% of Americans weigh too much, and about 27% of them are obese - 30 pounds or more over a healthy weight, according to federal statistics.
bulletEnhancing Human Traits - ethical and social implications
bulletComing Face to Face with Racism- Beauty may bring rich rewards in a society obsessed with youth and sex, but there's an uglier side to our instinct to judge by appearances.  Neuroscientists have published new research that suggests we are not only deeply affected by a face, we are inherently racist in our perceptions, too.
bulletThe Changing Face of China's Women - Operations to widen the eyes, raise the brow of the nose and pump up the breasts are popular among young women, while face lifts and liposuction are gaining ground among the older generation...

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