Living Economics

Looks Matter
Xiao Jiang
Looks matter when most people are plain looking, even in jobs where looks do not affect job performance.

A hiring manager interviewed two young male applicants with equal education and experiences. The selection decision was not easy, but the one with better looks got the position. The chosen candidate was well qualified for the job without the good looks; however, looks added extra points to his overall qualifications.

Most people accept that beauty or attractiveness is an important factor for professions like actors, actresses, and models. For ordinary jobs, education and experiences are what really count and physical appearance should not make a difference. Yet, real life studies tell us that physical appearance does matter. A study was done on top law school graduates of the 1970s. The result shows that attractive male attorneys made more money than plain attorneys after five years of practice, and the gap widened over time (Business Week, 1/8/1996).

Everyone wants to grasp beauty; hence we have thousands of cosmetic products, fashion styles, and beauty salons, etc. The truth is that only a very small percentage of people can be described as beautiful, and that makes beauty not only an asset but also a scarce resource. Whether subconsciously or not, people are rewarding the beautiful people with incentives. Research indicates that the wage differential between attractive and ugly people is about 10% for both sexes (Business Week, 1/16/1998). Obviously, it is unfair to the unattractive people. They are being discriminated for something they have very little control of.

In economic terms, the wage premiums enjoyed by good lookers are simply economic rent1 resulting from natural scarcity. But if nature does not provide enough good lookers, the plastic surgeons can do remedial work. Surgery for success in competitive, image-conscious corporate America is increasingly common for both males and females. Aesthetic surgery not only improves social perception but also bolsters self-confidence. Sometimes, you may indeed be how you feel.

Note:
  1. Economic rent is a payment made to a resource in excess of what is required to elicit its supply. The payment arises from current supply scarcity or legacy benefits that are difficult to do away with. It is needed to determine the employment but not the availability of that resource.
  2. Economic rent is a payment made to a resource in excess of what is required to elicit its supply. The payment arises from current supply scarcity or legacy benefits that are difficult to do away with. It is needed to determine the employment but not the availability of that resource.
  3. Editor's update: Hamermesh, a labor economist at the University of Texas at Austin, and Amy Parker found in a sample of 463 courses that good-looking male professors got significantly higher teaching scores. The average teaching evaluation was 4.2 on a 5-point scale. Those at the bottom end of the attractiveness scale received, on average, a teaching evaluation of about 3.5, while those on the top end received about 4.5. Is it possible that students simply pay more attention to good-looking professors and learn more? (Hal R. Varian, "The Hunk Differential," Economic Scene, New York Times, August 28, 2003)
  4. Editor's update: Hamermesh, a labor economist at the University of Texas at Austin, and Amy Parker found in a sample of 463 courses that good-looking male professors got significantly higher teaching scores. The average teaching evaluation was 4.2 on a 5-point scale. Those at the bottom end of the attractiveness scale received, on average, a teaching evaluation of about 3.5, while those on the top end received about 4.5. Is it possible that students simply pay more attention to good-looking professors and learn more? (Hal R. Varian, "The Hunk Differential," Economic Scene, New York Times, August 28, 2003)
References:
  • Business Week. 3/16/1998. "So You want to hire the beautiful. Well, why not?"
  • Business Week. 1/8/1996. "When lawyers are lookers."
  • WSJ. 8/6/1985. "Plastic surgery wooing patients hoping to move up career ladder."
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