Surveys have shown that people who are considered beautiful by society tend to earn more money in their profession, compared to their less attractive counterparts. Economists have coined terms like “beauty premium” or “ugliness penalty” to describe this phenomenon in our society.
However, a study published in the Journal of Business and Psychology has found that it’s more complicated than that. Besides physical attractiveness, people’s salaries are also influenced by factors such as health, intelligence and personality traits.
The researchers analyzed a national US database called the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health. The database had measurements on physical attractiveness of all respondents on a five-point scale at four different points in life over 13 years.
Not Just Beauty
They found that people were not really discriminated against because of their looks. They found the “beauty premium” for earning more money did not hold when other factors are factored out, such as healthy, intelligence and personality traits.
In the study, people who were healthier, intelligent and displayed personality traits related to being conscientious and extraverted earned significantly more than others. It just so happened that their qualities also correlate better with people who are considered attractive.
“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,” said the researchers.
There was even evidence of an “ugliness premium.” People who considered themselves “very unattractive” in the survey actually earned more than people who said they were just merely unattractive.
So while it does seem that beautiful and attractive people tend to earn more money in their profession, it has more to do with them being healthy, intelligent and their personality. On the contrary, it seems really “ugly” people can earn more money than average.
Satoshi Kanazawa, Mary C. Still. Is There Really a Beauty Premium or an Ugliness Penalty on Earnings? Journal of Business and Psychology, 2017; DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10869-017-9489-6