A new study questions how we should think about the benefits attractive people enjoy at work. Being drop dead gorgeous like Sharon Stone isn’t necessarily a good thing in a job interview.
Many people assume that being attractive is always a benefit. But a new study suggests that the perks of beauty may only apply to certain jobs.
The wage premium that attractiveness provides only exists for jobs that require high amounts of interpersonal tasks, according to a recent working paperdistributed by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The study examined data and other information collected through a Berea Panel Study, a long-term project examining the outcomes for students who matriculated at Berea College in Kentucky in 2000 and 2001.
A one-standard-deviation increase in how attractive a worker is led to a 9.7% increase in wages for those working in jobs that demand high people skills, but no increase whatsoever for jobs that involve working with data.
Overall, a higher level of physical attractiveness was associated with a 7.8% uptick in wages. Meanwhile, a higher grade point average resulted in a wage increase of 5.3%. But, as with attractiveness, a higher GPA prompted a more pronounced wage boost for high-skilled jobs than for low-skilled ones.
“Our findings suggest that perhaps attractiveness should be viewed in the same way as other attributes that are widely accepted as having an influence on a worker’s productivity,” the researchers wrote. “These results provide some of the strongest existing evidence contradicting the hypothesis that employer discrimination is the primary source of the attractiveness premium.”
Attractiveness has its limits
The new NBER working paper falls in line with previous research that shows being pretty isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be in the workplace.
For instance, when it comes to applying for jobs that are perceived to be less desirable, attractive people are at a considerable disadvantage, according to a new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Hiring managers often believe attractive individuals “feel more entitled to good outcomes,” the researchers wrote.
The researchers conducted four experiments in a laboratory setting to gauge people’s perceptions regarding hiring.
This is what they found:
- 62% believed an attractive candidates was more likely to express dissatisfaction with a less desirable job
- 62% of participants also opted to hire the attractive candidate for a desirable job rather than the less appealing position
- Nearly 60% chose someone who is less attractive when selecting a candidate for the less desirable job
These findings contradict previous thinking on attractiveness, which generally attributed positive qualities to good-looking people.
The new study’s results also suggest that a job candidate’s ability isn’t the only thing hiring managers considered when filling an opening. They also take the interviewee’s interest in the job and will be motivated, especially given the time and money spent searching for candidates.
Why this form of discrimination could actually hurt pretty people
Researchers wrote that discrimination in this arena could have the “most pernicious” consequences because less desirable jobs constitute a significant share of the workforce.
In the study, less desirable jobs included warehouse laborer, housekeeper and customer service representative, while the more appealing positions included entry-level manager and IT intern. Previous research on attractiveness and hiring mainly focused on the latter set of jobs, researchers said, which contributed to the idea that pretty people are more likely to get hired.
But these higher-prestige jobs are far less common. Nearly 50 million people, or more than a third of the country’s workforce, are employed in jobs related to office and administrative support, sales and food preparation, according to 2016 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Comparatively, fewer than 7 million people worked in management roles.
And attractive people may have little legal recourse if they think discrimination played a role in them not getting a job. Personal appearance isn’t protected under the list of federal equal opportunity rights, unless it’s tied to race, gender or age.
Previous research had uncovered other ways in which being attractive can backfire during the hiring process. A study by researchers at the University of Maryland found that job interviewers who would be directly working with the hired candidate gravitated toward unattractive applicants if they viewed them as a potential competitor.
As with hiring, assumptions of how much money people make based on their appearance could also be misguided. Economist Daniel Hamermesh found that attractive people are more likely to earn between 3% and 4% more than people who aren’t as good looking, which equates to roughly $230,000 over a lifetime.
But a study published in February 2017 by the Journal of Business and Psychology discovered that workers who aren’t attractive “have extremely high earnings and earn more than physically more attractive workers.”