Pulchronomics is the study of the financial and career advantages of ‘looking good’ – and the researchers agree those advantages are significant.
As human resources professionals around the globe continually research the latest competitive advantages, increasingly entering the zeitgeist
– the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time
– is ‘pulchronomics’: the economic study of beauty (pulchritude) from the Latin for beauty pulchritudito.
In the US, when the Huffington Post asked its readers ‘To what extent do good looks matter in the workplace?’ and ‘What physical characteristics are most rewarded?’ the bible of trendy topics declared bluntly: ‘You might be amazed by the answers.’
Among a wide series of examples, author Martha Laham noted:
- Research by prominent labour economist Daniel Hamermesh (see accompanying box ‘Why Attractive People Are More Successful’) showed attractive workers, during their lifetime, earn US$230,000 more than those with average looks (based on an average wage of US$20 per hour) and for men that figure rises to US$250,000 – explained by evidence showing attractive workers attract more business (so it makes good sense to hire them).
- Another study reported people rated ‘low’ in physical attractiveness earned 5-10% less than ‘average-looking’ people, who in turn earned 3-8% less than ‘good-looking’’ people, according to CNN.com.
- Similarly on the sporting field, ‘homely NFL quarterbacks earn less than their comelier counterparts, despite identical yards passed and years in the league’ according to The Economist.
Beauty Path To Happiness – Via Money
When Time Magazine examined Daniel Hamermesh’s landmark research into ‘pulchronomics’ it began with the headline: ‘Why are Beautiful People Happier? Mainly Because Good Looks Help Them Get Rich’.
The magazine summed up: ‘Beauty is the path to happiness – by way of money.’
The report noted: ‘A new series of studies shows that attractive people earn more money and marry better- looking spouses, and that the economic benefits of being good looking make them happier than their homely counterparts.’
Time reported researchers found ‘a big reason’ why beautiful people are happier ‘is that they have more money’ and quoted Hamermesh telling USA Today: ‘Personal beauty raises happiness. The majority of beauty’s affect on happiness works through its impact on economic outcomes.’
Why Attractive People Are More Successful
The term ‘pulchronomics’ was initially popularised by the University of Texas labour economist Daniel Hamermesh, who spent a career studying the economics of physical attractiveness and how it affected employability and earning potential.
In his landmark book ‘Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful’ Hamermesh described numerous empirical studies to demonstrate that physically attractive people enjoy advantages over average-looking people in terms of both employment and earnings.
Extrapolating from data collected as far back as the 1970s, and factoring in 12 other categories (education, age, race, marital status, etc) he summarised that below-average- looking males earned 17% less than those considered good-looking, while below-average-looking females earned 12% less than their attractive counterparts.
In assessing the relationship between beauty, self-esteem and earning power, Hamermesh considered the question: ‘Do good looks make people more con dent and thus more desirable, boosting their wages?’ He noted a Canadian study showed a correlation between looks and self-esteem.
Among numerous individual studies across many levels of society, Hamermesh included:
• A study of over 400 Canadian economics professors where students rated them with ‘hotness’ chili peppers signifying physical attractiveness on ratemyprofessors.com – and those considered ‘hot’ earned at least 6% more than their otherwise identical
• A US study found NFL quarterbacks with good-looking facial features earned 12% more than their less attractive but equally skilled colleagues;
• A British study of a Dutch TV game show found unattractive team members were consistently voted off, even though they were just as good at answering questions.
In summary Hamermesh concluded beautiful people not only earn more income than unattractive people, but society significantly favours them.
Specifically, better-looking people are more likely to become employed, receive substantially higher pay, negotiate better loans, and attract beautiful and better educated spouses.
Looks Affect Your Work, Career, Life
Similarly a Newsweek Magazine analysis of ‘The Beauty Advantage’ examined ‘how looks affect your work, your career, your life’.
The detailed investigation concluded that, in western society we have reached the stage were ‘it’s no secret we are a culture consumed by image. Economists have long recognised what’s been dubbed the ‘beauty premium’ – the idea that pretty people, whatever their aspirations, tend to do better in, well, almost everything’.
It noted research studies confirming:
- handsome men earned, on average, 5% more than less attractive counterparts and good-looking women earned 4 % more;
- pretty people get more attention from teachers, bosses and mentors;
- even babies stare longer at good- looking faces (and we stare longer at good-looking babies).
The magazine commented bluntly: ‘A couple of decades ago – when it was a makeup-less Kate Moss, not a plastic-surgery-plumped Paris Hilton, who was considered the beauty ideal – we might have brushed off those statistics as superficial.’
But since 2010, when ‘Heidi Montag’s bloated lips plastered every magazine in town, when little girls lust after an airbrushed, unattainable body ideal, there’s a growing bundle of research to show that our bias against the unattractive (a book by Stanford University law professor Deborah Rhode brands it our ‘Beauty Bias – see accompanying box ‘Discrimination On The Basis of Looks’) is more pervasive than ever. And when it comes to the workplace, it’s looks, not merit, that all too often rule.’
As a result, 13% of women according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and 10% of men according to a Newsweek survey, said ‘they’d consider cosmetic surgery if it made them more competitive at work’.
The magazine added that ‘in the current economy, when employers have more hiring options than ever, looks, it seems, aren’t just important; they’re critical.’
To that end, Newsweek surveyed 202 corporate hiring managers, from human resources staff to senior-level vice presidents, as well as a thousand members of the public ‘only to confirm what no qualified (or unqualified) employee wants to admit: from hiring to office politics to promotions, looking good is no longer something we can dismiss as frivolous or vain’.
Among hiring managers, 57% said qualified but unattractive candidates ‘are likely to have a harder time landing a job’, while more than half advised ‘spending as much time and money on making sure they look attractive as on perfecting a resume’.
And ‘when it comes to women, flaunting your assets works: 61% of managers (the majority of them men) said it would be an advantage for a woman to wear clothing showing off her figure at work’.
Asked to rank employee attributes in order of importance, managers placed ‘looks’ above ‘education’ – indeed among nine character traits, ‘looks’ came third (after only ‘experience’ and ‘confidence’) and above where a candidate went to school/college.
One female New York recruiter commented: ‘This is the new reality of the job market. It’s better to be average and good-looking, than brilliant and unattractive.’
Beauty Has ‘More Influence Than Ever’
Newsweek concluded that ‘a confluence of cultural forces has left us clutching, desperately, to an ever- evolving beauty ideal.
‘Today’s young workers were reared on the kind of reality TV and pop culture that screams, again and again, that everything is a candidate for upgrade.
‘We’ve watched bodies transformed on Extreme Makeover, faces taken apart and pieced back together on I Want A Famous Face. We compare ourselves with the airbrushed images in advertisements and magazines, and read surveys that confirm our worst fears.
‘We are a culture more sexualised than ever with technology that’s made it easier than ever to ‘better’ ourselves, warping our standards for what’s normal. Where that leads us is ‘running-to-stand-still’: taught that good looks are no longer a gift but a ceaseless pursuit.’
Harvard University psychologist Nancy Etco commented: ‘All of this is happening against a backdrop of more women in the workplace, in all kinds of jobs, striving toward wage equality. So we’re surprised – but we shouldn’t be – how this beauty curse continues to haunt us.’
Finally to add an extra layer of complexity, there’s the conundrum of ageing in a culture where younger workers are more tech-savvy, cheaper and ‘nicer on the eyes’.
In the Newsweek survey, 84% of managers said a qualified but visibly older candidate ‘would make some employers hesitate’ – particularly for women.
Newsweek author Jessica Bennett summed up: ‘The quest for beauty may be a centuries-old obsession, but in the present day the reality is ugly. Beauty has more influence than ever – not just over who we work with, but whether we work at all.’
7 Ways Looks Affect Your Wealth
In an overview of pulchronomics for vox.com, Danielle Kurtzleben assessed ‘seven ways your looks affect your economic well-being’.
She summed up: ‘Being pretty already has all sorts of benefits, but it’s not just the joy of having gorgeous cheekbones or finding super-attractive people to mate with. Having it going on also means a fatter bank account and better career prospects.’
Beginning with ‘Bigger Lifetime Earnings’, Kurtzleben notes both Daniel Hamermesh’s research (above) as well as another study from the University of Wisconsin which confirmed ‘strong correlation between looks and earning among men’.
However she also reports other research from the University of Miami which ‘suggests grooming and personality account for some of the beauty premium, not just facial attractiveness’.
Under the heading ‘Better Performance In The Corner Office’, Kurtzleben reported an attractive CEO ‘makes a company a more attractive investment’ citing as confirmation a study on ‘beauty and earnings’ complied by The Atlantic Magazine.
In addition, research from the University of Wisconsin found CEOs ‘with more attractive faces tended to have better stock market performance in their first days on the job and also after merger and acquisitions’. Not only that, but those CEOs’ company stocks performed better after the CEOs appeared on TV, ‘an effect that did not repeat when the CEOs’ quotes appeared in newspapers, further convincing researchers that the effect was due to looks’.
Under the heading ‘A ‘Meh’ Attitude Toward Inequality’, Kurtzleben reported a vox.com study which found people who consider themselves more attractive ‘also tend to both think inequality is less of a problem and care less about remedying it’. Instead, people who think they are prettier ‘tend to believe more in the idea that people can pull themselves up by their bootstraps and less in the idea that some groups, like women and minorities, are systematically paid less’.
Under the heading ‘A Lower Likelihood Of Being Behind Bars’, Kurtzleben reported that ‘the prettier the person, the less likely they are to resort to a life of crime’. She noted a study which examined pre-labour market (high school) looks and found people who were more attractive in their youth ‘were less likely to commit all sorts of crimes several years after high school’.
Under the heading ‘A Premium For Skinny People’, Kurtzleben reported that several studies have shown obesity hurts people’s earnings, particularly women’s earnings.
However she noted ‘it may not just be obesity that hurts; even having a few extra pounds can be bad for women, and particularly white women’. One study found that earnings ‘fall off as women’s body mass indexes go beyond 23 – which falls within a normal weight range’. For men, it was higher, at around 27.
The ‘Prettiness Penalty’
There are times when ‘being too attractive could work against you in the workplace,’ reported the Huffington Post.
Noting the role of ‘a gender divide’, the publication said that while ‘very good-looking men invariably make out in salary and hiring’, a study in Science Daily showed that ‘highly attractive women face hiring discrimination when applying for male- dominated professions’.
Elsewhere researchers in a Rice University study found higher expectations tend to be set for beautiful people and, if they fail to meet expectations, they are ostracised in the workplace.
However a Smithsonian Magazine report noted the reverse is true of less attractive people – because less is expected of them, if they exceed expectations they’re rewarded.[/one_fourth][three_fourth_last]
Are Height, Weight, Hair Colour Important?
Numerous studies over the past decade have attempted to quantify the financial influence of key appearance factors such as height, weight and hair colour.
On height, the Huffington Post summed up bluntly: ‘If you’re tall, chances are that you could be getting paid more than your shorter cohorts.’ One study revealed every inch of height equaled a salary increase of about US$789 per year. Based on this figure ‘a 6-foot tall (182.88cm) person earns US$5,525 more annually, compared to a person who stands at 5 feet 6 inches (167.64cm)’.
On weight, US law Professor Deborah Rhode (who has extensively studied appearance-based discrimination in the workplace) said about 60% of overweight women and 40% of overweight men claim they’ve experienced employment discrimination.
And Forbes magazine reported research showing heavy women earn US$8,666 less annually, and heavy men US$4,772 less annually, than their trimmer colleagues.
The Huffington Post also reported a study where participants were shown resumes and photographs of a group of job applicants, and then asked to ‘score the applicants on the basis of their job suitability, starting salary and employability’.
But the participants were not told the photos were of the same person before and after bariatric weight loss surgery. To a ‘significant degree, the thinner candidates were selected for the job and assigned higher starting salaries’.
On hair colour, Forbes magazine reported a study which found blondes get paid 7% more than female workers wearing another hair colour – and the ‘boost in pay is equal to the pay bump that a worker would realise from an extra year of education’.
On general fitness, Time magazine reported a study which found workers who exercise routinely earn 9% more than their sedentary peers. And workers who exercise three or more times a week ‘can beef up their weekly pay by US$80, compared to their deskbound’ colleagues. Even weekend warriors made slightly more than 5% in additional pay.[/three_fourth_last]
CEO ‘Pulchronomics’ And Appearance Discrimination
Given the importance of Chief Executive officers in wealth creation and corporate profitability, one US study assessed CEO pulchronomics by examining:
• firstly ‘whether a beauty premium exists in CEO compensation’; and
• then ‘whether CEO pulchritude has any effect on productivity’.
The study, by researchers from both Rutgers State University of New Jersey and the University of Cincinnati, identified three CEO tasks (accounting, operations, and corporate social responsibility) which require ‘a true skill uncorrelated with physical attractiveness’.
And they measured CEO pulchritude ‘via the AnaFace facial beauty analysis, which uses facial symmetry, facial structure and the golden ratio to calculate a person’s beauty’ – noting this symmetry-based methodology ‘is well supported by research in evolutionary biology and computer science’.
The researchers found attractive CEOs earn higher salaries (but not incentives) than unattractive CEOs.
Nevertheless CEO pulchritude ‘bears no effect on firms’ accounting, operating and social performance’.
They concluded that since the CEO beauty premium ‘is not supported by the superior productivity of those attractive CEOs, we provide evidence that appearance discrimination in CEO compensation may not be justified’.
Discrimination on the Basis of Looks
In her provocative book ‘The Beauty Bias’, Stanford University law Professor Deborah Rhode lays out the case for an America in which appearance discrimination is no longer allowed.
Instead Rhode ‘proposes a legal regime in which discrimination on the basis of looks is as serious as discrimination based on gender or race’.
Newsweek Magazine commented that means:
Rhode argues that in America discrimination against unattractive women and short men ‘is as pernicious and widespread as bias based on race, sex, age, ethnicity, religion and disability’. She cites research finding:
On the political stage, Rhode reminded Newsweek readers how Hillary Clinton and Sonia Sotomayor were savaged by the media for their looks, and said it’s ‘no surprise that Sarah Palin paid her makeup artist more than any member of her staff ’ in her run for the US Vice Presidency.
As Newsweek itself commented: ‘You can’t succeed in public life if you look old in America’ – noting that (at that time) ‘of the 16 women in the US Senate between ages 46 and 74, not one has grey hair.’ AMP