The economics of good looks.
The line of beauty.
Pretty people still get the best deals in the market, from labour to love.
Physically attractive women and men earn more than average-looking ones, and very plain people earn less. In the labour market as a whole, looks have a bigger impact on earnings than education.
Good-looking people are generally happier than their plain looking or unattractive counterparts, largely because of the higher salaries, other economic benefits and more successful spouses that come with beauty, according to new research from economists at The University of Texas at Austin.
"Personal beauty raises happiness," says Hamermesh.
In previous research, Hamermesh has established that better-looking people generally earn more money and marry better-looking and higher earning spouses than others. His upcoming work, Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People are More Successful, will be released this summer by Princeton University Press.
The current study suggests these indirect, economic benefits account for at least half of the additional happiness that good-looking people report. Beauty affects women's happiness more directly than men's.
Beauty is naturally rewarded in jobs where physical attractiveness would seem to matter, such as prostitution, entertainment, customer service and so on. But it also yields rewards in unexpected fields. Not everything comes easier: good-looking women seeking high-flying jobs in particularly male fields may have to work twice as hard to prove their competence and commitment. But the importance of beauty in the labour market is far more pervasive than one might think.
Daniel Hamermesh, an economist at the University of Texas, reckons that, over a lifetime and assuming today’s mean wages, a handsome worker in America might on average make $230,000 more than a very plain one. There is evidence that attractive workers bring in more business, so it often makes sense for firms to hire them.
In examining the case for legal protection for the ugly, Mr Hamermesh relies to a degree on the work of Deborah Rhode, a law professor at Stanford University and author of “The Beauty Prejudice”. Ms Rhode clearly struggles to see why any woman would willingly embrace fashion (particularly high heels). She is outraged that virtually all females consider their looks as key to their self-image. She cites a survey in which over half of young women said they would prefer to be hit by a truck than be fat. Her indignation is mostly moral. Billions of dollars are now spent on cosmetic surgery—up to 90% of it by women—at a time when almost a fifth of Americans lack basic health care. The more women focus on improving their looks, Ms Rhode argues, the less they think about others.
Discriminating against people on the grounds of personal appearance should be banned, she says. It limits a person’s right to equal opportunity, reinforces the subordination of groups where unappealing characteristics, including obesity, are concentrated (ie, the poor, some ethnic minorities), and restricts self-expression. Yet because ugliness is harder to define than race or sex, some argue that anti-discrimination laws are impossible to maintain.
Men too, having lost their monopoly of well-paid jobs, are investing in their erotic capital to enhance their appeal to mates and employers. They are marching off to gyms and discovering face cream in record numbers.
from the print edition
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