Soccer and Status

A new paper by Feng Chi and Nathan Yang asks a seemingly simple question: “Is there actually a link between (subjective) social status and wealth?” During the 2010 World Cup, the social networking site BeautifulPeople.com asked users to rate the attractiveness of all players in the tournament, a measure which Chi and Yang use as a proxy for social status. The authors find that “we are able to see that GDP per capita has a significant and positive effect on a country’s social status, even after controlling for the country’s FIFA ranking, level of income inequality and number of internet users.” The authors also found status effects for winning and losing World Cup matches. Yang is hoping for insightful comments and criticism from Freakonomics readers, so fire away in the comments section. [%comments]

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  1. Jacib says:

    How can attractiveness possibly be a proxy for social status? Especially once one considers individual ethnic preferences for attractiveness. If the study were redone where the majority of the attractiveness-raters were, say, Sub-Saharan African instead of North American-European, would the results still hold true?

    Also, someone like Bill Gates has a huge amount social status without the corresponding conventional beauty. Brazilians are, for example, famed for their attractiveness while American Midwesterners are not as well known for their physical beautiful. Does this imply that Brazilians have a higher social status than my beloved Midwesterners?

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  2. B. Boyle says:

    Very nice work. I was surprised to see such a connection. Well done!

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  3. martin says:

    Interesting
    I wrote an article a couple of years ago, where i show a statistical relashion between phisical appearance, intelligence and wages
    I think Yang’s result has to do with this, more than social status.

    here is the link
    http://www.aaep.org.ar/espa/anales/works06/TetazMartin.pdf

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  4. David says:

    As a Chicagoan, I must agree with Jacib’s remarks about the deficiencies of ‘attractiveness’ as a proxy for ‘social status.’

    Further, a staple of statistical analyses is that one must not confuse causation with correlation, something the authors seem to have done in concluding that ‘GDP per capita has a significant and positive effect on a country’s social status.’

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  5. dormilon says:

    Just to clarify: This means that there exists a positive correlation between the perceived attractiveness a given country’s soccer players and that country’s per capita GDP.

    There’s something fishy about the subset of individuals chosen for this study. America’s soccer players bare no semblance to, nor are representative of, Americans in general. In fact, I wonder if anyone has compared a national team’s attractiveness to a random sample taken from its home country. What does that correlation look like?

    Something tells me that the disparity is much greater for wealthier nations than poorer ones.

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  6. KevinH says:

    At first I didn’t like the beauty as social status, but now I think it’s decent. It would be nice to add in some additional measures to round out the findings.

    The biggest criticism I have is the classic with correlation: what’s the direction of causation?

    I could easily see that improved access to nutrition and health services for pregnant women and young children to have a huge effect on attractiveness of adults, and should correlate with GDP pretty tightly. That type of attractiveness seems to me to be separate from the decent idea that an ethnic groups perceived attractiveness is a proxy for their general level of social status as a group.

    Even if you were able to partial out nutrition and health care, it would be a mighty tough sell to posit that people a) knew the GDP of a country with more accuracy than the highly correlated nutrition/health-care stats, and b) people could discern national/ethnic origin with that level of accuracy. Both would be required for the whole story to be airtight.

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  7. Dan says:

    I have to agree with the study. Although it is a subjective question, I remember hearing about results from a study that there is a link between between physical beauty and athleticism, and consequently, success.

    Through studying faces, researchers found that, typically, players (or probably more politically correct, athletes) with facial structures that are congruent (rather than one a little different than the other) were not only found to be more attractive, but also more coordinated. Furthermore, we are all familiar with the link between physical beauty and the likelihood of being promoted in the business setting. I’m not saying it’s EVERY time, I’m just sayin…

    …also, some chicks dig nerds (got your back Gates, your the man). AND
    …a poor Brazilian is probably as attractive as a poor Midwestern farmer.

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  8. KevinH says:

    oh, thought of a clever manipulation to augment some of the nutrition/health-care issue I mentioned in my last post.

    Presumably, such biological rather than social effects of attractiveness that I mentioned earlier (nutrition, health-care) should have physical manifestations. One such physical manifestation that we know has a decent effect on perceived attractiveness is facial and body symmetry, with more symmetrical people being more attractive.

    So, force all the faces shown in the rankings to be perfectly symmetrical. What you should get is something like a member of that ethnic group that maxes out their potential attractiveness. In theory, if you took away the biological reasons for differing attractiveness, you’d be left with just the social ones.. While I wouldn’t be 100% sold, it would at least be a stab at correcting for developmental issues.

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