From Beauty Pays: Why it's Better to be a Beautiful Woman and Worse to be an Ugly Man

This week, we’re soliciting your questions for Dan Hamermesh about his new book, Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful. To stir up some ideas and discussion, here are a couple tables from the book illustrating how perceived beauty breaks down along gender, and also the income premium attractive people enjoy over their average-looking counterparts.


This table shows a typical distribution of ratings of individuals’ looks. Notice that more people are rated as good- than as bad-looking, and that there is more dispersion in women’s beauty than in men’s.


This table summarizes the earnings advantages of good-looking and disadvantages of bad-looking workers as compared to the roughly 50 percent of workers whose looks are rated as average.  Notice that the effects are bigger for men than for women,which has subsequently been observed in many studies.


I've long said that the most advantaged group in the world is attractive American women. I'd like to see unemployment stats on this group, I suspect that its below 2%. I really don't see how any woman who is a 9 or 10 on the looks scale can be unable to find reasonable work of some kind.

I'd say that the worst case scenario for then would be waiting tables or something, whereas for an unattractive man the worst case is permanent unemployment or something like commercial fishing or garbage collector, etc., and even then they'd still be lucky to get the job.


Well then I must have dated the exception that proves the rule


@rational: An interesting additional point is that while attractive women are the most likely to be employed should they so desire, a woman who is 9 or 10 can probably find a well-to-do man to provide for her every need.


or both. and an attractive woman can usually find an....expedited route through secondary and higher education, as well. trust me. seen it. I'm not even talking about "sleeping your way to the top"; an attractive woman can easily find a host of male study partners or free tutors that would get together with her just for the chance that it might turn into a romantic situation. this would facilitate less study time and better grades (and I won't really touch on potential for cheating or other shortcuts). couple that with the fact that an attractive woman will generally have her way paid on dates or other social situations, and you have a lowered financial burden on attractive female students directly translating to less time spent working part time during school and generally contributing to a more rested, productive state. and attractiveness is relative. even a 2 (on the above scale) can make this work pretty well in a STEM curriculum



All you have to do is watch the "experts" that are paraded onto morning news shows. Why, you'd think that all the experts, psychologists, and so forth, are models in their spare time!

At the same time, I do acknowledge that there is more than a hint of jealousy in my take on matters. I don't know that it's any worse to use your looks to get ahead than it is to use your brains, your network connections, your alma mater, your college football allegiances, or what have you.

That is, why should a beautiful person NOT exploit every advantage they have? Moreover, many of these very beautiful people are also quite intelligent.

Me? I'm looking for that job where old, fat, bald guys are in demand. Or maybe I'll move to one of those south Pacific societies where fat men are considered gods. YEAH!


In response to Matthew we could be looking at an inherent bias in the stats here. If it is true that the most attractive women can find a well-to-do man, than women who place on the 9 to 10 would only work if they are compensated well due the availability of a substitute - staying home (they need a "beautiful" premium). Thus, the "beautiful" women category may be top heavy because all of the "beautiful" women who aren't qualified simply choose to stay home. That is not to say that there isn't a "beautiful" bias, in fact this speaks to the point that beautiful people may have an advantage - a higher reservation wage.


As always we have to be careful not to mistake correlation for causation. Intelligent people living in a meritocracy do, and should, enjoy above average financial success regardless of their looks. This success perhaps provides them with the opportunity to choose a better-than-average looking spouse, with whom they will produce better-than-average looking , and intelligent children, who will in turn earn a higher income. In this case, it is Darwinian natural selection that causes the correlation you observe, and not some form of "appearance discrimination" among employers.


what about environmental/income factors associated with attractiveness, such as teeth, weight, skin?

John B


Much of what often considered (or pushed by the media) as beauty or good looks is a "style" or "look" popular among the more affluent.

So it becomes self-perpetuating.

Yefan C.

Beauty is a funny thing - and as I've heard, isn't it in the eyes of the beholder? If Mr. Hamermesh is still taking questions, I'd like to know how accurate he believes the ratings on 'beauty' are, and what accounts for it - general opinion or the golden ratio? What about age and race discrepancies between raters and ratees?


I would like to know how accurate are we when it comes to judging our own looks? Are we usually on par with with others think of us? Are men or women better at it?


Although the increase in earning potential could be due to the increased availability of volunteer tutors and ability to sleep-to-the-top, as some commentors have suggested, the advantage may also be more indirectly derived. Attractive people (both men and women) are generally treated differently. Elders fawn over the beautiful babies, classmates smile at them more frequently, sales clerks are more willing help or hold doors, etc and that treatment probably helps build ones confidence. It conveys the sense that even if that attractive person walks solo into a party, even all the other attendees are strangers and even if s/he seemingly has nothing in common with least one or two people will probably still sidel up and make welcoming conversation--if only b/c of his/her appearance. That general "social safety net" maybe allows attractive people to be more comfortable in interviews and will peers, and encourages them to take more risks in their meetings and network higher up in the hierarchy than they might otherwise. The point is, confidence has to, in my opinion at least, play a role in the equation somewhere



well, any consideration given to plastic surgery? If so, then one's motivation for self improvement, be it looks, social skills or technical knowledge will play a significant role?


This study will be wrong in my eyes until it takes into account WEALTH not income. Probably need to look at wealth after a certain age, too. My guess is the wealth of women are as dramatically affected by their attractiveness (probably more so) then men.


The truth is men are more homely than women. Women are less homely and more sexually adventurous because they're made to be that way. And if a guy is attractive, he'll have a high paying job than an unattractive guy but will never get much attention from those around him because he's not supposed to. Men need to work hard to look attractive but they'll always be less attractive than women. And also men get wrinkles faster than women as they age. Even older women can still look attractive compared to older men.