Make us your home page
Instagram

Good looks can play a role in pay

It may not be fair, but it's not illegal. It's reality, according to a new book by a University of Texas economics professor who contends that good-looking folks earn higher wages, get better jobs and have more success in the workplace.

That translates into an extra $230,000 in lifetime earnings for an average-looking employee, compared with one who is below average on the attractiveness scale, according to Daniel Hamermesh, author of Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful. Typical characteristics that determine wages such as education, race and type of job were factored out, leaving good looks — or the lack thereof — as the driving influence.

Companies benefit, too, Hamermesh said, citing an advertising agency study that found better-looking employees sold more than at agencies whose employees weren't as comely.

Hamermesh, the Sue Killam Professor in the Foundations of Economics at UT, has been interested in the economics of beauty for several years. He explained, in dollars and cents, what many have already assumed.

"It's true," said Jamie Belinne, assistant dean for career services at the University of Houston's C.T. Bauer College of Business. In the years she's counseled students, Belinne has seen attractive graduates get more interviews and get better job offers, even if they weren't as good academically.

"Our beautiful people did very well," she said. "It almost became a bad joke."

The law doesn't ban discrimination against less attractive people. It does, however, protect against age or gender bias, so a legal complaint conceivably could link one of those protections to beauty.

When graduates apply for jobs in certain industries — ones such as investment banking, consulting and sales that put employees in front of clients — career counselors have learned to tell students how to make themselves more presentable.

In some cases, that means braces. Other times, a new haircut or a better-fitting suit is enough.

If you look like Brad Pitt .

When she was working for UT in Austin, Belinne recalled, she told one graduate to lose some weight and sent him to the gym for racquetball. (It worked; he got a job.)

Clients don't typically come right out and say it, said Mike Kahn, senior partner at the Lucas Group search firm in Houston.

But he can't help but notice offices where everyone is good-looking or clients who gravitate toward job candidates who are attractive.

"If you look like Brad Pitt or Rick Perry, you will have a better chance," said Kahn, who specializes in placing candidates in human-resource positions.

For all the fashion and grooming advice Belinne offers, it's not a comfortable topic, even though it comes up often when counselors talk shop, she said.

The message is especially hard to deliver to those who have been laid off and haven't been focused on making a good impression, she said.

They may not feel very attractive, and that, in turn, affects self confidence.

The surprise? That the beauty/beast difference is bigger for men than it is for women, according to Hamermesh.

Good-looking men earn 17 percent more than men who are less than hunky. For women, the difference in wages is only 13 percent.

Poise, humor, creativity

So who is attractive? There is a surprising amount of agreement, according to the research.

When people are asked to rate the attractiveness of photographs on a five-point scale, there was general consensus on where people were on the spectrum, says Hamermesh, who describes himself as a three on the five-point scale.

So what can you do if you're not model beautiful or movie-actor handsome?

Focus on what you've got, Hamermesh said. If you're intelligent, take advantage of that. The same with humor or creativity.

Even if you're one of the 1 percent to 2 percent of the population considered homely, he said, radical plastic surgery is too expensive and too painful.

While there's no specific civil rights protection based on appearance, Hamermesh suggests it may be time to discuss whether the ugly among us need legal protections or special programs to give them a leg up in jobs or government contracts.

Or you can take Belinne's advice and update your hair and makeup.

"I've had people who look like a 4 in a photo, but when you meet them, they're a 7 or 8," she said, using the more common bubba-to-hubba-hubba scale of 1 to 10. "It's a matter of confidence."

Good looks can play a role in pay 10/10/11 [Last modified: Monday, October 10, 2011 11:12am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Houston Chronicle.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Treasury secretary's wife boasts of travel on government plane, touts high fashion

    National

    U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's wife, Louise Linton, boasted of flying on a government plane with her husband to Kentucky on Monday and then named the numerous fashion brands she wore on the trip in an unusual social media post that only became more bizarre minutes later.

    Steven Mnuchin and his then- financee Louise Linton watch as President Donald Trump speaks during Mnuchin's swearing-in ceremony as  treasury secretary in the Oval Office of the White House on Feb. 13. [Mandel Ngan | AFP via Getty Images]
  2. Ford, Chinese partner look at possible electric car venture

    Autos

    BEIJING — Ford Motor Co. and a Chinese automaker said Tuesday they are looking into setting up a joint venture to develop and manufacture electric cars in China.

  3. Judge throws out $458,000 condo sale, says Clearwater attorney tricked bidders

    Real Estate

    CLEARWATER — Pinellas County Circuit Judge Jack St. Arnold on Monday threw out the $458,100 sale of a gulf-front condo because of what he called an "unscrupulous" and "conniving" scheme to trick bidders at a foreclosure auction.

    John Houde, left, whose Orlando copany was the high  bidder June 8 at the foreclosure auction of a Redington Beach condo, looks in the direction of Clearwater lawyer and real estate investor Roy C. Skelton, foreground,  during a hearing Monday before Pinellas County Circuit Judge Jack St. Arnold.  [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times ]
  4. Pasco EDC names business incubator head in Dade City, will open second site

    Business

    Pasco County economic development officials are busy reigniting their business start-up resources following the departure earlier this year of Krista Covey, who ran the Pasco Economic Development Council's SMARTStart business incubator in Dade City.

    Andrew Romaner was promoted this summer to serve as program director of the Dade City SMARTStart Entrepreneur Center, a start-up incubator service of the Pasco Economic Development Council. He succeeds Krista Covey, who relocated to Texas for another startup position. [Courtesy of Pasco EDC]
  5. Proposed Tampa tax increase prompts second thoughts about Riverfront Park spending

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park has a $35.5 million price tag with something for everyone, including a rowers' boathouse, a sheltered cove for beginning paddlers, an event lawn, a community center with sweeping views of downtown and all kinds of athletic courts — even pickleball! — when it opens …

    Expect the $35.5 million redevelopment of Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park to be a big part of the discussion when the Tampa City Council discusses Mayor Bob Buckhorn's proposed budget and property tax increase this Thursday. LUIS SANTANA   |   Times