17 March 2017

Salary vs. Looks

Wage structure modified
from www.slideshare.net
Welcome back. You know, of course, that attractive people get paid more than unattractive people, right? I mean, they proved that years ago. There have been studies, even a book about it.

Oops. It’s not fake news, but it is wrong. Researchers from the London School of Economics and Political Science and the University of Massachusetts recently found there’s more to it than simply a premium for beauty or penalty for ugliness.

Data Source: "Add Health"
The researchers tested for an effect of physical attractiveness on earnings using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health).

Add Health has followed a large nationally representative sample of Americans from 1994-95, average age 16, through 2008, average age 29, conducting four in-home interviews over the years. (A fifth is underway.) The survey data includes social, economic, psychological and physical well-being along with background data on family, neighborhood, community, school, friendships, peer groups and romantic relationships.

The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health research design. (www.cpc.unc.edu/projects/addhealth/design)
Among the Add Health data relevant for the researchers’ study were: interviewers’ ratings of the participants’ physical attractiveness on a five-point scale; participants’ gross annual earnings at age 29, occupations, self-ratings of health on a five-point scale at each age and height at age 29; measures of intelligence at different ages; and measures of the Big Five personality traits (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism).

In an effort to control for demographic and socioeconomic factors, the researchers also incorporated participants’ gender, race, education, childhood gross family income at 16 and parents’ education.

Attractiveness Effect 

There are three general explanations for ways earnings could be affected by physical attractiveness--discrimination, self-selection and individual differences.

Less attractive individuals might be paid less because of discrimination by employers, coworkers or clients. The researchers ruled that out, finding the association between attractiveness and earnings did not vary uniformly as would be expected with discrimination. For example, very unattractive participants always earned significantly more than unattractive participants and sometimes more than average-looking or attractive participants.

While it’s conceivable that individuals of various levels of attractiveness sort themselves into occupations that offer different levels of earnings, the researchers found no evidence of occupational self-selection by attractiveness, at least measured by earnings at 29.

Testing if earnings varied because of individual differences, the researchers did find very weak evidence for the beauty premium. But when the individual differences of health, intelligence and personality traits were incorporated, the beauty premium disappeared.

They concluded that it was misleading to attach earnings to a beauty premium or ugliness penalty instead of to the underlying individual health, intelligence and personality differences that increase productivity and affect earnings.

Wrap Up
The researchers posit that earlier findings of a beauty premium and ugliness penalty might be attributable to two factors. First, very unattractive and unattractive workers were often combined into a single below average attractiveness category. Second, earlier studies may not have statistically controlled for health, intelligence (as opposed to education) and the Big Five personality traits.

If you still have doubt, just remember that you can’t judge a book--or the price of a book--by its cover. Thanks for stopping by.

Research study in Journal of Business and Psychology: link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10869-017-9489-6
Article on study on ScienceDaily website: www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/02/170216094503.htm
Earlier book and example studies on beauty premium:
National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent to Adult Health:

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