Are Good Looks an Advantage or a Disadvantage at Work?

A lot of attractive people complain that people assume things about them without getting to know them. It’s assumed that they’re unintelligent, superficial, and even arrogant.

You’ve been given the gift of physical attractiveness, which has to mean you’re lacking in other areas. In the social world, you’re just the pretty boy or girl.

But does that perception carry over into the professional world? Is there a bias against people who are good-looking?


Green Without Envy
Economists Markus Mobius of Harvard University and Tanya Rosenblat of Wesleyan University did a study to see how looks affected the hiring process. They divided participants into five groups:

  • Two of the groups never saw a photo of the candidate or the candidates themselves
  • The other three either saw the candidate’s photograph or in-person.

The groups who saw the candidates were much more likely to hire the more attractive candidate, even though the less attractive candidate was just as qualified.

These employers predicted that the attractive candidates would be more productive, and would be rewarded for it with higher pay.

Even Greener Pastures
Daniel Hamermesh, an economist at the University of Texas, is one of the world’s foremost authorities on the economics of beauty. Dr. Hamermesh has focused on how beauty effects financial success in the workplace.

His research confirms the results of the study we just referenced – that beauty gains an advantage because the doors of opportunity open more frequently. So they make connections, learn skills, and grow professionally. Then they’re able to leverage that first opportunity into many more opportunities, which results in even higher pay.

He also offers little hope for the unattractive. His research has shown that spending money on things to enhance your looks is a waste. You’ll only get back about 15 cents in pay for ever dollar you spend.

Our bigg quote today is by an unknown author:

“We could learn a lot from crayons; some are sharp, some are pretty,
some are dull, while others bright, some have weird names,
but they all have learned to live together in the same box.”

The more colors you have, the more colorful your world can be.

Questions for you

Socially, we often hear pretty people complain that they’re discriminated against. But research seems to show that it works to their favor in the workplace.

From your experiences, do you think good looks are an advantage or a disadvantage?

Is there a difference between men and women? Are good looks more important in the workplace for men or for women?

How about age? Is this something you think affects young people more than older workers or vice versa?

What do you think of Dr. Hamermesh’s finding that it doesn’t pay to try to package yourself better? Do you think it makes a difference?

Share your thoughts by leaving a Comment.

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(Image by svilen001)

7 replies
  1. Matt
    Matt says:

    They say it pays to hire people smarter than you, so maybe it also pays to hire people who are prettier than you!

  2. Julie
    Julie says:

    I take issue with the results of Daniel Hamermesh and his research results that show “spending money on things to enhance your looks is a waste.” I’d hate to see how it would effect my income if I didn’t spend money to groom myself and purchase professional clothing! I’d say I get my money’s worth out of my efforts.

  3. Stephen Hopson
    Stephen Hopson says:

    This is an excellent question because I’ve often wondered about the answer to that question myself.

    Look at Obama – he’s very good looking, hip and articulate. He made a huge leap in a few short years to the national political stage. If he was less attractive, would he have made the leap?

    Hard to tell but it seems that men and women at the top, for the most part, are good looking.

    Very interesting question! BTW, this is not to say that the workplace is full of good looking people. There are people who might not be considered in such light but then it’s all a matter of perception, isn’t it?

    Thanks for letting me share.

  4. George and Mary-Lynn
    George and Mary-Lynn says:

    @Matt – You may have uncovered a great strategy!

    @Julie – Interesting point. There’s a reason marketers spend money for “packaging” their products. So it’s hard to believe that it doesn’t make a difference when we do the same for ourselves!

    @Stephen – You handsome devil, you came up with the perfect example to illustrate the point! You said SEnator Obama is “good looking, hip and articulate”…would he be as attractive if he wasn’t articulate?

  5. Melanie
    Melanie says:

    I believe I was hired over my competition because I am attractive, which they called “personality,” although I do believe I have a good personality too. That’s where it all stopped though. I feel that I am treated like I’m from the bottom of the barrel and get paid significantly less, although I am more qualified. Also, when raises come around, I get less of a raise than others. It’s not that my work performance is worse in relation to my income when compared to the others. Other people in our department assume that I am probably less intelligent or less experienced in our field. I’m often mistaken for temporary hired help. I have many academic and professional accolades. My entire life, I have been treated poorly by acquaintances, especially older women. I really believe they feel it’s their job to “balance it out” because I must have a great and easy life, I can only assume. When I was younger, sometimes I was called terrible things and always had rumors spread about me, when I was really probably the most boring person out of everyone. It’s only complete strangers who will go out of their way to help me. It is definitely a double edged sword.


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