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Two elephants in business suits

What is the Beauty Premium and Why It Means You Make Less Money

Two elephants in business suits

“My ideas at work always suck. Until my boss ‘comes up’ with them 6 months later.”

Is your boss dumber than a broken doorknob?

Do the top-brass in your company remind you of a neverending episode of The Three Stooges sometimes?

How many times has your jaw dropped on the table after a head honcho said yet another astonishingly moronic phrase?

Most of us have known these types of managers and executives — and always wondered how the hell they got in their positions.

  • Some people blame the Peter principle
  • Some think their co-workers slept their way up (and I don’t mean office naps)
  • Sprinkle in a heavy dose of occasional nepotism, and you have yourself an incompetent management team

But have you looked at it from another angle? I want you to think of some of these people you work with.

For instance, what do they look like?

Chances are — according to this meta-study — they’re probably either dominating in their tinder game, or they’re so hideous you wouldn’t condemn your greatest enemy to a one night stand with them.

What is the beauty premium?

Until this large study came around, it was thought there’s always been a ‘beauty premium’ and an ‘ugliness penalty’ when it comes to average earnings in a workforce.

And certainly, that sounds reasonable on the surface. Right?

  • Sex sells — just go to a car show and try to find an unattractive showperson.
  • Walk into your nearest high-end retail store — whether it’s watches, clothes, or designer goods — and try to play Where’s Waldo with unattractive salespeople. You’ll lose.
  • Abercrombie & Fitch even paid a $50 million settlement because of this (along with a proven ridiculous hiring preference for WASPS) — and are still allowed to use ‘attractiveness’ as a hiring qualification

Many studies proved this effect is a real occurrence. And many of them came up with some interesting observations.

For instance, all of the study’s participants (hot and not) were proven to be equally intelligent when tested using mazes and reward systems. And when mock hiring managers viewed their resumes — the results were the same.

But two things stood out:

  1. The attractive people uniquely estimated they would perform a lot better than they did on the tests.
  2. When they did mock interviews on a phone, their chances of being hired skyrocketed.
  3. In-person interviews showed a strong preference for assuming attractive people would make better workers — and with it their chances of being hired.

Why’s this?

Because they were far more confident than their peers and hiring managers experienced the halo effect when visually assessing potential employees.

They unconsciously thought the attractive participants would also be great workers — merely because their features were more aesthetically pleasing.

Attractive people are also generally more confident — which always helps in interviews — and pretty much any social interaction in existence.

What is the ugliness penalty?

On the opposite end of the hot-or-not spectrum, we have what the studies classify as ‘ugly’ people.

If you’re considered somewhat average on the chessboard of the dating game— your confidence, earnings, and career outcomes would also likely be considered average.

But if you’re considered unattractive — many of these studies have some bad news for you — you’re likelihood of getting a big raise might be reduced if you don’t show up to your yearly review with a new six-pack or chiseled figure.

Scientists call this the ‘ugliness penalty’.

Those same studies showed a marked difference if you’re not considered conventionally attractive depending on your cultural norms of beauty.


Less hot = less money

Again, most of the results were based on surface outcomes. They usually only guess at the reasons why these effects were seen.

Confidence was one of the causes, as has been measured repeatedly. But many of these studies didn’t look at other qualities of people, beyond only their perceived beauty.

…until this huge meta-study came out looking at over 15,000 participants.

Be really attractive or really ugly if you want to earn more money

Their study resulted in a few eye-opening conclusions that were different from the previous experiments.

  1. Attractive people do tend to make more money than their peers
  2. Very unattractive people earn far more money than all other people

Even more interestingly, they looked at other factors beyond just employees’ genetically crafted book covers.

They wanted to know more about the participants’ qualitative factors.

  • Were these people more intelligent?
  • Were they harder workers and more productive?
  • Were they healthier in general?

The results were unexpected.

The answers were a resounding ‘yes’ to all of the above — if the participant was attractive.

For the potentially hideous crowd — the study failed to provide an explanation and the researchers want to look into it more in the future.

Still, they were able to remove any effect from a possible beauty factor. That is, they claim it doesn’t really exist — unless you’re on the low-low end of conventional beauty.

But what were the qualities that beautiful people mostly seemed to have?

  1. Good health
  2. High intelligence (not education)
  3. The right mix of the Big Five personality factors

If you want to earn more money, improve in these areas

If this huge study is to be believed, then most of us non-Brad Pitts of the world can rejoice!

A lot of the factors they used to assess career earnings and employability aren’t set in stone. Let’s take a closer look at what they used to assess the participants.

Physical factors:

  1. Health — The general physical prowess and fitness level of an individual.
  2. Intelligence — Being able to acquire and apply knowledge and skills in a variety of situations.

Big Five personality traits (the positive side):

  1. Conscientiousness — A person that desires to perform well on a task, is studious and organized.
  2. Agreeableness — Someone who is usually seen as being warm, friendly, and optimistic.
  3. Neuroticism — A person that isn’t anxious, worrisome, fearful, or easily angered and depressed.
  4. Openness to experience — People who are fascinated with learning, artistic endeavors, are creative, and innovative.
  5. Extraversion — A person that loves being social, participating in group events, and general is perceived as being very energetic.

Of the Big Five personality factors, the study noted high scores in conscientiousness and extroversion correlated significantly. A low score in neuroticism (you aren’t anxious) also helped substantially.

Luckily for those of us lacking in any of these areas, you can improve yourself— if you want to.

The 5 factors to improve for earning more money

Here’s a simple list of not-so-simple ways you can improve yourself to potentially earn more money at your job, according to these studies.

(Hint — many of these are strongly correlated with each other.)

  1. Improve your general health and well being— Improving your diet, getting daily exercise, and sleeping better at night will all go a long way to becoming a healthier person.
  2. Intelligence isn’t static — You can increase it or decrease depending on what you do every day. Eating the right nutrients, meditating, sleeping well, doing more exercise, actively learning new things, and playing an instrument are just a few of the many ways to raise your general intelligence levels.
  3. Extroversion can be practiced — If you want to work on this area, the only way to do it is to practice, practice, practice. You need to put yourself in situations where you’re forced out of your comfort zone and have to be social. The more you do this — with a big smile on your face — the easier it becomes.
  4. Conscientiousness — Self-discipline often seems to be a ‘born-with-it’ type of trait. And it can be a tough area to change, but it’s not out of the question. An easy way to start off is by practicing it daily — and using modern tools to help reinforce it. Scheduling simple tasks that are easily accomplishable is a great start. Adding in (and sticking to) simple calendar appointments is a logical next step. Even calling your parents at the same time every week helps reinforce the habit and makes you feel a bit more confident in this area at the same time.
  5. Neuroticism — This is usually thought to be the hardest personality trait to modify as an adult. That’s unfortunate for those of us that have a hard time dealing with mood swings, feelings of guilt, and general anxiety. One of the most effective ways to decrease your levels of neuroticism seems to be learning how to practice mindfulness on a regular schedule. Changing a neurotic person’s mindset to take a step back from their normal thinking patterns has been shown to go a long way in avoiding the usual negative spiral-thinking patterns.

If you’re unsure where you lie on the scale for any of the above traits, here’s a free standardized test you can take.

The next time you stop to think about making more money at your job, keep this article in mind.

A lot of us have a tendency to blame external factors for the negative outcomes in our life and work. And bad things do happen to everyone, occasionally.

But if you’re able to improve yourself in many of the above ways — you’re setting yourself up not only to make more money — but to be a happier individual in work and in life.

And if that isn’t the one goal we should all be striving for anyway, I don’t know what is.

J.J. Pryor

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