The Beauty Penalty
It has been generally concluded that beautiful people earn more money than others. This conclusion is called into question in a thoughtful analysis of some new and previously used data sets (Doran & Hersch, 2009). After adding a number of corrections, robustness checks, and additional controls to the reanalyzed data, these researchers conclude that real-world evidence for the beauty premium is not robust and “is either non-existent or entirely mediated through other variables” (p. 16). This result is, for me, perplexing. For example, Markus & Mobius (2006), using an analog study, found that a one standard deviation increase in beauty results in a 12.1% increase in wages. Leigh & Borland (2007), using data from the Australian National Social Science Survey (1984), found that the same one standard deviation increase in beauty improves the probability of employment by 4% in men and 5% in women. It seems that beauty gives – at least – an initial wage-earning advantage. Further, there is evidence that beautiful people grow-up in social environments that foster marketable skills (e.g., increased confidence, verbal skills [Markus & Mobius, 2006], and productivity [Cipriani & Zago, 2005]). So, what’s going on?
Wilson & Eckel (2006) and Andreoni & Petrie (2008) conducted separate analog studies that shed light on the intra- and interpersonal dynamics behind what seems to be a disappearing beauty premium. Their data suggests:
- we have higher expectations of the beautiful;
- the beautiful are more suspicious of others’ expectations;
- commonly, the beautiful do not meet others’ expectations;
- when expectations are not met, the beautiful appear more stuck-up or selfish to others and as a result are punished more than are the non-beautiful.
The implication may be that the beauty premium can be capitalized-on in those relationships where others’ increased expectations of the beautiful are met. When others’ increased expectations are not met, the beauty penalty kicks-in. Beauty, it seems, is a two-edged sword.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.
Andreoni, J., & Petrie, R. (2008). Beauty, gender and stereotypes: Evidence from laboratory experiments. Journal of Economic Psychology, 29(1), 73-93. doi: 10.1016/j.joep.2007.07.008.
Cipriani, G. P., & Zago, A. (2005). Productivity or Discrimination? Beauty and the Exams. Università Degli Studi Di Verona, Dipartimento Di Scienze Economiche, Working Paper Series, 18.
Doran, K., & Hersch, J. (n.d.). The Beauty Premium is Not Robust. Retrieved October 7, 2009, from http://www.nd.edu/~kdoran/BeautyNotRobust.pdf
Markus M. Mobius, & Tanya S. Rosenblat. (2006). Why Beauty Matters. American Economic Review, American Economic Review, 96(1), 222-235. Retrieved October 7, 2009, from http://ideas.repec.org/a/aea/aecrev/v96y2006i1p222-235.html.
Wilson, R., & Eckel, C. (2006). Judging a Book by its Cover: Beauty and Expectations in the Trust Game Political Research Quarterly, 59 (2), 189-202 DOI: 10.1177/106591290605900202
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