Do Good-Looking People Make More Money?

Carrie Sloan

Why Beauty PaysPretty is as pretty does? Maybe according to some. But when viewed through the lens of economics, beauty may be your ticket to getting hired, earning more and landing a wealthier spouse.

Or so says Daniel Hamermesh, a professor of economics at the University of Texas at Austin, and author of the new book “Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful.”

According to his calculations, a good-looking person will earn, on average, $230,000 more over the course of a lifetime than someone who is perceived as less attractive.

We didn’t like the sound of this, so we decided to speak with Hamermesh about his controversial stance. We sat down with him to discuss why being unattractive hurts men more than women at work, and the one factor that will influence what you earn even more than beauty.

You’ve pioneered the field of pulchronomics—or the economics of beauty. Why?

I started working in this stuff 20 years ago. I had seen some data about beauty and realized that beauty is scarcity, and since economics is about scarcity, this is an economic field of study. Before, there were only studies that had been done with very small sample sizes, and there wasn’t much analysis of the findings. Now there are a huge number of people working on research.

Does everyone agree on who is beautiful?

We don’t all agree perfectly on who’s a 5, and who’s a 1, but we do agree pretty closely, even across cultures.

Symmetry is part of it, but you can’t do this mechanically. Is it age? It’s no question—yes. I say it in the book, and show it with data: If you ask someone to rate someone’s looks adjusted for age, we simply can’t do it. We rate younger people higher. It’s especially true for women, unfortunately. 

LearnVest is a site dedicated to helping women improve their financial picture. Economically speaking, how do our looks factor in?

According to the studies I’ve done, beauty does have an impact on how wealthy a spouse you’ll attract, especially for women. It also affects how much you’ll earn. In fact, it affects women’s ability to make more, but, interestingly, not as much as it does for men.

You wrote that in the workplace there’s a ‘premium for beauty, and a penalty for bad looks.’ Can you explain?

It’s part and parcel of the same thing. If you’re better-looking than average, you’ll do better than the average. If you’re worse-looking, you’ll do worse than the average.

In terms of earnings, the top one-third most attractive women received 8% more than average-looking women. The lowest-rated women by looks received 4% lower pay than average.

For men, the comparable figures are a 4% raise for good-looking men and a 13% penalty for those judged least attractive. So salary-wise, men get punished more than women for unattractiveness.

But there is another interesting finding that I wrote about in a paper yet to be published, about the relation between gender, beauty and happiness. Does being attractive make men or women happier—and by how much? Beauty matters more for happiness among women than it does for men.

What else do we know about how beauty affects us in this day and age?

The biggest effect on the non-pretty wasn’t in how much they were paid, or whether they got married, but the difference in how much their partner makes. 

But you also cite instances of ‘bimboism’—cases where being too beautiful can cost you the job.

There was a paper written this last winter in which an Israeli guy sent around résumés, and the very best-looking women had trouble getting hired. But that’s hypothetical. Most of the studies show that you keep on doing better the higher you march up the scale of looks.

There is one factor that outweighs even how pretty we are. What is it?

Each additional year of education represents a 10% increase in earning potential. There are so many other things that you can do and take advantage of, like education, which has the biggest effect.

What Makes a Woman Successful?

Find out the most surprising characteristics linked to career success …

So, Where Does That Leave Us?

Obviously, LearnVest isn’t down with all this emphasis on looks in the workplace.

Sure, looking good helps, or else the airwaves wouldn’t be filled with shows telling us what (or what not) to wear, and plastic surgery wouldn’t be a multi-billion dollar industry. But we also know that you can shape your own financial destiny, and doing so has little to do with your waist-to-hip ratio.

However, in his study, Hamermesh didn’t control for competence, those who asked for a raise and other factors affecting salaries. Our tips?

  • We think that beauty does not predetermine financial success in the workplace. A highly competent person will still succeed much more than an incompetent person who happens to be attractive.
  • As Hamermesh says, education has an even greater impact on your finances than beauty does. Higher education can be pretty steep, so if you’re considering going back to school, use our grad school calculator to help you figure out if the cost will be worth the increased earnings.
  • One of the other biggest ways to earn more is, quite simply, to ask for a raise. Looking beyond the difference between “pretty people” and those who aren’t, we’re more concerned with the pay gap between men and women. Prevent yourself from plateauing before your male peers.
  • On a daily basis, make sure you’re communicating well. We spoke to a career coach who believes the most important on-the-ground office skill is communication (she credits this ability with scoring her a job at Goldman Sachs when she wasn’t the most qualified candidate!).
What do you think of all this? Share with us in the comments below!

More From LearnVest

There is one kind of makeover we really do believe in: Watch six women get financial makeovers.
Some factors have nothing to do with appearance: Why keeping your maiden name will earn you $500,000 more.
There are so many subconscious influences on our money: Your name predicts your shopping habits!

  • Jeannette de Beauvoir

    I wonder if the rise of the virtual office will impact these findings and this distinction. I work out of a home office and rarely if ever meet my clients face-to-face: all my work is done over email and telephone (not even Skype!), so my clients have no idea what I look like. Does this level the playing field any? I’d be interested to hear about any relevant findings.

  • Christine Mathieu

    Great article!  At first blush I’m sure readers may cringe but, the advice at the end is valuable.  Remember too that beauty comes from within. The physicial wealth you wish to create will come when you love and accept yourself exactly as you are.  If there are things you would like to improve, health, beauty, knowledge, the power is within you.  Choice is always yours!!

  • Anu Bhardwaj

    I would agree with this article as there are a number of studies relating to men and their height and how that ultimately leads to career advancements. In my experience, I have met a number of beautiful & highly intelligent women, who are ultimately married to high-powered men. I would assume that most employers are looking for the “entire” package and those who have it will be compensated appropriately. It is unfortunate that those who are not as “attractive” end up getting penalized. A great stylist or make-up artist can work wonders- so go get that RAISE- if this article is indeed the truth- beauty is on the inside afterall!

  • Paula

    My first thought on these statistics is that beauty might also result in a little more confidence or overall social aptitude.  I’m still skeptical that it’s beauty in and of itself that helps people do better in the workplace.  I can think of plenty of personal experiences in which my perception of someone’s attractiveness changed as I interacted with them and got to know their personality.  Think of all those college parties where you thought a guy was really cute until he opened his mouth.  Also vice versa: the guy at the party you ignore until you have a stimulating conversation with him, now suddenly becomes good looking to you.  

    Another factor is that I rarely think of people as “beautiful”/”not beautiful”.  There are different things I expect from different roles professionally.  I am probably biased by a hair stylist that is hip and young and pretty, but from somebody handling my finances I’m mostly looking for someone that reads trustworthy, dependable, authoritative, etc. Maybe personal beauty influences my perception of these qualities, but I think personality and demeanor also have a lot to do with it.  I don’t think rating people’s attractiveness on a 1-5 scale really captures that nuances of these social interaction and expectations.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve found this quite the opposite so far in my life.  As a former dancer in nyc, I made barely enough to scrape by – which is the plight of many dancers, actors, models, fashion magazine ‘interns’ a group known for their looks.

    As someone who desires to be seen as a professional business owner, my beauty can sometimes get in the way of people taking me seriously. So, while in the past, I might get a job as the ‘face’ (aka receptionist) of a company that rarely means that I’m gonna be the first in line for being a VP of Business Development ( which would be a much better fit for my skills).

    Most days it feels like I’m living behind a veil… people can’t see beyond my looks to realize that I have brains in there.

    • Sarah

      Hahaha! Perhaps it’s your experience, skills, or…….humility that are lacking.


    I think this a classic case of correlation vs. causation.  Richer people have the means – buying better beauty products, getting out in the sun, eating healthier (and more expensive) foods, and, in the extreme cases, plastic surgery - to alter beauty.  In addition, health and fitness are priorities of higher earners.  I believe the casuality works in reverse – higher education and income, in fact, allow people the means to make themselves more beautiful. 

    • A Thinking Woman

      I liked your comment; very shrewd. I would also add that people copy peers in their social group. If you’re mixing with go getters who are interested in their appearance, you’ll work harder at your own. Equally if this is the group you’re seeking a job with, they are more likely to respond to you if you appear to be focused on the same things they are such as beauty regimes, fitness levels etc. It’s an age old fact, dress like the person you want to hire you and this extends further now than ever, you need the body the dress sits on. A fit body is going to have a bigger impact that just a pretty face. We measure body shape faster visually. Being both smart and attractive (at least well groomed in flattering attire, healthy looking and reasonably fit), can leapfrog you onto the money train.

  • Hollye1986

    NOTE TO EDITOR Under Paragraph about “bimboism”: Unless this is an unmarked quote, Do you really think ‘Israeli guy’ is a proper way to address a research scientist?

    • Anonymous

      Hi Hollye1986, 

      Thanks for pointing that out. Since this is in a Q&A format, this actually is an unmarked quote. I hope that clears it up for you! 

      Deputy Editor

  • Nicole Longstreath

    It’s good to remember that a BIG part of your overall image is how you dress. The better you dress, the more confident you will be. A confident woman is inherently “beautiful.”

    And, dressing well doesn’t have to mean spending all your salary on clothing. It may mean buying less, but buying better quality clothing.

    • Jeannette de Beauvoir

      Or, to borrow a line from the movie Leap of Faith: “Always look better than they do.”

    • Sarahashley

      I agree with you Nicole.  I feel like the Q & A failed to define Good-Looking.  Were those making the judgment told to judge strictly based on facial looks or was the whole picture taken into account?  I think LV could have conducted a better interview and uncovered some of those details. It seemed like LV had their mind made up before they even asked the questions.  Scientific studies are never as objective as they ought to be because they are generally hyper-focused.  Hopefully the woman reading this interview are intelligent enough to realize there are other factors that correspond to certain woman making more money than others (and I’m guessing they are since they are reading LV!).

      But with regards to your comment: Wardrobe is an important aspect of your overall image.  The saying goes “Dress for the job you want not the one you have.”  Which would correlate beauty to a potential increase in salary in that regards.

      • hendrey

        Totally agree: “Dress for the job you want not the one you have.”

        Also, women are in a better position than men when it comes to improving ordinary looks. Men have much less variety in the business clothing they can wear and how they can style their hair etc. I believe preparation can add 1 or 2 points to the average man’s looks, and 3 to 5 points to the average woman’s looks. You just need to know how to use shoe height, posture, wardrobe, make-up, and hair-styling to put it together. Take it from me! When I roll out of bed in the morning, I’m a 4…tops. But by the time I get to work I have moved up 3 or 4 points. It works for me. Nobody in my home who sees the “unadorned” me is judging me by my looks, anyway. Watch a few episodes of “What Not to Wear” if you don’t believe in the transformative power of hair, make-up, and wardobe!  :-)


    When i was in Army Recruiting Command, one of our stations had trouble recruiting for the Army because they were next door to the Air Force recruiting office. One of their recruiters was a blonde AF beauty queen! And she could flirt with the guys in a way a male recruiter can’t . Bottom line: in this world, looks are important.

  • Cher

    I would like to comment on this article. I believe in some industries maybe you do get more money if you are prettier than the next women. Ex: modeling, executive secretary, etc. I am an intelligent Nurse, I am very pretty and that is what gets me in trouble with my bosses who are women. They look me up and down and they try to find flaws not in my work because (not to be cocky) they can’t. I have 20 years experience behind me, and they are rude to me extremely judgmental. I could go on and on. If the Doctor is an unattractive women (only some of them do this) then they will criticize everything you do. I have 1 doctor that I work with on a daily basis and for 6 months I would say hello to her everyday, she would then look me in the eye and turn her head away from me and not say one thing. I then finally said to her after she looked me up and down for the million of millions time, what is your problem. She had no answer and turned away. This is also the exact same thing one of the big bosses does except she will say Hi and turn around and say “Oh you didn’t do ??” My reply is “it’s done.” I was told by my boss at my review that “the doctor that doesn’t say Hi but looks me up and down everyday) wanted to let me know that I dress a little to flashy. I burst out laughing, this has nothing to do with my work at all and I also stated my boobs are not hanging out, I dress very nice, and I know what I am doing and do a great job. If “the doctor” would like to get advice I would love to take her shopping and put some real clothes on her not her tweeds from 1970 that she saved and still wears. My boss stated “you dress very nice and their is nothing that I can say except she wanted me to tell you that, you never dress inappropriately.” So as far as nurse’s go I know that I do not make any more money than my other coworkers. I could go on and on, about how other women treat me, they are rude to me then when they really get to know me, they apologize about the way they used to act towards me and say “you are really nice, I didn’t think you would be.” 

  • Kathy Anderson

    It might also be a matter of comfidence.  The the more attractive you (know) that you are, the more confidence in yourself and your abilities you tend to have.  Being drop-dead gorgeous myself, I know!  ;)

    • Rivly Breus

      That’s not true, plenty of attractive people have depression and low self-esteem, looks are not directly related to happiness you know.

  • jin choung

    everything in the “conclusions” section are basically bald faced assertions without any research or data backing it up.  it’s wishful thinking.

    you say that competence can overcome beauty but now YOU’RE making the assumption that beautiful people aren’t competent or are less.  in a horse race between an ugly competent and hot one, who’s equally competent, who’s gonna win?

    that’s may not “like” reality… but does it really matter that you don’t?  it’s a dude, i have no trouble accepting that taller men tend to make more money.  as a guy who’s shorter than 6′, i may not LIKE that but i’m not going to argue against it simply because it goes against my predilections.reality sucks.  accept it.and as petty and superficial as you think life is, it’s actually WORSE.we would not live in the world we live in if that were not the it would seem that your conclusions should actually be: get prettier.

    • hendrey

      You misunderstood what they’re saying. They did not say that beautiful people aren’t competent any more than they said competent people are ugly. They said ”
      A highly competent person will still succeed much more than an incompetent person who happens to be attractive.” 
      That means if you must choose only ONE of beauty or brains, and your goal is financial success, you should choose brains because an ugly competent person succeeds more than a beautiful incompetent. Obviously if you could choose TWO of ugly, stupid, pretty, and smart, the most success-linked choice would be pretty AND smart. 

    • Rivly Breus

      do you have depression? you must. you might as well say, “well, I’m ugly, I can’t get too far in life, but I’m ok with that because 7 times out of 10, good-looking people are smarter and more competent, and deserve happiness and good fortune more than I do. You don’t value yourself.

  • Emily

    Beauty can also be judged simply by how well-groomed an individual is.  A naturally gorgeous woman who does not keep herself maintained may not fare as well in a beauty contest as a less-pretty woman who has regular manicures, well-kept hair, and clean and pressed tasteful clothing.
    The rules of beauty are absolute.  There are many techniques to fake it… the effort you put into maintaining yourself does more than making you look good–it helps you hold your head higher and projects a confidence that less-kempt individuals simply cannot project.

    • Emily

      **”The rules of beauty are NOT absolute, I meant to say!!  Phooey.

  • Sarah

    In a social psychology class in college, I learned that pretty people are preceived as more likeable, possibly because they tend to develop better social skills simply because people are more likely to approach them and interact with them which in turn helps them to gain confidence and become more of a conversationalist etc. Big generalization, obviously, that is not always true, but I think it might help explain why looks correspond to financial gain. A less good-looking person might stay more stuck in a wallflower role. Talking with nervous people makes people nervous, which adds another obstacle in building connections. And connections can really help you advance.

  • Rivly Breus

    This article makes me sad, I hate that college tuition and tax dollars or whatever is being wasted on stupid reserch studies like this. Why not study the AIDS epidemic in Africa? Genital mutliation? Why not donate food to Vietnam? Who sits there and thinks about “oh my God, I’m not attractive, I should kill myself.” If you have a friend or person you know who is constantly bashing themselvs and saying that they are ugly, you are going to think that they have a problem or something’s wrong with them. Ok, I get it, despite what people tell us, beauty is not subjective, but this is just ridiculous.

    Optimism is the best cure for anything, it makes you feel better, self-esteem and confidence is not gained only through looks. Girls who are pretty but are promiscuous have low self esteem. We know one too many of those girls, we went to high school and college with them.

    Yes, its sad that people of the opposite sex treat better based on your looks, I’ve seen it befoe, but those people probably have confidence issues or are not right with their self, or lack any capacity of intelligence in their brain.

    You really think that someone is better because they are attractive? You would be quicker to go up to an attractive person and be friendly? I consider people who act like that to be animals, not human at all. 

    I’m going a bit off topic here but, if people focused on other things more than looks at first sight and maybe inner beauty, then made looks the last thing, there would be a lot more happy people out there, and ultimately more marriages than divorces. 

    The author of this book must have a severe form of depression to dedicate his time to writing such nonsense. I know from experience I suffered with depression for 10 years and I used to over-analyze things like this. “She’s better than me because she’s thin and white.” “I didn’t get the job because I’m ugly and 20 lbs. overweight.” “I have no value, because I don’t look like Megan Fox or Brooklyn Decker or a Victoria’s Secret angel. <<<<<——— Catastrophic Thinking.

  • Anonymous

    It;s a known fact good looking people are an attractive “package” even if they dont know what they are talking about.  Sales companies depend on this

  • Sue Peterson

    I would say that in our culture, the cumulative effect of being perceived as “beautiful” or “attractive” probably has a big impact on confidence of the individual.  And I thought it was interesting that men were more negatively impacted – that to me says that confidence is a big reason for this.  Being made fun of in elementary school, not getting the right date in high school, being seen as the “nerd” in college, this can all pile up to make one start to doubt one’s ability to achieve certain things.  It would impact your willingness to negotiate, to socialize, etc.  All those things that make you earn more money in the end…

    I also agree on the competence thing.  But, I think confidence is a biggy.

  • Patriotwoman

    Since i started focusing on my looks more and putting my best foot forward there, I absolutely noticed a “payoff” at work.  Getting my naturally kinky, wavy, frizzy hair under control and looking professionally styled every day was for me the biggest improvement.
    has a do-it-yourself Brazilian Blowout kit that actually has the REAL
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