Do Good Looking People Get Paid More?

Do Good Looking People Get Paid More?

Can good looks help you secure a salary bump at work?

Economists tend to think so, thanks to something dubbed the “beauty premium”: In the past, research has shown that good looking people are paid higher-than-average wages, while less attractive employees tend to bank a smaller paycheck.

But now a new study has taken a deeper look into this attractiveness advantage. Turns out that the connection between a pretty face and take-home pay isn’t quite so clear cut. In fact, in some cases, employees who were rated the least attractive had the heftiest salaries.


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Research published recently in the Journal of Business and Psychology took a look at preexisting health data on over 20,000 people whose physical attractiveness had been rated at four different times over 13 years, when the study subjects were on average between the ages of 16 and 29.

While subjects who were ranked as attractive did score higher salaries, the researchers discovered it wasn’t purely because of their looks. Rather, certain characteristics they held that are often associated with attractiveness—intelligence; overall good health; and personality traits like being extraverted, conscientious and not neurotic—played a far bigger role in the size of their paychecks.

Not only did the study dispel the beauty premium idea, it also raised the possibility of an "ugliness premium." Study subjects rated "very unattractive" scored significantly higher salaries than those considered merely unattractive. And in some cases, the very unattractive took home higher salaries than their average or attractive cohorts.

Why did this study refute findings that previous research seemed to back up? The study authors believe that prior studies didn't always control for things like intelligence and conscientiousness. That made it seem as if paycheck size was driven only by looks, while ignoring the impact of individual personality differences.

Our takeaway from the study? You have more control than you think over where you land on the salary scale. As in, if you're hoping to boost your income, cultivate the traits linked to a heftier paycheck: Reveal your inner extravert by speaking up more at meetings; be conscientious of other team members' needs and skill sets; and get a handle on stress before it does a number on your health.

RELATED: Management or Bust? 5 Questions to Ask Before Accepting That Promotion


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