Wednesday, May 20, 2009

From the Archive -- Why Beauty Matters (the third time)

Here's some additional material on the topic of discussed in Metrics today.

Why Beauty Matters

In class yesterday, we discussed that your appearance is an important part of your social capital. For many years, economists have known that more attractive people earn more money. Steven Landsburg summarizes several of the key findings in this slate column. Here's the highlight:

In their published research, Professors Daniel Hamermesh and Jeff Biddle estimate that if you're perceived as beautiful, you probably earn about 5 percent more than your ordinary-looking counterparts.

As beauty is rewarded, so ugliness is penalized. Ugly women earn about 5 percent less than other women, and ugly men earn about 10 percent less than other men. That's right; the market punishes men more than women for being unattractive. Moreover, men's looks haunt them at every stage of their careers: Better-looking men get more job offers, higher starting salaries, and better raises. For women, good looks will get you better raises but usually not better job offers or starting salaries. (A note on Hamermesh and Biddle's methodology: Beauty was assessed by panels of people who judged photographs of the study's subjects.)

But why is beauty rewarded? Do employers "pay" because they just like to have pretty people around? Do employer's know that customers prefer to work with pretty people? Are pretty people more productive? Or do employers (and the pretty people themselves) just think that they are?

Spiffy research by Harvard's Markus Mobius and Wesleyen's Tonya Rosenblat addresses these questions using an experimental labor market. Berkeley professor Hal Varian conveniently summarized this paper in yesterday's NYTimes:

Armed with the data from these experiments and surveys, the economists found several interesting results. It turned out that beautiful people were no better than ordinary people in solving mazes. But despite having the same productivity as others in this task, beautiful people were a lot more confident about their own abilities. Being good looking seems to be strongly associated with self-confidence, a trait that is apparently attractive to employers.

When employers evaluated employees only on the basis of resumes, physical appearance had no impact on their estimates, as one would expect. But all of the other treatments showed higher productivity estimates for beautiful people, with the face-to-face interviews yielding the largest numbers.

Interestingly, employers thought beautiful people were more productive even when their only interaction was via a telephone interview. It appears that the confidence that beautiful people have in themselves comes across over the phone as well as in person.

But even when the experimenters controlled for self-confidence, they found that employers overestimated the productivity of beautiful people. The economists estimated that about 15 to 20 percent of the beauty premium is a result of the self-confidence effect, while oral and visual communication each contribute about 40 percent.

It seems that good-looking people are good communicators as well, and their oral communication skills contribute about as much to employers' perceptions as their looks.

As the researchers put it, "Employers (wrongly) expect good-looking workers to perform better than their less-attractive counterparts under both visual and oral interaction, even after controlling for individual worker characteristics and worker confidence."

This makes so much sense why more attractive people tend to be more social than someone who is unattractive. Thinking back when I was in high school the 'cuter' girls/boys or the kids that dressed way nicer/trendy were always more confident, less shaky in speaking in front of the class. These people always seem to be more social as opposed to the less attractive kids. Which is probably why they always won the popularity contest like homecoming queen/king, ASB president, leadership, etc. They were not as shy. Now that I'm 24 I see this pattern continue at work. Sitting down listening into interviews I can see the difference in confidence of a more and less attractive interviewee.
I notice the same thing when I interview some people for my companies. Unattractive person (in my own standard) tends to be more quiet, less boastful about their achievement although his resume is glowing. However, the more attractive person, despite of less-than-powerful resume, is very cheerful and confident. My company decide to hire the more attractive person as the skills can be acquired on the job. But, it is harder to teach social skills.
I think it is interesting that the employers were able to identify those they thought would be most productive as the best looking even over the phone. That definitely seems to give some credibility to the idea that beauty matters because it gives you that extra sense of self-confidence. Although even when they controlled for confidence, employers still chose the more beautiful people. I would have thought the confidence would have been a much bigger factor in explaining why beautiful people are more likely to be hired. It is surprising to see that the communication skills seem to be a much more important factor.
I think the information in this post has a lot to do with the other post concerning men becoming more successful if they are taller at 16. If people were attractive from an early age they probably were able to get more attention from people that could lead them on the road to success and with these relationships they would gain confidence and probably strive to be successful since these people are probably positive role models for them.
Most people are average looking and the older we get the more average we look (gain weight, lose hair, wrinkles, etc) Maybe that's why I just don't see the correlation. Unless you're really ugly, I don't think income matters but I really don't remember the last time I saw an ugly person. Ugly is such a strong word as it conjures up thoughts of cartoon characters. Studies like this really don't persuade me at all because they are assuming that most successful managers, CEOs, bosses are attractive which I just don't see. Most people look average and the ones that standout, either really ugly or really pretty, I don't see the correlation, particularly with "ugly" people. I do see more successful attractive people but maybe it's just the clothes. Unfortunately, this may pertain more for women than men, in which case yes I see many pretty women married with higher incomes because of their rich husbands!
It makes sense that someone that is comfortable with their appearance would have much more self confidence and be able to stand out as someone a employer would want to work with, especially if their competition was of comparable credentials. This idea even makes sense if the supposedly more attractive person had an inferior resume, this is because the one on one interviews can give employers a better idea of who a person is and how they will react to certain situations based on how they respond to questions under the pressure of an interview.
I think the main reason is confidence. More attractive people build up confidence by their appearance, therefore they are much likely to be success in the interview. However, not so attractive people does not has enough confidence like others, which leads them not confidence in most things. But afterall, this is just my assumption. In the end, I believe it will all depend on interview's taste and their definition of beautiness.
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