Beauty Bias: Do Attractive People Really Have The Edge In The Workplace?
They have the best looking partners, a hundred gorgeous friends and an Instagram feed to die for – but do the most beautiful amongst us also have the edge when it comes to employment opportunities?
A range of studies on the effect of beauty have found that those with a high level of attractiveness benefit from higher salary, quicker promotion and find employment more easily than those deemed to have below-average looks.
Whilst most studies place a 3-4% difference in payment and opportunities between attractive employees and their less attractive counterparts, other economic studies locate this figure as high as a 12-14% difference. Research driven by US economist Dr. Daniel Hamermesh has estimated that ‘beautiful’ individuals earn $250,000 more than their counterparts across their working life, which if true is no small amount.
But is there any evidence to substantiate these claims?
Studies range beyond purely employment-based environments. Studies at schools suggest that we are subject to unconscious bias in favour of beauty from a very young age, with teachers favouring better-looking children to the extent where this positively impacts on these children’s self-confidence and abilities.
The social education of children begins with Disney films which repeatedly depict heroes and heroines as naturally beautiful, whilst the villains they vanquish are ugly and disfigured. The notion that beauty denotes more than appearance is ingrained from the moment you put Ariel next to Ursula or Aladdin next to Jafar.
As we move into the realm of adulthood this bias has more serious implications. We are more giving to the campaigns and causes of those that are more attractive, and well as being more trusting of those deemed beautiful. This occurs to the extent that we are more likely to absolve beautiful people of crime when they’re placed in the dock in court.
Why does this bias exist?
This bias can also be viewed as a specific type of ‘The halo effect’. This is a specific type of bias whereby one trait affects the perception of which other traits will be held by an individual. We expect attractive people to be kind, trustworthy and friendly to a greater extent than less attractive people, so need only to confirm our beliefs, rather than forming such beliefs from scratch.
Two of the main theories as to the origins of this bias are as follows:
- Sexual Instinct – Dario Maestripieri ‘s 2012 article argues that beautiful people become richer and more successful because of the basic instinct present in all people – but especially men – to do whatever possible to increase the chance of having sex with the best genetic partners, i.e. attractive people. This makes colleagues want to be around, and praise, attractive individuals, making them more likely to rise to a higher social and financial stratosphere.
- Personality influence – In contrast US economist David Hamermesh’s famous book ‘Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful’ argues for a more broader cause of success than pure sexual instinct. Multiple factors within the attractive individual’s psyche are fuelled by beauty; their looks give them more confident, outgoing and therefore more likable and employable personality-wise. High self-confidence is often cited as an important trait for success in business: if this is boosted by beauty then so, in turn, are your chances of success in business.
The net effect
The bias of the halo effect clearly demonstrates the power of first impressions. As first impressions can be particularly important in a job interview situation beauty can, unfortunately, provide that all important advantage when interviewing for a highly oversubscribed role. Whilst some arguments claim employers actively seek out attractive employees, for the most part the most dangerous element of this effect is our ignorance to it. Beauty bias acts unconsciously on our perceptions, leading us to gravitate towards, idolise and ultimately give employment advantages to those who have won the genetic lottery.
Alexandra Jane is the writer and editor of graduate careers advice for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency. Check out their website to see which internships and graduate jobs are currently available. Or, if you’re looking to hire an intern, have a look at their innovative Video CVs.