Thursday, August 28, 2003

Beauty pays off for male college professors

NYT Science 8/28 - The Hunk Differential:
Being beautiful pays off. Economists have found that men with above-average looks are paid about 5 percent more than those with average appearance, while those who are below average in looks have wages 9 percent below the mean.

But is this because of discrimination or productivity ... research by two economists, Daniel Hamermesh and Jeff Biddle, has found that beauty has a substantial payoff across a variety of occupations, even those where it doesn't seem to be inherently valuable....

Recently Mr. Hamermesh, a labor economist at the University of Texas at Austin who has long studied beauty and labor markets, wrote a paper with an undergraduate economics major, Amy Parker, that investigates the effect of beauty on a particular measure of performance: teaching evaluations for college professors ...

According to the economists' statistical analysis, good-looking professors got significantly higher teaching scores. ... good looks were significantly more important for men than women in producing high teaching evaluations. The same effect was found in earlier research relating wages to beauty ...

There is a correlation between physical beauty and economic success. The journalist in this NYT article assumed this is somehow directly related to beauty. This is probably partly true, but there's a much more interesting possibility.

Physical beauty is thought by many biologists to be a general "quality" marker. It takes a careful mixture of genetic quality, uterine environment, and environment to produce a beautiful adult. Symmetric appearance is a marker for precise execution of genetic programming, unobstructed by errors in reading or expression. A quality uterine environment with a healthy placenta is important too; an indirect market for nutrition and economic prosperity. Beauty requires a postnatal environment free of disease, injury, famine, etc.

So while beauty has some advantages, the correlation between economic success and beauty may be indirect. The true connection to current earnings may be from more prosaic causes: genetic excellence producing both beauty and cognitive capabilities, and economic prosperity producting beauty and social connections, training, income, etc.

In other words, beautiful people make more money because they are just better than the rest of us. (BTW, I am not beautiful).

If this seems to contradict the general impression of beautiful people being less than bright, I suggest viewing the incoming class at Harvard Medical School. Among many qualities, they are almost all physically attractive (indeed Harvard appears to select for physical attractiveness as a marker for "leadership qualities").

Now why this should be more true for men than women .... Ahh, I don't understand that!

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