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Scientists Identify 3 Reasons Why Attractive People Make More Money

Scientists Identify 3 Reasons Why Attractive People Make More Money
StrategyStrategy2 min read

Brad Pitt Angelina Jolie

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Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.

While we like to think that people get ahead because of some magical combination of effort, talent, and knowing the right people, research shows that success is partly skin deep.

Studies show that you're more likely to get hired if you look well-groomed, that good-looking people make about 12% more money than less appealing folks, and that attractive real-estate brokers bring in more money than their less attractive peers.

Psychologists call it the "beauty premium." Essentially, the income gap between attractive and unattractive people is comparable to the gap between genders or ethnicities.

In a paper called "Why Beauty Matters," University of Michigan information scientists Markus Mobius and Tanya Rosenblat identified three reasons why.

1. Physically attractive workers are (wrongly) considered more able by employers.

We're inclined to pay people more depending on how they look. In one of Mobius and Rosenblat's experiments modeling the hiring process, would-be employers looking at photographs of would-be employees were ready to give 10.5% higher salaries to attractive people over unattractive people.

Hiring managers carried that premium over to interactions that only happened on the phone. In other words, you only need to sound attractive to benefit from our biases toward beauty.

2. Physically attractive workers are more confident, and higher confidence increases wages.

We all suffer from the "halo effect" - without realizing it, we take someone's appearance to be telling of their overall character.

Experiments have shown that we consider attractive people "as more sociable, dominant, sexually warm, mentally healthy, intelligent, and socially skilled" than unattractive people.

By the time cute kids become attractive adults, they've benefited from this bias for years, giving them higher levels of confidence.

It's a "self-fulfilling prophecy," Mobius and Rosenblat say.

"Teachers expect better-looking kids to outperform in school and devote more attention to children who are perceived to have greater potential," they write. "Preferential treatment in return builds confidence as well as social and communication skills."

That confidence, the literature suggests, translates into academic achievement and professional success.

3. Physically attractive workers have social skills that raise their wages when they interact with employers.

Mobius and Rosenblat's experiments also found that attractive people had higher-rated communication skills than unattractive people.

"Physical attractiveness raises social and communication skills, which in return raise an employer's estimate of the worker's productivity," they write. "We assume that the employer is unaware of these biases and hence does not correct for them."

This has a major impact over the course of a career. Research shows that raising kids' social skills is a better predictor of lifetime earnings than raising their intellectual ability.

Beautiful people are more sociable than everybody else, the science says, or at least we're biased to think so.