NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Economic Value of Beauty

August 29, 2003

Physical beauty has a substantial payoff across a variety of occupations, even those where it doesn't seem to be inherently valuable. 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, according to economists Daniel Hamermesh and Jeff Biddle

But is this due to their greater productivity -- with beauty subtlely signaling health, for example -- or discrimination?

To find out, Hamermesh, a labor economist at the University of Texas at Austin, and Amy Parker investigated the effect of beauty on a particular measure of performance: teaching evaluations for college professors.

They collected teaching evaluations for 463 courses taught by 94 faculty members at the University of Texas at Austin. Additionally, they asked six undergraduate students to rate the photographs of the professors on a 10-point scale and used the average measure as a beauty score.

According to the economists' statistical analysis, good-looking professors got significantly higher teaching scores.

  • The average teaching evaluation was 4.2 on a 5-point scale.
  • Those at the bottom end of the attractiveness scale received, on average, a teaching evaluation of about 3.5, while those on the top end received about 4.5.

The economists found that good looks were significantly more important for men than women in producing high teaching evaluations. This same gender difference was found in earlier research relating wages to beauty.

Does being beautiful truly increase teaching performance -- that is, help the students learn more? Or are they just reacting to an irrelevant characteristic?

As Hamermesh and Parker put it, "What if students simply pay more attention to good-looking professors and learn more?"

Source: Hal R. Varian, "The Hunk Differential," Economic Scene, New York Times, August 28, 2003.


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