NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Consumer Preference For Attractiveness

December 28, 2000

When it comes to the marketplace, the good-looking have a competitive edge. And, contrary to popular belief, the economic rewards for beauty are greater for men than for women. Moreover, while all our employment discrimination policies are based on employers, research suggests consumer -- not employer -- preferences are paramount.

According to 1994 research by economists Daniel S. Hamermesh and Jeff E. Biddle:

  • Other factors being equal, the 9 percent of working men classified by interviewers as "below average" or downright "homely" made 9 percent less in hourly earnings than did more attractive men.
  • By contrast, the 32 percent of men classified as "above average" or "handsome" got a wage premium of 5 percent.
  • Women rated below average earned 5 percent less and the above average earned a 4 percent premium.

The difference in wages between the bottom and top categories is equivalent to about a year and a half of extra schooling.

In a 1998 paper, Hamermesh and Biddle found that better-looking lawyers made more money, and lawyers in the private sector, whether self-employed or in law firms -- where they had to solicit clients -- made more than lawyers employed by the government.

Moreover, they found that good-looking government lawyers tended to switch to private firms and less-attractive lawyers moved from law firms to government jobs.

In other words, good-looking people will go where the payoff for beauty is greater.

Thus a 1997 Hamermesh-Biddle study found advertising agencies with good-looking executives had higher revenues and faster growth than their competitors.

Source: Virginia Postrel, "Like It or Not, Appearance Counts in the Workplace," Economic Scene, New York Times, December 28, 2000.


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