Sitting Pretty: Good-Looking People Make More Money, But It's Not All Roses

To put it plainly, pretty people get paid more, and not just in occupations like modeling, entertainment, sales and marketing, and prostitution. To what extent do good looks matter in the workplace? What physical characteristics are most rewarded? You might be amazed by the answers.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen were named one of the world's most powerful couples by Forbes Magazine in 2015, sharing the spotlight with other famous couples like President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, A-list actors Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, and hip-hop mogul Jay-Z and the reigning queen of pop and R & B, Beyonce Knowles.

Brady and Bündchen share something else in common: they're financial powerhouses. In 2014, Bündchen was crowned as the highest-paid super model ($45 million), while Brady scored eleventh as the highest-paid athlete ($38.3 million).

To put it plainly, pretty people get paid more, and not just in occupations like modeling, entertainment, sales and marketing, and prostitution. According to The Economist, "Homely NFL quarterbacks earn less than their comelier counterparts, despite identical yards passed and years in the league."

To what extent do good looks matter in the workplace? What physical characteristics are most rewarded? You might be amazed by the answers.


The economic study of beauty is called "pulchronomics." One of the foremost thinkers in this field is labor economist Daniel S. Hamermesh. Through empirical studies, Hamermesh demonstrated that physically attractive people enjoy an advantage over average-looking people in terms of employability and earnings.

Consider lifetime earnings. Based on an average wage of $20 per hour, Hamermesh estimates that attractive workers earn $230,000 more than those with average looks. For men, that figure rises to $250,000. Hamermesh offers an explanation for this sizeable differential. He points to evidence showing that attractive workers attract more business, and so it makes good business sense to hire them.

The Tall and Short of It

If you're tall, chances are that you could be getting paid more than your shorter cohorts. One study revealed that every inch of height equaled a salary increase of about $789 per year. Based on this figure, a 6-foot tall person earns $5,525 more annually, as compared to a person who stands at 5 feet, 6 inches.

In an attempt to explain this pay gap, researchers studied the DNA of 6,815 unrelated participants and found a direct link between height and intelligence. In short, the test results found that taller people are smarter and thus get higher-paying jobs.

Weight Watchers

Law professor Deborah L. Rhode has extensively studied appearance-based discrimination in the workplace. Rhode says that about 60 percent of overweight women and 40 percent of overweight men claim that they've experienced employment discrimination.

According to a Forbes article, overweight workers are paid less than their normal-weight counterparts. On an annual basis, heavy women earn $8,666 less and heavy men $4,772 less than their trimmer colleagues.

In a fascinating study, participants were shown resumes and pictures of a group of job applicants. The participants were asked to score the applicants on the bases of their job suitability, starting salary, and employability. What the participants didn't know is that the applicants' pictures were of the same person before and after bariatric weight loss surgery. To a significant degree, the thinner candidates were selected for the job and assigned higher starting salaries than the heavier ones.

Blondes Have More Funds

"Is it true blondes have more fun?" a Lady Clairol ad from the 1950s and 1960s asked. Only a blonde knows for sure. In all earnestness, research shows that blondes get paid more.

According to a Forbes article, a study showed that blondes get paid 7 percent more than female workers wearing another hair color. The boost in pay is equal to the pay bump that a worker would realize from an extra year of education, according to the study.

Pump Up Your Pay

If you're a fitness enthusiast, keep up your workouts. A study found that, on average, workers who exercise routinely earn 9 percent more than their sedentary peers, according to a Time article.

Workers who exercise three or more times a week can beef up their weekly pay by $80, as compared to their deskbound peers. Even weekend warriors can benefit from sweating it out, making slightly more than 5 percent in additional pay.

"Maybe it's Maybelline"

Did you know that wearing makeup could boost source credibility, specifically competence and trustworthiness? It's true, according to a study funded by Procter & Gamble (which owns several beauty brands, including CoverGirl and Max Factor), Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston University, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

The Prettiness Penalty

Being too attractive could work against you in the workplace. Again, we witness a gender divide, as very good-looking men invariably make out in salary and hiring. A study showed that highly attractive women face hiring discrimination when applying for male-dominated professions, according to ScienceDaily.

Researchers explain that higher expectations tend to be set for beautiful people, and if they fail to meet expectations, the beautiful are ostracized, according to a Rice study. The reverse is true for less attractive people. In other words, less is expected from them, and if they exceed expectations, they're rewarded, according to a Smithsonian article.

In a picture perfect world, physical attractiveness would not be viewed in terms of goodness or badness, nor in the form of a reward or a punishment. Beauty is, after all, a matter of perception. According to Scottish philosopher David Hume: "Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty."

In the next blog post, we'll look at an area of law called appearance-based discrimination, or lookism.

Popular in the Community