I believe I was the victim of lookism last week. I realised this when people running an event I’d been approached to host hired someone else. Is it because the low cost of oil is pricing me out of the market? Nope. It’s because I bumped into the owner of the company looking rather dishevelled.
So instead of them having a (cognitively) smart, credible person at the helm, navigating an evening with heads of corporations, they’ve probably hired a pretty-looking thing. Before you sharpen your feminist stilettos to stomp all over me, I am looking at things through the lens of what goes – especially in these parts.
It’s official: Beauty pays. Besides it being fact, this is also the title of a book written by Daniel Hamermesh. He’s the acclaimed father of pulchronomics, or the economic study of beauty.
It’s a sensitive issue, and no one is immune – beauty’s rewards are anything but superficial.
Mr Hamermesh, a University of Texas at Austin economist, has studied this for decades. He has evidence that the better looking among us will earn more, be hired faster and generally live happier lives.
One thing that might come as a surprise is that men are more victims of this than women.
Hamermesh writes that the earnings of less aesthetically pleasing men are at least 17 per cent lower than those considered good-looking. Below-average-looking females earn 12 per cent less than their attractive counterparts.
There are two strata: a handsome man is said to earn about 13 per cent more during his working life than one with average looks.
And a plain looking man can earn 5 to 10 per cent less than his average-looks counterpart.
This adds up to a big chunk of cash. Over the span of their earning years, Mr Hamermesh states that good-looking workers make US$230,000 more than those with below-average looks. He bases this on a very rough average calculation of $20 per hour. The looks differential for high earners is much, much more.
These findings are echoed in other studies too.
A London Guildhall University survey of 11,000 33-year-olds found that unattractive men earned 15 per cent less than those deemed attractive, while plain women earned 11 per cent less than their prettier peers.
This makes for a sound financial case to invest in your looks, doesn’t it? And many people already do: it’s estimated that $12 billion was spent on cosmetic procedures in the United States during 2013, and that one happens every hour here in the UAE.
Unfortunately, Mr Hamermesh argues that there is not much we can do to improve our pulchritude. There are studies that state that surgery pays back less than $1 for every $1 spent. Less invasive, but with even worse financial return, are cosmetic products: for every dollar spent on, say, lipstick, only 4 cents returns as salary. I haven’t a clue how this is measured.
And then there’s the issue of how you define attractiveness. In my book, top of the list is confidence, how you carry yourself, being mindful and gracious. Having symmetrical features and great physique helps too – woops, did I say that out loud?
But before we get carried away with all this, think of the beautiful person’s burden – the pulchritudinous are often initially held to a higher standard, then hit with a “beauty penalty” if they fail to deliver. This according to a 2006 study.
The reverse is true for the rest of people – the majority: people tend to expect less from the unattractive, so when they surpass those low expectations they are rewarded. These are not my words – these are the conclusions of experts and extrapolations from research.
The ugly truth is that beauty pays. You’ll find me at the local parlour investing time and effort, as well as money, so that I don’t miss out on the next job that comes my way.
Nima Abu Wardeh describes herself using three words: Person. Parent. Pupil. Each day she works out which one gets priority, sharing her journey on finding-nima.com. You can reach her at email@example.com and on Twitter: @nimaabuwardeh.
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