The Economy is “looking good”

The economic benefits of being attractive have led to a trend in our workplaces across the globe. Pulchronomics, or the economics of good looks, originated from the word pulchritude, which means beauty. Our obsession to spend on beauty products is a result of centuries of social conditioning wherein someone who looked a certain way was treated a certain way. Bolstered by the Industrial Revolution, this phenomenon of looking beautiful is now directly proportional with our ability to earn more money. We now have an economic motive to improve our appearance to fit existing standards.

Economists Daniel Hamermesh and Jeff Biddle wrote a paper examining the beauty and the labour market in 1994. According to their research, there is evidence that the labor market sorts the best looking people into occupations where their looks are productive and where their payoff to appearance is high. The paper also suggests that physical appearance and wage discrimination are correlated. For example, some people take up the job role of a sales assistant where they might gain more incentives related to their appearance. However, another study showed that if the performance of the pulchritudinous was below the standard of the job, they are hit with a beauty penalty, which is deemed far worse than the penalty received by those considered average looking. The beauty premium earned by men and women respectively is 4% and 8% more than the average. However, the bottom 15% men as well as women earn 13% and 4% lesser than the average-looker. Apparently, men face a severe penalty than women while the latter earn a higher premium than men.

Depending on the degree of occupation, the beauty premium varies. Careers where beauty impacts their prospects such as entertainment, modeling, etc., are fairly self-explanatory. Among MBA graduates examined in their study, the starting salaries of better looking men were higher as well as had a faster earnings growth in their first 10 years. On the contrary, there was little effect on the starting salaries of women, which however did lead to an increase in the earnings growth over time. This can be interpreted that there is a growing relationship of beauty with respect to age. In the case of law firms, people were offered entry-level positions in private sector firms further divided into departments appropriate to appearance, ceteris paribus. There is a tendency for the better-looking graduates to be placed in litigation while the bottom half placed in tax law and so on. This is attributed to the profit earning-motive of private firms in attracting new clients and maintaining their existing clientele. Alternatively, public sector firms lack a profit-making objective and seldom have to seek out clients for monetary purposes; therefore little importance is given to looks.

The existence of such a pay-off in the labor market is stated to be obvious considering how workers spend time on grooming before going to work and spend money on clothing and other cosmetic products to enhance their appearance, all backed by this incentive to earn more. Hence, discrimination from employees, customers and occupation on the basis of looks has been marked as significant in the labour market. A predominant gender bias exists as male beauty is considered to evoke perceptions of leadership while female beauty suggests untrustworthiness when their work performance is singled out from a group. For example, there is a certain double standard about a women’s personal presentation in the office. Although women are rewarded with higher likability by wearing “appropriate” makeup in the workplace, they have also reported to having faced a diminished credibility for projecting an overtly “feminine” aesthetic.

The Indian male-grooming market has grown rapidly to more than 42% in the last 5 years, according to the Associated Chambers of Commerce of India. This trend can be connected to the growing disposable income, the young population and the competitive workforce.

On that note, the increasing trends of plastic surgery makes one wonder about the implications of such changes on your physical appearance and if people are merely undergoing such procedures in order to survive in the competitive labour market. South Korea is known for having the highest rate of plastic surgery per capita globally, with 1 out of 3 citizens estimated to have gone under the knife. The boom of the South Korean economy post the 1988 South Korean Olympics led to an increase in the per capita GDP which meant an increase in their personal disposable income giving them the option to invest in their appearance if they wanted to. Through the years and with the inclination of the US economy towards prosperity, Americans are again investing in changing their looks. More countries reveal that plastic surgery may in fact be a good indicator for growth in economy.

In hindsight, a beauty bias can prove to be quite disastrous if it is given more preference over fundamental qualities for employment. Legally, it is preventing equal employment opportunities leading to a violation of our human right. Consequently, it may also harm the company’s image in the long run. In a performance-based angle, the chances of finding creative talent may altogether be eliminated from the process if judged on such superficial standards, and the company’s process of growth may be hindered. Alternatively, the “attractive” people hired may not always be productive or competent enough for the job role. This selection bias may result in a lack of diversity in the workplace. It can also negatively affect the competent “attractive” graduates who may be judged by others that it was not their efforts rather their looks that made the cut, when this might not be the case.

Fortunately, there is a paradigm shift in our perception of beauty and established standards because of new social interventions such as the body positivity movement. But, there is also an underlying issue of whether companies are abusing these positive intentions for their own capitalistic gain and to profit off our emotions. We must acknowledge that a person’s qualifications, education, aspirations and inter-personal relations play a larger role in the long run rather than their physical differences. We must believe that human beings are much more than the sum of their parts.

-Shireen Raphael Kharsynrap

Scope for further reading:

Assets.press.princeton.edu (n.d.). [online] Available at: http://assets.press.princeton.edu/chapters/s9516.pdf. Hamermesh, D. (n.d.). Beauty pays: Why Attractive people are More Successful

HuffPost. (n.d.). Just How Good Is Too Good Looking in the Workplace?. [online] Available at: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/cristen-conger/just-how-good-is-too-good_b_657308.html

Pynchon, V. (n.d.). Using Youth and Beauty to Get What You Want. [online] Forbes. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/shenegotiates/2012/04/30/using-youth-and-beauty-to-get-what-you-want/#4a8cc7a64af2

Thompson, D. (n.d.). The Financial Benefits of Being Beautiful. [online]

The Atlantic. Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/01/the-financial-benefits-of-being-beautiful/282975/ 

Assocham.org. (n.d.). Assocham India. [online] Available at: http://www.assocham.org/newsdetail.php?id=5792

BEAUTY, T. (n.d.). The Changing Face of Beauty. [online] Nielsen.com.  Available at: https://www.nielsen.com/in/en/insights/reports/2017/the-changing-face-of-beauty.html

Photo Credits:

https://www.teepublic.com/poster-and-art/505229-suits

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s